Patterns of land ownership and the uncontrolled development around Denali have led to a hodgepodge of roadside hotels, cabins, lodges, campgrounds, and restaurants in pockets arrayed along more than 20 miles of the Parks Highway. There are rooms of good quality in each of the pockets, but the going rates vary widely. The most expensive rooms, and the first booked, are in the immediate vicinity of the park entrance. Better bargains are in pockets south of the park, with prices getting lower the farther you go. Both these areas are entirely seasonal. Good deals are had in Healy, too, 12 miles north of the park, where you can find a hotel room for less than a comparable room near the park entrance. A few links to B&Bs are on Healy's Denali Chamber of Commerce website (www.denalichamber.com, click on "Directory"). If you don't have a car, Healy is not convenient; in that case, stay nearer the park entrance. The other choices are wilderness lodges in the Kantishna area; or Talkeetna, the back door to the park. Despite their high prices, rooms can be hard to find at peak season (although not during the economic recession), and it's wise to book ahead.
Near the Park
This area, known formally as Nenana Canyon or more commonly as "Glitter Gulch," extends about a mile north of the park entrance on the Parks Highway. Large, luxurious hotels dominate. Owned by the Princess and Holland American cruise lines, each hotel has superb rooms and public areas that were rebuilt in grand style within the last few years. Objectively the best lodgings in the area, I give them brief mention mainly because they serve escorted-tour passengers nearly to the exclusion of other guests. The giants are Denali Princess Lodge, Mile 238.5, Parks Highway (www.princesslodges.com; tel. 800/426-0500 reservations, or 907/683-2282 local), and the McKinley Chalet Resort, Mile 239.1, Parks Highway (www.denaliparkresorts.com; tel. 800/276-7234 reservations, or 907/683-8200 local). Rack rates are high at each of these places, but you usually don't have to pay them. You can stay for much less if you arrive on one of the days when the flow of cruise-ship passengers is down, or early or late in the season, or if you book one of the owners' packages. Good deals are to be had as well on packages with the Alaska Railroad.
At one time, the canyon contained a variety of smaller, locally owned hotels catering to independent travelers, but the extraordinary value of the property and ever-growing flow of cruise-ship passengers has led to consolidation of lodgings, campgrounds, shops, restaurants, and other businesses into the hands of the two main cruise lines (which are, in reality, only two arms of the same corporation, Carnival), and ARAMARK, the park concessionaire, which operates under the name Denali Park Resorts outside park boundaries.
All the hotels in this area are open only during the tourist season, roughly from May 15 to September 15.
Healy is 10 miles north of the park entrance, but a world away. It's a year-round community with an economy based partly on a coal mine. It sits in a large, windy valley with a few patches of stunted trees and big, open spaces of tundra. There are hotels and B&Bs with rooms well below the cost of those near the park, and most businesses stay open in the winter, when the rest of the region shuts down tight. They say the water tastes better, too. On the downside, you need a car to stay in Healy.
Denali Dome Home (www.denalidomehome.com; tel. 800/683-1239 or 907/683-1239) is a huge house in a geodesic dome on 5 acres, run year-round by a family for 20 years. The seven rooms are $170 to $190 double in summer and have many amenities, including a cooked-to-order breakfast. Use the same contact information for their Keys to Denali car rental.
South of the Park
Lodgings south of the park are in widely separated pockets of private land concentrated 7 and 14 miles down the highway. I've listed a few in detail, but you may also want to try Denali Cabins, Mile 229, Parks Hwy. (www.denali-cabins.com; tel. 877/233-6254 or 907/376-1992).
Denali Wilderness Lodges
Staying in a wilderness lodge makes for a completely different experience of Denali, and that's why I've segregated these choices here. These lodges are self-contained vacations, and if you choose to stay, you don't need to worry about the shuttle bus or the other issues of escaping the "front-country." The lodges also are expensive and require a significant commitment of time. It doesn't make sense to spend fewer than 3 days, and some lodges require longer minimum stays.
All lodges within Denali National Park are in the Kantishna district, on private land where gold miners staked claims before the park was created. The lodge operators who later obtained this land gained something more valuable than gold: the opportunity to bring visitors to the far end of the park from the entrance, as near as a vehicle can get to Mount McKinley, without using the park's shuttle system. Hosts drive visitors to Kantishna in their own buses or vans over the 91-mile park road. These lodges are open only in summer. Besides the three lodges I have room to describe here in detail, I also recommend Denali Backcountry Lodge (www.denalilodge.com; tel. 877/233-6254 or 907/376-1992).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.