There are few places to stay in Denali proper; most accomodations lie just outside the park, in the numerous adventure towns that have cropped up to serve the people who visit. Riley Creek is one of a few campgrounds that are present inside the park and available for reservations and use. It is located on the bus line, so there is easy access to all points of the park that you need to coordinate your stay. The front of the campground also has several useful amenities, including:
* Mercantile Store (groceries, souvenirs, some camping gear)
* Public Phone
The campground offers both drive-in sites as well as walk-ins. The walk-in sites are designed for those without a car, or at least without immediate access to their car (you can use the parking lot to store your vehicle, but it is a 5-10 minute walk away). The drive-in sites are there for those camping in tents with their car, or have a trailer or RV that they are using. The sites can be sized for vehicles over 31' in length. All sites have a fire pit with grill overlay and a park bench for eating. There is also a gravel area cleared for tent use, if you choose to lay one down.
Prices of the sites:
car under 31' : $20/night
There is a $10 park access fee as well, which every party must pay for 7 days of access to the park.
We stayed at cabin 3 at Carlo Creek. I was looking for the cheapest place in the area that was clean, quiet, and comfortable, and Carlo Creek fit that well. The setting right next to a creek and off the road was very nice. And their new laundry facilities were a bonus for us ($2 per wash and $2 per dry). They also have some cheaper but new cabins without bathrooms, but be aware that you will be waiting outside to use the shared bathhouse (with private bathrooms). I felt sorry for the people we saw waiting out in the cooler weather, wasting their time. Our cabin was one of the 5 older cabins. It had 2 beds - a queen and a twin, side tables, chairs, heater, screen on the window, was cutely decorated with dry flowers, and had a private bathroom the size of a small closet. The shower was made of metal, so there were some rust streaks showing. But the water was hot and plenty, and it was great to have a bathroom in our cabin. They have a reservation system online that shows which cabins are available. They also let us use the refrigerator and freezer in the office, but it's only open 9 to 10, so we couldn't take our things out early in the morning before the shuttle. Carlo Creek is about a 20 minute drive south of the entrance to Denali National Park.
The downside of the wilderness lodges in the Kantishna area is the expense. You don't have to pay a lot of money to experience Denali. The backpacking experience looks fabulous, and someday I would like to go back and try it.
Denali is divided up into 87 backcountry units and some have quotas. You'll need to get a permit. Here is a link to the information :
Backpacking in Denali
You'll be assigned a unit by the National Park, given a map, permit and information specific to the unit, and off you go. The Park shuttle bus will drop you off at your stop, and you head out. Don't expect trails. You may very well be walking across river beds and tundra. Just pick a spot and set up your tent. Some units are used far less than others and are more remote. Be sure to read about the experience required to backpack into the unit of interest to you.
Click on this grid map for descriptions and photos of the 87 different units.
Backpacking Grid Map in Denali
This page and grid map also give you an excellent idea of the differences in terrain in the various parts of this huge map.
We stayed 2 nights in a cabin at Carlo Creek Lodge near Denali National Park, in July 2005.
There are 9 cabins, plus a campground. I enjoyed the variety of people staying there; from Alaskans on vacation in tents, people in rented RVs from "outside", to families from all over the world staying in the cabins.
We were in cabin #5, which was roomy and very comfortable. The creek ran right behind the cabin, so with the windows open at night you could hear the water rushing by. It was far enough back in the property that highway noise wasn't a problem.
The cabins aren't new, but were nicely kept up, and had nice Alaskana touches like caribou antlers to hang towels in the bathroom, and clothes in the main room. All the cabins had burl posts and furniture on the front porches (see picture).
The location is 12 miles south of the main park entrance, but nearby (across the highway) are a couple restaurants. I'll write reviews for The Perch, and Panorama Pizza separately.
There is a coin-op laundry on site, in a nice, clean building, with counters for folding, chairs and magazines.
There are seven campgrounds in Denali National Park and reservations are required. Backcountry camping is also available, with a permit. To make reservations call the number below.
The campgrounds are:
Riley Creek - mile .5 - 146 spaces
Savage River - mile 12 - 34 spaces
Sanctuary River -22 miles - 7 spaces
Teklanika River - 29 miles - 50 spaces
Igloo Creek - mile 34 - 7 spaces
Wonder lake - mile 85 - 28 spaces
All of the campgrounds allow tent camping. RVs are permitted at Riley Creek, Savage River and Teklanika River. All have either pit toilets or flush toilets, and all but the two smallest campgrounds have tap water.
In the Denali NP you can eighter stay in a basic or luxury Lodge in Kantishna, on the Wonder Lake Campground or one of the Campgrounds on the very beginning of the Park.
But the ultimate adventure of course is Backcountry Camping! You need to register at the visitor centre for a certain area. After some instructions how to survive the wilderness, they will let you camp out there in the bear country.
You need to bring your own equipment and food. There are no trails just plain nature. You need to find your own way how to get out of sight of everyone.
Have fun in the wilderness... we shared our camping-spot with a caribou.
nothing but wilderness
The success of your backcountry visit to Denali National Park really hinges on your planning of the camping component of your trip. You can't just camp "anywhere." The park is divided up into 43 Backcountry Units, each of which has a maximum quota of packpackers per night. Many of these units have quotas of 4 or 6 people, and some of the larger or more remote units have large or unlimited quotas. As a rule, however, the most popular units have small quotas, and during the peak season, you might have some trouble reserving the unit you want. You would have better luck reserving the unit several days in advance before you need it. But here's the catch - you can only reserve the units IN PERSON. So, those who do long trips, or don't mind staying in a campground for a few days, have better odds of getting the backcountry unit they want.
That being said, there are a lot of glorious backcountry units!!! Just because you don't get a unit with an awe-inspiring view of Mount McKinley, don't be discouraged! Denali is bereft with beautiful views!
Here's a little hint I learned from doing it myself - If you are planning a multi-day trip, you don't have to be limited to the entire trip by foot - you can camp for a night or two in the middle of the park, say by Polychrome or Savage River, then hike down to the road and meet one of the several (bring a bus schedule and a watch with you) camper busses along the way - they stop for ALL campers - and hitch a ride to your next backcountry unit! This is a good idea if you are travelling during the peak season and you want to backpack in the popular Wonder Lake area but the backcountry units are at quota for the first couple days of your trip. You can hit a less popular (but still spectacular!) unit in the middle of the park in the beginning of your trip, then hit the awesome views of Denali towards the end of your trip!
For those who want the comfort and safety of an established campground, there are several in the National Park! The biggest campground is at the entrance to the park - Riley Creek Campground. This campground has RV sites with electricity as well as more primitive tent sites with picnic tables and fire rings. It is a modern campground with beautiful new facilities - running water, flush toilets, etc. Reserve your site at the Main Visitor's Center, or call the reservation number (1-800-622-7275 toll free, or 907-272-7275 in Anchorage or outside the US). I pulled in around 1am and found a spot (miraculously, because it was very crowded). A ranger asked me if I had a reservation - I did, but no tag because I was so late. So, if you don't have a reservation and you will be arriving late, you might be in trouble.
There are campgrounds at Savage River (Mile 13 - 33 sites for tent and RV), Sanctuary River (Mile 23 - 7 sites for tent only, no vehicles), Teklanika River (Mile 29 - 53 sites for RV only due to bear problems), Igloo Creek (Mile 34 - 7 sites for tent only, no vehicles), and Wonder Lake (Mile 85, 24 sites for tent only, no vehicles). All these campgrounds are primitive - no facilities. You will need to pack out *everything* you came in with - there might be trashcans there, though - check with the ranger.
There is also a privately-owned lodge at the end of the road - the Kantishna Lodge. It's unique because it's so far in the park, yet is privately owned. It is a bit of a hangout for some seasonal Park Service Employees, so it might have a lively nightlife on some nights (Folk-rocker Tim Easton played to a small but lively crowd there the summer of 2003). Here's their website - http://www.kantishnaroadhouse.com/lodge.htm
Mountain Morning is the closest hostel to Denali National Park I could find. It's still 15 miles from the Park and on the expensive side by hostel standard ($23 in May 2002), but I couldn't find any accommodation around Denali at this price range. It's owned by a young couple Becky and Ben. She's from Fairbanks and he's from Utah, if I remember correctly. Both were outdoorsy and hands-on type. In fact they hand-built the whole hostel (several log cabins) except the main house. The main house is the original building on the location, and used to be the dorm for the employees of nearby whitewater rafting company.
I spent 2 nights in the hostel. I did not sleep well due to a mosquito problem. Alaska interior is notorious for mosquitos. One of the procedures of building a cabin is to make sure it's completely sealed. Unfortunately the cabin I stayed was not sealed. Mosquitos found their way in and stayed in. Everytime I turned my face I crushed a few on the pillow. As much as I liked the owners, I will not return to this hostel. If you plan to visit, request to stay in the original house which seemed to be the only one that's sealed.
I didn't take a photo of the hostel. The attached photo was taken from the hostel's website shown below.
Though backcountry camping in Denali is free (as explained above), certain regulations must be followed. For those who can't get a berth in an actual campground, or who refuse to try their luck in a backcountry bivouac, the state of Alaska permits roadside camping where turnouts exist -- provided there is no specific prohibition on overnight camping. Most of the Parks Highway outside Denali has already been snatched up by private proprietors, but for those with infinite patience and little sense of planning, a highway turnout north of Healy or around Cantwell will serve your purpose (though arguably match your backcountry risks within the park).
Almost every square foot of Denali National Park is available for backcountry camping, provided that you meet the camping requirements and that you can physically hike to your quarters. Campers must watch a video on park safety and camping in the wild before checking out a bear-resistant food canister. Backcountry camping is free but requires a permit (from the visitor center). There are also limited spaces, and the most coveted are booked in the early morning.
A backcountry camper on average shares his 100-square mile section with about eleven other campers -- if the section is full, which it usually isn't. That means that unless you are camping in a group, you will likely not see another human face until you return to the park road. By camping in the backcountry, your ear will frequently detect pleasant sounds (such as gurgling streams or gentle rain) and often disconcerting sounds (such as animal respiration). There is no better way to get attuned to the wild than sharing your nighttime hours in the hinterland of the park.
** Note : This tip is from a long-ago trip to Alaska (1999). However, I have revisited this page and updated, making sure that the information is still valid. The same people run this b&b as ran it when we visited. I'm sure you'll like it. **
This B&B is in Healy, which is about 7 or 8 miles from the entrance to the Denali National Park.
A large family home, the Denali Dome house (as its name suggests) is a geodesic dome house offering wonderful hospitality and outstanding views of beautiful north-central Alaska.
Very helpful and friendly hosts and a family atmosphere. Anne and Terry Miller, along with their children Edwina, Bart and Sarah, have defined a true family resting place with their Denali Dome Home. Among the more homey points about the Miller's home are:
(1) My daughter Sara enjoyed helping the owner (Terry) and his daughter (also named Sarah) chase Mooses out of the yard each morning
(2) We were told to "help ourselves" to whatever we wanted or found in the refrigerator.
(3) Terry met us each morning at breakfast and simply said "what do you want"? Among our favorites were the spicy little sausages that he called "moose nuggets". I saw the package...they were pork! He also made excellent hotcakes.
(4) In true Alaskan home tradition, everyone leaves their shoes at the door. You walk around the house in your sox.
There are six campgrounds located within the park. All are basic but most have running water and flush toilets during the summer months, although none have showers available. The only showers available to campers in the park are at the Mercantile Store across from the train station. The cost: $3 per shower.
UPDATE: As of 2002 the new Riley Creek Mercantile Store and Showers has opened adjacent to Riley Creek Campground. This replaces the previous mercantile store.
The campgrounds are Igloo Creek, Riley Creek, Sanctuary River, Savage River, Teklanika River and Wonder Lake. You can make advance reservations for 4 of them: Riley Creek, Savage River, Teklanika, and Wonder Lake. Of these 4, I've stayed at all but Teklanika. Teklanika is an RV campground only. Check the website below for more info.
There has been a lot of wildlife activity at Igloo Creek (wolves) and Teklanika (bears) in the past couple of years and they were shut down to tent campers as a result. Check with the park if they will reopen these sites in 2003. The former Morino Backpacker campground is closed for other land use as of 2003.
As I was always traveling here with a tour group, it wasn't as easy for me to get a space at one of these campgrounds. They are very popular, especially those further inside the park. I mostly stayed at the Savage River Groupsite, from where this photo was taken. I loved this spot and it's the first campground where you have the opportunity to see Mt McKinley if it is a clear day. Wildlife does pass through here quite often (check out the moose/bear story in my Must See Activities)... Also of note: You can catch the bus shuttle into the park from here! You don't need to return to the visitor center to pick up the bus. Just be sure to get your ticket in hand the day before.
Riley Creek Campground is the largest and gets the most visitors. It is located in the forest between the park entrance and the Visitor Center. It's not a far walk to the visitor center and this campground is closest to the showers (if that is important). From Savage River, it's a 45 minute drive to take a shower for example...
I camped at Wonder Lake once only because the opportunity arose. I spent one night there with 4 others from a group I was traveling with. This is a fantastic place to get a view of Mt Mckinley if it's showing itself... We didn't see it from there: too many clouds and rain. :-( Also it was June and the mosquitos were horrendous! Really! Still, I'd give this campground another visit! To get to any campground past Savage River (with the exception of Teklanika), you must book yourself on a camper bus.
The absolute best way to camp here is to go into the backcountry. If I ever get the opportunity to come back here on my own, that's what I would do.
32 wooded acres bordered by beautiful Carlo Creek, the Nenana River and Denali National Park. Cozy creekside log cabins and individual sheltered tent sites, each with picnic table and firepit. There are a ton of other lodges, campgrounds, RV parks, motels etc., close to the park entrance, but as far as cheaper accommodations outside the park go, this was my favorite.
The sheltered tent sites were very convenient as it rains here a lot. If you get a few days of continuous rain while camping it gets difficult getting anything dry. Having these shelters is definately a PLUS! The shower houses, cabins and tent sites are all in great condition. Everything is kept very clean!
It's a big place and somewhat overrun with the tour companies. However, it is possible to find quiet and solitude here. We booked a room in the very rear building overlooking the river--it is a hike up to the main lodge and dining facilities, but the quietness is worth it.
This shot shows me standing in the middle of the Nenana River with our building just visible through the trees. We left the windows open and could hear the water rushing through the rocks all night long.
A cosy and relaxing inn near the extrance to Denali National Park. so that you do not need to travel far after your trip. The staff are friendly and the atmosphere is good.
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