Weekend at Base Camp: Denali Princess Wilderness LodgeBack To Blog
Denali is the cheese to macaroni; the feathers to a bird and the milieu of summer drives. There is no way around it: Denali is a staple of the Alaska experience. And Mount McKinley — whether it’s seen on a television screen or popping up in the skyline out your window — reminds us of home. If you haven’t been back in awhile, it’s a great time to revisit what you have always loved about Denali and also to check out some of the new ways to explore an old favorite. The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is located just one mile from the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve, with an expansive deck overlooking the Nenana River, a variety of dining choices and guest service representatives to help you delve into the wild. No matter what experiences made you fall in love with Denali to begin with — be it rafting the Nenana River, weaving in and out of McKinley’s peaks in a helicopter or seeing a grizzly bear just off the Park Road — you’ll instantly remember why you keep coming back.
Friday in Denali
5 p.m. Baby it’s cold inside
Alaskans are pretty adept at surviving in below zero temperatures. But if you haven’t felt 40 degrees below zero — or even if you have — it’s fun to step into Denali’s own Alaska’s Arctic Blast. They provide the parka and guide you into the chilled chamber where you can play around with some favorite pastimes like throwing hot water and blowing soap bubbles into the frigid air. It’s especially a treat for visiting out-of-town relatives since it only reinforces your Alaska tales of walking to school through waist-deep snowdrifts, uphill both ways.
7 p.m. Taste of Alaska
If you’re craving a taste of Alaska, try the Grizzly Bar & Grill. They’re serving up some of your homegrown favorites like Bubbling Hot Alaskan Crab Dip, Seafood Mac and Cheese or Alaska-style nachos loaded with king crab and bay shrimp. The restaurant stays open until midnight for late-night dining or you can mosey over to the bar for a nightcap.
7 a.m. Tee time
You’ve heard of the old adage about the gopher stealing the golf ball. In Alaska, go ahead and make it a grizzly bear. And when you say that the golf course was in Denali, they might even believe you. Even if you can’t really blame bears for your golf handicap, you will be confronted with the unique challenges of putting around moose prints, the distraction of stunning scenery and an infamous red fox that steals balls of green number two (at least that’s the story around here). Denali Princess can book your Tundra Mountain Golfing excursion on the rugged nine-hole course located just minutes from the lodge.
1 p.m. Dogging around
Jeff King is a legend to the Iditarod world — recognized as the “winningest musher in the world” and a kind and familiar face to many. His victories include four Iditarod championships while logging more than 100,000 miles by dog sled. At least to Alaskans and dog mushing fanatics, it feels like meeting a celebrity to visit Goose Lake Kennels and home to the mushing maven himself. The Husky Homestead Tour teaches visitors about the history of the sport and breed of dog used in mushing as well as the necessary equipment and training needed to reach the finish line. If you’re not already convinced to take up the sport of dog mushing, by time you snuggle some pups and see the mushing demo, you might be calculating harness sizes for Fido back home.
6 p.m. A local bite
To dine with fellow Alaskans, you’ll likely find them at Lynx Creek Pizza, a place famous for specialty pizzas, salads, sandwiches, beer and ice cream. If you want to chitchat over a pie — like the Forest Mushroom with pesto sauce topped with four cheeses, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and onions — enjoy dinner at the log-cabin-style restaurant or you can have it delivered to your room.
7 a.m. Early start
With a number of dining options at Denali Princess, you can practically eat every meal on site without a bite at same place twice. But since the lodge is so close to the park entrance, the location is perfect to get your food to go. The River Run Espresso serves coffee, muffins and pastries or visit Rapids for some sandwiches to take with you on a walk along the River Walk or while perusing the promenade shopping cabins. If you feel like starting off with a big bite, the Denali Sourdough Expedition Breakfast starts seating at 5 a.m. in the Music of Denali Dinner Theater. If the name isn’t description enough, this all-you-can-eat breakfast served buffet style features Alaska sourdough pancakes, eggs, bacon, reindeer sausage, biscuits with Alaska fireweed honey and more. Consider the buffet your first expedition of the day.
8 a.m. Fly me to the view
Few people are skilled enough to reach the great heights of Mount McKinley, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t experience it. With the Denali Heli-Hiking Adventure you can skip the first pesky dozen or so miles by taking a helicopter to the most remote areas inside Denali National Park and Preserve. In just 15 minutes, you are above the tree line overlooking the Yanert and Moody River valleys. The 3.5-hour soft-adventure hike is led by a guide who provides information on some of the wildlife and habitat of the area.
2 p.m. Ore power
If you’ve experienced Denali’s views from above, you might enjoy the different perspective by navigating through the Nenana River Gorge. With numerous active glaciers pouring from the mountains of Denali, the terrain is perfect for rafting. The 11-mile Nenana Gorge Whitewater trip travels through a dozen or so major Class III and Class IV rapids. You can choose to paddle or just hang on and enjoy the view, making for a thrilling ride if you’re a seasoned whitewater veteran or a first-time rafter.
The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is located on the banks of the Nenana River, offering easy access to the 6-million-acre playground of Denali National Park and Preserve. Aside from North America’s highest peak, the park is home to an array of wildlife — from moose, caribou, Dall sheep and brown bears to gray wolves and red foxes. Recent renovations to the lodge increased the room total to 663, making it the largest hotel in the state of Alaska. Reach the lodge via the George Parks Highway from Anchorage or Fairbanks, or on the Alaska Railroad, offering daily services in the summer.
The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge will be open from mid-May to mid-September.
“Weekend at Base Camp” is a blog series that shares how you can plan a weekend escape full of adventures to enjoy our Alaska-sized backyard.