Staying 1) near the park entrance, or 2) in the remote center of the park (an area known as Kantishna near the end of the 90-mile park road) are two very different experiences. Which Denali lodging is right for you?
Stay outside the park if you:
- Don't want to invest too many days of your Alaska vacation seeing Denali. 90% of visitors stay at the park entrance, take day tours into the park, and feel they've seen what they needed to see of Denali Park (grand scenery, the mountain, wildlife, etc.) If you really need to travel to the end of the Park Road but don't have the time, you can do it as a 12-hour day tour.
- Want to be able to choose from a wide range of day tour options, including flightseeing, river rafting or kayaking, dog kennel tours, jeep safaris, golfing, and more.
- Want to have your car and civilization nearby. Craving pizza and ice cream? Not a problem.
- Don't mind crowds, big hotels, and shopping opportunities. (Some Alaskans derogatorily refer to the park entrance area as "Glitter Gulch." However, it’s not as bad as the term might convey. Far from the image of the Las Vegas strip or Coney Island that the term "glitter" brings to mind, the park entrance area is a concentrated visitor service area surrounded by a completely undeveloped natural setting—wilderness enough to most visitors.)
- Hotels include: The Lodge at Denali Park Village, Denali Bluffs Hotel, Grande Denali Lodge, The Cabins at Denali Park Village, McKinley Chalet Resort, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge
Stay inside the park if you:
- Are after a rustic, close-to-nature experience. You'll be away-far away-from the crowds and civilization, and instead of just sightseeing, you'll be connecting to the rhythm of an ancient ecosystem.
- Are prepared to commit some time. If you stay at a wilderness lodge in the center of the park, and you travel by bus or van, it's 5 – 6 hours each way. You can go by air taxi and your transit time drops to 35 minutes—but it’ll cost you. Some lodges discourage arriving by air, because of the vagaries of weather. You also miss out on wildlife viewing and the natural history interpretive introduction to the park en route.
- Don't mind paying the higher price of a Kantishna lodge—it's $100-$200 more per night. Keep in mind that prices are usually all-inclusive, per person rates which include transportation, lodging, meals, and activities.
- Want to get personal with Denali (Mt. McKinley). Though you won't see the mountain right from your Kantishna area lodge (except for Camp Denali and North Face Lodge), you're close to the park's best views-especially around Wonder Lake (the classic Ansel Adams view). Stay inside the park and you'll have time to absorb it all; you won't worry about catching the last bus out that day. Hike the foothills at dusk with Denali bathed in alpenglow—one of life's most memorable experiences.
- Want to try gold panning in one of the creeks. The center of the park encompasses the Kantishna Hills, which has a short, but colorful, mining history.
- Lodges include: Kantishna Roadhouse, Camp Denali, North Face Lodge, and Denali Backcountry Lodge.