by Jack Ventura
October 26, 2002
Immediately inside, two narrow hallways extended out to either side in a wing of rooms, and directly in front was a large relief map of Denali National Park under a glass-topped display case, perhaps 1 inch to 3 miles in scale. The grand room, serving as the hotel lobby, looked more like central station for backpackers; it was fun and inviting.
I explored the hotel after checking in. It had a funky do-it-yourself spirit. An enclosed walkway connected to a detached two-story building of additional rooms that looked out of character, like 40’s era bunk barracks. Also attached to the hotel was a railcar, converted into an unattended lounge bar, that was a popular guest hangout for muffins, coffee and paperback novels. An outdoor walkway led to an auditorium that I later learned seats 300 and offers an interpretive presentation by Park Rangers twice daily at 1:30pm and 8:00pm. The complex of buildings that was the National Park Hotel appeared to have been built by enterprising public servants and creative tax funds.
The hotel’s eateries also had that add-on upgrade quality to them. The restaurant was very classy, opening only for dinner and serving only four entrees on a daily chalkboard menu. It was French in character, upscale American in taste. The pecan-crusted halibut I ate there was excellent. Next to the restaurant, probably sharing the kitchen, was a small, but surprisingly good, snack bar cafeteria. It opened very early and closed early too.
All of the rooms at the National Park Hotel have two double beds. Triple and quadruple occupants are accepted, but roll-away cots are prohibited by fired code and wouldn’t fit in the rooms anyway. They’re very small, but they do have bathrooms. No TV or telephone though. Wake-up call is supplied by an alarming knock on the door.
As the rooms are purely ‘functional’, a place to crash, the summer rate, in my opinion, is too high. But well worth every dollar. There are six or seven terrific hiking trails, all originating from the hotel. The Horseshoe Lake Trail is a short and scenic workout. I also enjoyed the easy Taiga Trail for its sensation that you might suddenly come snout-to-snout with a moose. Two of my friends raved over the challenging Mount Healy Overlook Trail.
I’m saddened that this old style park lodge will no longer accommodate visitors.
From journal Road to Denali