Unless you plan on camping in Denali National Park, most visitors stay at in the accomodations in the entrance area. Here's journal of our stay and activities just outside the park.
by stvchin on February 15, 2013
The 49th State Brewing Company is a restaurant in Healy, Alaska. We learned about the 49th State Brewing Company via a little kiosk on the Denali "village" boardwalk, adjacent to Prospectors Pizza. The kiosk attendant gave us coupons to the 49th State Brewing Company and told us of the $1 shuttle to and from the Denali Park entrance area to the 49th State Brewing Company, just 10 minutes up the road to Healy. We asked some of our fellow tourists, and more than a few recommended we go try the 49th State Brewing Company. The coupons savings in food offset the shuttle costs.The shuttle leaves the Denali Park entrance area in front of Prospectors Pizza and the Denali Park Salmon Bake restaurant in roughly 90 minute intervals. We boarded one of the shuttles and took the quick ride up the George Parks Highway to Healy. The shuttle dropped us off in the parking lot in front of the 49th State Brewing Company.The 49th State Brewing Company’s front area is a very large gravel yard with outside patio dining, a few tents set up selling souvenirs, bench tables, and a few firepit with people hanging about, playing music and enjoying themselves. Off to the side is an old bus, Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142, used in the 2007 movie "Into The Wild."Going inside, it’s a large restaurant and bar, centered on a fireplace table. I heard the building itself was once a bus maintenance shop, but they’ve done a great job decorating the inside with different historical photos of Alaska, and memorabilia and such. We waited a few minutes and were seated at a table. Both the restaurant and bar were quite full and the crowd was lively. There is live music outside on the weekends. The 49th State Brewing Company does brew a few of its own beers, and my friend asked for a flight of these to try out. The menu has all sorts of appetizers, from Buffalo wings to pot stickers and garlic fries. There are also salads, burgers and sandwiches, and favorites such as ribs, steak, fish and chips. There are also daily specials. My friend ordered the moussaka off the daily specials, and my other friend ordered the double pork chops. I opted for the baked mac and cheese. My friend’s flight of their beer creations arrived on a neat wooden tray in the shape of the state of Alaska. He had little glasses with about 5-6 ounces each of their Baked Blonde, Irish Dry Stout, Irish Export Stout, Solstice IPA, and Double IPA. The flight cost $8, which is a fairly good deal, as it’s around 30 total ounces of microbrewed beer. I’m not a beer connoisseur, but my friend is, and he generally liked the beers that he tried on the flight, some more than others.Our entrees arrived a little later, and my friend got to pair the different beers with his double pork chops. The double pork chops with bone in arrived on a wooden cutting board, and was served with applesauce, roasted vegetables, and a cornbread muffin. He really enjoyed his juicy pork chops. My other friend enjoyed his moussaka, made with plenty of eggplant and seasoned beef. I had the mac and cheese, which came served in the cast iron skillet it was baked in. It’s macaroni noodles with a cheddar cheese sauce, chicken and bacon, and topped with parmesan and bread crumbs. This was one of the best mac and cheese dishes I’ve had.We even saved room for dessert and had the dessert special of the day, fresh apple pie ala mode. The dessert looked totally decadent, a nice, hot mini apple pie with a big scoop of ice cream melting away. It was wonderful, and we didn’t worry about the calories, as we had a 11 hour hike in Denali National Park the next morning. Our total bill came out to around $60 with drinks, including the coupon. This was some of the best food that we’ve had around Denali. It is a little bit of a trip up to Healy, but the coupon helps to keep your mind off the shuttle bus fare. I think that in order to attract people up from the Denali Park entrance area, you must have good food, good service, and a good atmosphere, and they definitely have all that here. I would easily return to 49th State Brewing Company again.
We wanted to try an off road adventure, so after some online research, we opted for the Black Diamond ATV Adventures 3 hour ATV tour. They also have a 4 hour ATV adventure which includes lunch. We booked our 3 hour adventure on their website for $109 each person and got a 10% discount for paying immediately with PayPal. There are various start times, we booked the 7:30am one. You can cancel without penalty up to 2 days before your scheduled adventure. The actual site of the ATV adventure is private land in Healy, just 10 minutes north of the Denali Park entrance area. There is no ATV riding inside Denali National Park. There is a free shuttle to and from the Denali Park entrance area lodges, such as our Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. We were advised to dress warm, with full pants/jeans and long sleeved shirts. We also took along a bottle of water and a granola bar for a snack. On the day of the ATV adventure, the shuttle bus picked us up and made a few stops at the other Denali Park entrance area lodges to pick up passengers. We headed up the George Parks highway for the 10 minute drive to Healy. We turned off Otto Lake road, which led a few minutes to the facility. Black Diamond has a golf course here, as well as a restaurant. A few on our shuttle bus were here to play a round of golf.We sat in an assembly area of the ATV garage where we signed disclosures and watched an instructional video on how to operate the ATV. The staff also gave us a bit of verbal instructions. For those that were under age or unable to operate an ATV, there are golf-cart type ATVs available. We were fitted for helmets and there are rain slickers available if we wanted. A piece of advice is to make sure you wear some sort of water resistant jacket, even when it’s not raining, as dust will get past porous clothing. Also tuck your pants into your socks to keep the dust out.We were led out to the 4 wheeler ATVs and given more instruction on their operation and safety and hand signals. The ATVs we used had the throttle on a thumb control on the right handlebar. I had never used one before, but our guide said we have an opportunity to get used to them first. Our group was about 10 riders, with two guides, one on each end of our single file group. We started off with an easy course, which included a few turns and slopes, as well as acceleration and braking exercises, to get us familiar with the ATV. We eventually did a slalom course and various types of rugged terrain that seemed to be a constructed course. Once we passed that, we went on a few trails that took us to various parts of the property. The guides were quite good, giving us time to catch up, and eventually building up our confidence in our machines and in tacking different types of terrain. We were lucky that it was a clear, sunny day, as the landscape was beautiful to look at. However, most of our time, we were focused on the trail ahead of us, as it does require some concentration to figure out things such as where the tires are going to go, anticipating bumps and dips and such. This can be dangerous, as one person fell off their ATV as they tried to go up an embankment too fast. However their safety gear kept her from getting hurt at all. We all stopped to check on her and took a quick break for the guides to check on things and remind us how to safely operate the ATVs.There were a few scenic areas where we were able to stop and rest and take in the scenery, chat with the guides and fellow riders. There is quite interesting scenery on the property. There’s a large flood basin filled with nice, round river rocks and hillsides made of loose sand and gravel above. It’s quite the interesting site, as there are trees growing at the top of these hills, yet hills keep eroding due to rain and wind. Some of the trees are precariously close to falling over. There are other scenic spots we stopped at, such as a hilltop view area where we could scan the valley below for signs of wildlife. We did see something moving about in the far distance, probably a moose or something.Once we returned to the starting point, we parked our ATVs, turned over our borrowed equipment, and had the dust sprayed off with compressed air. In summary, this was a fun activity, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you want to do something specifically inside Denali National Park, this is not for you, but if you like to enjoy a fun ride through the scenic Alaskan countryside, this will do nicely. I probably wouldn't do it again, as I've already done it, but I had fun and am glad I did this activity. The guides were very friendly and helpful and knowledgeable, both with the equipment, safety, as well as the scenery.
by stvchin on February 11, 2013
The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is located on Mile 238.5 of the Parks Highway, just outside of the entrance to Denali National Park. It’s the largest lodge/accommodation in the Denali Park entrance area, and very easy to spot. The lodge can be booked independently of any other Princess activity or cruise. After careful online research, we chose the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge because it is the largest in the area and would most likely have the most resources available to us.Our AAA room rate booked online for 3 people sharing a room was $289/night, with tax, that’s $309.23/night. (At a little over $100/person per night, that's not bad.) We booked 4 nights, with arrival on a Monday, and departure on Friday. The room was two double beds and a roll-away. We didn’t bother to book anything with a view, as we figured most of our time would be spent outside, where there was a view all around us anyways.Since we arrived by train, we boarded one of the many complimentary shuttles from the Denali train depot for the 10 minute ride to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. And since most people usually arrive by the busload or trainload, the check-in line at the main lodge was rather long. However, the check-in staff were quite efficient quick, and our wait wasn’t all that long. Plus, there are plenty of seats and couches for lounging around while waiting.The way the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is set up is a bunch of individual lodges, a main lodge that houses the check-in area, and buildings for restaurants and shops. Our lodge was a bit of a walk from the main lodge (although we eventually found a very quick shortcut.) Most lodges are two story wooden buildings with an exterior walkway around the building. Our room was quite nice, with two double beds, a television, an armoire, sink area with coffee-maker, and bathroom, much like any modern hotel room. We did notice there was no air conditioning (not that it’s needed in this part of Alaska) but there is heating. The staff brought the roll away bed a few minutes later. The accommodations were quite adequate for our stay. You will visit the main lodge quite a bit. The main lodge, which houses the check-in area was only 2-3 minutes away from our room with our shortcut up a service road. The main lodge is where the complimentary shuttles to and from Denali National Park leave every hour. The shuttle takes about 15 minutes, with stops at the Denali Park railroad track crossing, Visitors Center, Wilderness Access Center, and train Depot. We noticed that some of the smaller lodges have shared shuttles, while Princess has its own fleet of shuttle buses, which means a quicker ride into the park. The main lodge also has a small coffee shop, ice cream shop, and convenience store. The main lodge also has complimentary wireless internet.There is also a restaurant/hall, used for events and hosts the breakfast buffet each morning, a formal restaurant/bar, a pizza restaurant, as well as a few shops around the lodge. Most curious is the wood carving shop, as there are plenty of bears and totem poles sitting outside on display which you can purchase and have shipped home.The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge sits along the George Parks Highway to the east and along a ledge bordering the Nenana River to the west. There are observation areas around the lodge property where you can view the Nenana River below. You can easily reach the Denali "village" where the shops and restaurants and boardwalk are located on the opposite side of the George Parks Highway via 2 crosswalks, making this a very convenient location. While there are restaurants within the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we ended up eating at the Denali village restaurants on the recommendation of other guests.I was very satisfied with our stay at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and I’d stay there again. It’s not the cheapest lodge in the Denali Park entrance area, but it’s very reasonably priced for the area, and by far the most convenient. The staff were all quite pleasant and attentive and made it a great stay. The entire Denali entrance area, including the lodges and Denali village shops, are closed in the winter, and open only from around May to late September.Close
by stvchin on February 14, 2013
We heard from locals and other tourists alike that Prospectors Pizza was probably the best restaurant in the Denali Park entrance area. It’s a quick walk from our lodge, across to the east side of the George Parks Highway (there are two signaled crosswalks) to the Denali "village." Prospectors Pizza is located just north of the boardwalk, in the set of buildings with blue colored roofs.We entered and gave our name to the greeter at Prospectors Pizza. This was the first time we had to wait for a table in any restaurant in the Denali entrance area. After about 30 minutes, we were given a table in the dining area. Prospectors Pizza was totally packed and quite lively, but our waitress still greeted us promptly and took our drink orders. The décor is very eclectic, with reindeer antler chandeliers, lots of pine, and photos of various Denali scenes behind the bar. The back wall of Prospectors Pizza has a huge painted landscape mural of Denali with Mt. McKinley in the background.The menu has all sorts of pizzas, salads, appetizers, soups, pastas, and brick oven sandwiches. The sandwiches looked particularly interesting, so my friends chose The Big John, which is a reindeer sausage sandwich, and my other friend wasn’t too hungry, so he chose the minestrone soup. I went for the Alaskan Elk meatball sandwich. We didn’t wait overly long until our orders arrived. My friend’s Big John sandwich is an Alaskan reindeer sausage, a state favorite, with grilled onions, roasted sweet peppers, and marinara sauce, with steak fries on the side. He enjoyed the sandwich. He said the reindeer in the sausage is a distinct taste, but not too gamey. My other friend thought the minestrone soup really hit the spot. My Alaskan Elk meatball sandwich was a little disappointing at first sight. There are two large meatballs covered with mozzarella cheese and marinara in the toasted bun. I think presentation-wise, they could have sliced the meatballs in half and staggered them to give a better illusion of more meat in the bun. That being said, the sandwich was really good. You could definitely tell that there is a different meat in there, but not too gamey. Our food came out to $33 total. This is pretty typical pricing for the area, since everything needs to be trucked in. Prospectors Pizza has good food, lively atmosphere, and we’d definitely go back. In fact, we did two days later for dinner, this time for the namesake pizza.Again, Prospectors Pizza was packed, and we waited around half an hour for a table. We decided that this would be a perfect treat for us after climbing Mount Polychrome in Denali National Park. This time, we took a seat at the bar and ordered a 17 inch, Grizzly Sized, The Lower 48 It Ain’t pizza. The pizza is topped with Alaskan Reindeer sausage, ground elk, roasted peppers and red sauce, and Buffalo mozzarella. The pizza was very good, the reindeer and elk weren’t gamey at all, but quite savory. The crust was baked well, nicely browned and crispy where appropriate. The pizza and some beer equaled a very rewarding meal. Our bill was around $41. If you find yourself staying in the Denali Park entrance area as we did, I really recommend Prospectors Pizza. They have good food, good service, and a great atmosphere.
by stvchin on February 13, 2013
We wanted a good, hearty breakfast before our whitewater rafting adventure. Some of the other tourists recommended the Denali Park Salmon Bake for that. We went across the George Parks Highway from our lodge to the Salmon Bake. The Salmon Bake is located about a hundred yards south of the Denali "village" boardwalk area. Upon entering the Salmon Bake, it’s quite obvious that this is an eclectic place. There are two dining areas to either side of the main door, and a bar upstairs. Some of the wooden floors in the Salmon Bake are a little crooked at best, as it’s quite obvious that it’s built into a hillside. That might prove to be a little fun after a few drinks. Both lower dining areas were quite full, so we were led upstairs to the bar, which only had a few tables occupied. Our friendly server/bartender greeted us with menus and took our drink order.The menu was a combined breakfast and dinner menu. Some of the dinner items included Alaska seafood, such as halibut, and of course, salmon dishes, as well as burgers and other favorites. The breakfast side included omelets, waffles, pancakes, and skillet breakfasts. My friends chose the country biscuits and gravy, breakfast burrito, and I chose the sourdough breakfast sandwich.Looking around the inside of the bar, as well as the rest of the restaurant, a lot of knotty pine wood is featured on the walls, floor, and furniture. Pictures and historical news articles of Denali and other Alaskan scenery adorn the walls. Our booth at the bar had windows with a nice view of our lodge and Mount Healy behind it. There is also free Wi-Fi available here.We chatted with our server for a little bit and found out that most everybody working the entire area are young adults from all over the country, even a few from outside of the United States. A lot of the workers at the Denali "village" shops and restaurants stay at the cabins owned by the Denali Park Salmon Bake, just behind the restaurant. While it’s a long day’s work, she said it’s a nice, friendly dorm like atmosphere in the cabins and their work rotations gives them some good time off to enjoy Denali and what it has to offer.Our breakfasts arrived in a timely fashion with a smile from our server. One of my friends had the country biscuits and gravy with a breakfast sausage patty. The biscuits were totally drenched in a nice peppery gravy. That’s definitely going to stick to your ribs. My other friend had the breakfast burrito. It’s a fairly good sized burrito filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes, breakfast sausage, refried beans, cheddar and pepper jack cheese. It’s served with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. I had the sourdough breakfast sandwich with breakfast potatoes. Inside the sourdough sandwich are reindeer sausage slices and scrambled eggs on melted white cheddar. The sandwich was quite good, albeit a slight bit dry. Regardless, we were all hungry and finished up all our food, even the huge breakfast burrito. We would need our energy for the whitewater rafting and hiking afterwards.Our total bill came out to $41 with coffee and juice. While this might seem a bit expensive, bear in mind that everything out here in Denali is slightly more expensive than in the city. Everything needs to be trucked out here. We were quite satisfied with our breakfast. The bar here would probably be quite a fun place to return in the evening.
by stvchin on February 5, 2013
The three of us wanted to do some scenic whitewater rafting in the Denali Area. There seemed to be two major outfits for rafting in the area. We chose Denali Raft as they seemed to be slightly cheaper and offered a 4 hour scenic whitewater rafting session for $122. We were able to book it with our AAA discount a few weeks before we arrived at Denali. They have two different types of boats, oar rafts and paddle rafts. The oar rafts have the guide doing all of the rowing with oars while the passengers sit back. The paddle rafts are more interactive with the passengers doing the rowing, and the guide more or less steers with the oars.The Denali Raft office is in at mile 238.6 of the George Parks Highway. It’s in the northern half of the boardwalk shops across from the lodges at the Denali entrance area. Make sure to dress warm, with plenty of layers of clothing, thermal underwear/leggings, and double socks. The reason for the double socks is that the bottom of the raft offers little insulation between the freezing cold water and your shoes. Remember, the freezing cold water in the Nenana River comes off the mountain glaciers. We decided not to bring our cameras with us, as we didn’t want to risk getting them wet and also we assumed (incorrectly) that if we were holding paddles, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to use the cameras. We would have walked from our lodge across the street to the office to begin our adventure, but the Denali Raft shuttle bus showed up anyways. We arrived at the Denali Raft office for our early morning rafting adventure. We signed the attendance and usual liability waivers and proceeded to a patio at the back of the office to be outfitted for a dry suit. For those that don’t know, a dry suit is the opposite of a wet suit, you stay dry inside the suit. There is a period of instruction with very specific instructions on how to properly put the suit on and make sure it’s watertight. The suits are quite expensive and difficult to zip and unzip. The staff are always around to help us into our suits. The dry suits had built in socks, and we traded our own shoes in for a pair from the raft company.We split up into 2 groups, the 2 hour raft adventure started out nearby, while our group, the 4 hour adventure was shuttled to a landing on the Nenana River about 15 minutes ride south along the Parks Highway. The way this works is that the 4 hour adventure is actually about 3.5 hours in the water, and we start further upstream and eventually join up with the shorter 2 hour (1.5 hours in the water) tour that starts near the Denali entrance area.At the landing, we were met by our guides and two rafts. We were given instructions on how to row, the commands used, safety precautions, and so on. We did learn that we wouldn’t be constantly rowing, and we could have brought our cameras with us. We had two other passengers, for a total of five in our paddle boat. We sat in the front and middle of the raft while the guide set up an oar rig in the back of the boat. The second raft was for safety, as the guide on the second raft could fish us out of the water if one of us fell in.The first half of our rafting adventure was a little quiet, most of our rowing was for practice. The guide did most of the work, and since we were going with the flow of the river, it wasn’t turbulent, unless the guide steered us towards white water for fun. The raft adventure was a very nice scenic cruise down the Nenana River. We saw all sorts of plants, rock formations, some wildlife, such as deer and eagles, as well as a pair of A-10’s roaring past us from Eielsen Air Force Base. We had time to chat with the other passengers and the guide and got to know each other a little. We learned that the guides are outdoor adventure buffs. While our guide does get paid, he’s mainly doing this because he likes rafting and kayaking.The first half of our adventure ended at a landing on near the Denali entrance area near the lodges. Here, we had a change to get out and use the facilities at the nearby parking lot. We watched the raft guides basically rappel rafts down the hillside into the water from the parking lot above. We were joined by two more rafts and set out again. We were lucky to keep the same people in our raft. As we set off, the shuttle bus shadowed our position on the nearby George Parks Highway, for safety reasons. The second half of our rafting adventure was a bit more fun, with a little more whitewater as the river narrowed in the canyons. It obviously wasn’t too bad as a passenger in one of the other rafts had a video camera out the whole time There was also a lot to see and enjoy as well. From different rock formations, to wrecked rail cars that fell down the canyon from the tracks below. We eventually ended our rafting adventure near the Healy Coal power plant, an oddly large white structure out in the middle of the valley. We helped load the rafts onto the shuttle bus and rode back from the Healy area to the office where we got out of our dry suits.I would definitely recommend this rafting activity to anyone. We really felt we got our money’s worth with the longer rafting adventure. They have the paddle rafts for those that want to be interactive, and the oar rafts for those that like to sit back and take in the scenery. The scenery was absolutely awesome! The guides were great, and we could tell that our guide loved what he was doing. The guides are taught well, and were able to tell us about the areas we were in, historical facts, and even helped us to spot wildlife. I’d definitely do this again, except I’d bring my camera this time.
by stvchin on January 25, 2013
I'm writing this to help others who are looking to stay at the Denali National Park entrance area, which is just outside the park. It seems that most visitors to the park will end up staying in this area. Although modern technology gives us satellite and drive by maps, it was still difficult for my friends and I to figure out what to expect until we arrived.If you’re not camping in Denali National Park (DNP) then a good portion of your stay will be probably be spent just outside of DNP by the entrance area. The DNP entrance area, also called the Nenana River Canyon, is home to seasonal accommodations, as well as shops, restaurants, and activities. The Nenana River Canyon lodges are the most convenient, as they’re close enough to walk into DNP. But for those who don’t like to walk, there are regular shuttles from most lodges into DNP. The George Parks Highway runs straight through the middle of the Nenana River Canyon area.The four large lodges in the area are the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, McKinley Chalet Resort, Grande Denali Lodge, and the Denali Bluffs Hotel. While some of these lodges either belong to or are partnered up with cruise companies, you can still schedule a stay at these lodges, independent of the cruises. I noticed these cruise company affiliated lodges seem to have the most regular hourly shuttles to and from DNP. There are smaller lodges in the area as well as hostels which have shared shuttle service to DNP.On the east side of the Parks Highway are the shops and restaurants. Most of these shops and restaurants are on a nice elevated boardwalk. I do recommend some of these restaurants, such as Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse. There is a Subway sandwich shop which is open 24 hours, making it a good source of sandwiches for the DNP Discovery Hikes, as other restaurants open too late in the morning. There is a nice little ice cream shop with various local flavors, such as huckleberry ice cream. There is a nice coffee shop which also makes sandwiches, a photo processing shop is there for those that still use film, or want to print out their digital photos. There are also two small markets. The prices in these stores are quite expensive, as outside of any mini-marts in the lodges, these two small markets are pretty much the only markets available to buy groceries and snacks. Also included in the shops are various restaurants, and shops for rafting and off road adventures, as well as aerial tours of the Denali area. Our Nenana River rafting adventure started out here, as well as the shuttle to our off road ATV adventure.Looking around the Nenana River Canyon area, Mount Healy and the Nenana River sit immediately to the west. The town of Healy is about 10 minutes up the road to north. We would end up at Healy for a few activities, as well as the 49th State Brewing Company for a really good dinner. Looking south along George Parks Highway, the entrance to DNP is about 1.5 miles from the center of the area, and many people make the scenic and easy walk down the trail to and from the park. We noticed that there is a point on that trail where the various rafting companies set up and board the rafts.We made a few interesting observations of the area. We found ourselves far enough north in latitude that there is barely any darkness, maybe two hours in July. The rest of the time is very bright twilight, most of the time it’s bright enough to read a book outside. This makes for interesting nightlife as you can still do a lot with the extended daylight. 8pm feels like 3pm. Workers tell us that in June, around the solstice, the sun does set, but barely below the horizon, and there is no darkness, just really bright twilight. That would be an interesting sight to see.It was a bit breezy at times, as it's a canyon area. Plus there was intermittent drizzle. I suggest sweaters, a waterproof jacket, hat that covers the ears, and maybe even gloves. If you're going to hike around outside, I'd recommend mosquito spray or lotion. You could encounter wildlife, as our shuttle bus encountered moose a few times. I'd advise a whistle or something to scare off wildlife should you encounter them while hiking around.Various workers have told us that the Nenana Canyon Area is basically closed down during the winter, and only starts to come to life around early May. This is when workers arrive to prepare the lodges and businesses for the imminent arrival of the tourists when the lodges open around mid-May. Then town closes down around September when the lodges close down. A lot of these workers are either students, some locals from surrounding areas, and nature enthusiasts who use the job as a means of financing their hiking treks. Our rafting guide was a medical student who goes either hiking or kayaking in the evening after his rafting job. But I must that regardless of the business, all of the workers were very professional, nice, and efficient, and kudos to them and their management. They really did make our time in the area a really wonderful one.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009