Although pricy, a stay at Camp Denali is one of the best ways to experience Denali National Park. It’s one of the few accommodation choices at the end of the park road and the only one that is allowed to offer guided walks within the park. All the cabins have fantastic views of the Alaskan Range, including Denali. High quality meals and an enthusiastic staff eager to share their knowledge of the park top off the visit.
The camp combines rustic backwoods charm with high-end luxuries. The individual cabins dotted along the compound road face the Alaska Range, each with its own outhouse and outdoor water faucet. There is no indoor plumbing. The outhouses are purposely placed so that they too have views of the Alaska Range, and everything is spotlessly clean.
Our sizable cabin was furnished with a comfortable queen bed dressed in soft linens and a down comforter. The room also had a table and chairs and bunkbeds, but there are a variety of bed arrangements in the different cabins. There is no electricity but there is a propane hot plate to heat water for coffee and propane lights that look something like the old fashioned lanterns. There is an indoor sink and a pitcher is provided to fetch water from the outdoor faucet.
The compound has a number of communal buildings. There is a game room/library for rainy days or just when you want to relax in a cozy setting. A nicely done spa type building houses the communal showers with private dressing areas outside the shower stalls. There is also a gift shop and gear room if you need to borrow trekking polls, back packs, gaiters, etc. Mountain bikes are also available.
Duration of Stay
Camp Denali offers two packages, a 3 night stay arriving Friday and departing Monday or a 4 night stay arriving Monday and departing Friday. Both options include all meals and activities.
Breakfast and dinner are served in the lodge dining room at set times. As part of their Covid-19 safety protocol guests are assigned specific tables, with guests rotating tables throughout the stay so everyone gets the front row view of the mountains.
Each evening you make a selection for the following days’ meals. For breakfast there is a hot item and/or cold or hot cereal. For lunch you have a choice of sandwiches and snacks. For dinner there is a meat or vegetarian option.
After the long bus ride the first day’s dinner served at 7:30 was a lighter affair but still filling, consisting of a green salad with greens fresh from their greenhouse, corn bread and a chicken tortilla soup with great chili flavor but not spicy hot. For dessert silky-smooth panna cotta.
The second night’s dinner started with a cream of corn soup followed by salmon over a rice pilaf. Both dishes were rather ordinary. The salmon in particular was a disappointment – the fish was overcooked and the pecans had been sitting in the brown butter sauce too long. The sauce was not that flavorful and the rice was sticky and uninteresting. Lemon tart for dessert – nice tartness but a tad too sweet for my tastes.
The third dinner started with a romaine lettuce and tomato salad with Caesar dressing followed by a pork roulade served with mashed potatoes and greens. All nicely done and the best meal of the trip. Desert was a molten chocolate cake with great chocolate flavor and not too sweet.
The first cooked breakfast was a frittata with caramelized onion and tomato bits served with potatoes, spinach and zucchini. All nicely done and served with a breakfast green salad of arugula, grapes and granola and warm biscuits with a soft center and crusty outside. Yum! Don had oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts and milk.
The second cooked breakfast was an Asian bowl with Alaskan cracked barley and quinoa, tahini dressing, chickpeas, greens, mushrooms, sweet potato, fried eggs and pickled onion. The bowl, while a welcome healthy change, was not that exciting flavor-wise. Somehow the components didn’t marry as well as they could have. Along with breakfast came fresh orange and grapefruit slices and fabulous cinnamon rolls – not overly sweet nor as gooey as some, but wonderfully yeasty with great cinnamon flavor.
The last morning was an early 6:00 breakfast consisting of a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, black beans, potatoes and stewed tomatillos along with zucchini and nut muffins.
Lunch was a choice of sandwiches which varied daily, for example ham and cheese or humus and roasted vegies. Peanut or almond butter and jelly was available every day. In addition was a choice of snacks – salty trail mix, sweet trail mix, vegies, apple or orange, and cookies. All well prepared. I especially liked the cornichon in the ham and cheese sandwich.
Starting at $4,000 for a 3 night stay for 2 people, Camp Denali is expensive, especially when you think that you don’t even get indoor plumbing for that price. However, once you are on the property and see the quality of the accommodations and food; the number of people that it takes to keep the place running in a remote location; and the attention, dedication and enthusiasm they place on making Camp Denali as eco-friendly as possible while providing a memorable experience for the guests you understand that the cost is justified.
Camp Denali offers 3 levels of guided hiking each full day at the camp – a gentle stroll, a moderate hike and a strenuous hike. Besides the guided hike you can bike, hike and fish on your own. For an additional cost there is also the possibility of a Denali sightseeing flight out of Kantishna. Or you can just hangout and enjoy the fabulous location. Details of the guided hikes and the plane sightseeing trip will be discussed in future posts.
If you are planning on doing the hikes each day but also want time to hangout or explore the grounds I would recommend the 4 night stay rather than the 3. The moderate and strenuous hikes are full day activities that don’t leave you much time for anything else. This is especially true when the hike is in the National Park as it can take 45 minutes to reach the hike starting point.
Views of Denali
One of the advantages of staying at Camp Denali is you have the possibility of views of Denali the entire time you are at camp. Whether he will actually make an appearance or not is a different story. Unlike Talkeetna, Camp Denali is located on the dryer side of the mountains which should increase your chances of seeing him.
During our 3 night stay Denali made an appearance every day with clouds continuously passing through. He was most often visible in the middle of the night and turned a soft pink between 3 and 4a.m.
I asked one of staff members, who has been coming to Camp Denali for over a decade, how common the beautiful weather we were having was during the summer. She said that it’s like this only about 20% of the time in the summer. Generally you have clearer weather in the shoulder seasons, the beginning of June and September, with rainier weather in July and August. The last few years August has been particularly overcast and rainy.
For links to all the posts in this series see the Alaska page.
June 11-14, 2021