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North Face Lodge
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1.5 miles from Wonder Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve 99755
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Really expensive but well worth it!
September 30, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
The experience starts with meeting the buses at the Denali Park train depot. The bus drivers are experienced and knowledgeable guides, who actually lead the hikes during the stay. (Their driving capabilities are pretty impressive too!) ...
The experience starts with meeting the buses at the Denali Park train depot. The bus drivers are experienced and knowledgeable guides, who actually lead the hikes during the stay. (Their driving capabilities are pretty impressive too!) Admittedly, we had unbelievable weather during our stay, which may have affected our impression of the Lodge. We saw grizzlies with cubs, bull and cow moose, caribou, wolves (from a great distance), Dall sheep and lots of waterfowl from the bus heading in and out of the park.
The Lodge itself is very near the end of the park road, close to Wonder Lake, and has a view of Mt. McKinley that is breathtaking. We sat at meals looking out the window at McKinley! The rooms are small and basic but comfortable. Each has a full bathroom (toilet, sink, tub and shower). The meals were fabulous: Homemade oatmeal of various types each morning in addition to a full, hot breakfast. Dinners were three courses of fresh, healthy and delicious food. Each meal started with a soup or salad from their garden. Vegetarian dishes were available that sounded just as good as the meat/fish dishes. I’m a serious meat-eater and had a hard time choosing! And there was dessert!
Lunches were amazing! They were pack lunches, but they were really, really good. Each morning, they set out a spread of food, and we made our own lunches. They had a great selection of meats and cheeses and peanut butter and fresh jams and hummus and bean spreads – you name it! They had portabellas, grilled squash and roasted peppers for the sandwiches, as well as desserts, fruit and trail mix to take along too.
My only complaint, really, is that I felt cheated on the number of meals. We caught the bus at 12:30pm, but they did not provide lunch. We had a picnic dinner on the way in. The food was good, but they ran out. Since we had been walking around the site while other people were in line, we didn’t get enough to eat. Similarly, we left at 7am on the way out, and they dropped us off without lunch. It seemed to me that we should have gotten lunch one of those days. I would have really liked to have had one of those packed lunches! OK – one other gripe. I’m not a people-person, and there was some expected socialization at meals. We were placed in different groups at each meal to ensure mingling and meeting of different people throughout the stay. It was a little like summer camp.
You can hike on your own nearby or go canoeing on Wonder Lake or bike ride. (They have bikes and canoes.) In addition those activities, they have guided hikes each day. The hikes are categorized into a strenuous hike, a moderate hike, and a "naturalist foray" – each of which is explained after breakfast so that everyone can decide what they want to do. There is a fun activity to meet a wide range of interests and physical capabilities. Note: The "naturalist foray" isn’t just for the physically unfit; the photographers favored that excursion. The naturalist forays gave the photographers time to set up equipment without being rushed, while still being able to cover several different ecosystems and to see different animals and plants – all with the phenomenal naturalist interpretive information from the guide. The other hikes were also accompanied by experienced, knowledgeable guides. That was one of the most surprising things to me – the guides really are knowledgeable. They knew plants, animals, fungi, geology, park history, and ecology. Richard did the strenuous hikes both days and enjoyed them. Typical of Denali, the hikes were not on trails but went over the tundra. The first day’s hikes were near the Lodge, and Richard’s hike went to the top of the ridge over the Lodge and offered views of the Alaska Range including Mt. McKinley and other nearby mountains. Hiking off-trail was an interesting and unique experience for Richard. The guides took opportunities during breaks to point out plants, signs of animals and geologic features. The guides were experienced hikers, were well-prepared for the conditions, and took their responsibilities as guides seriously.
After dinner, they had evening program that covered the park’s natural history and area wildlife. Canoeing, hiking and biking were also available in the evenings. The mosquitoes are every bit as bad as you have heard – although they aren’t really as big as birds.
The whole operation is extremely,
well organized. While they have all the details covered, they don’t make you feel like you are being herded on a group tour. Somehow, they have succeeded in making a very group-oriented stay individualized.
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