Denali is the highlight for many people visiting Alaska. I hear it all the time, from being the top destination people want to visit while planning to the stories they share of their favorite Alaska memories after returning home: Denali is a special, unforgettable place.
But Denali has some things going against it, from a planning perspective. It’s isolated – over 200 miles from Anchorage and 100 miles from Fairbanks. There’s only one road and one railroad line to get there. And there are only a handful of hotel options and restaurants to choose from – even during the peak summer season. It can be hard to choose where to stay in Denali, especially with such limited options.
While growing up in Alaska, I spent a summer working in Denali and had a chance to get to know the area first-hand. I’ve been into basically all of the properties in the area due to my work, and have stayed in a fair number of them too. I know where *I* want to stay when I visit Denali, and that’s what I’m sharing in this post. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive listing of every single place to stay in Denali; it’s my curated list based on my experience and expertise traveling in Alaska.
Read on to learn the five best accommodations in Denali – three hotels and two vacation rentals, plus a bonus property I think is fascinating if you find yourself looking for that kind of stay. By the end, you’ll know where to stay in Denali – according to an Alaskan!
In this post, I promote travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Tanana and Dënéndeh peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Different Areas to Stay in Denali
Before jumping into the list of properties, I wanted to start with a brief explanation of the different areas you can stay in Denali. Because the Denali area is so big, people often don’t realize that there are different areas.
- Nenana Canyon – Located within a mile of the entrance to Denali National Park, the Nenana Canyon (or “Glitter Gulch”) is the most popular area to stay, and has eight hotels and cabin properties. You can ride the Alaska Railroad to Denali and stay in this area without a car and will have no problem getting around thanks to shuttles.
- Denali Park – Located 6-10 miles south of the Denali National Park entrance, this small community has a few hotels, private residences available for rent, a couple of tour outfitters, and a few restaurants. You’ll need a car if you want to stay in this area, since only a few properties have shuttles.
- Backcountry – Located 85-92 miles along the Denali Park Road, Kantishna is the “backcountry” community with three hotels. You can have to ride a bus (or take an air taxi) to reach these properties – so no car needed. (For 2022, it’s unknown whether any of these properties will open due to issues with the road.)
- Healy – Located 10 miles north of the Nenana Canyon, the small community of Healy has a few hotels and lots of local charm. You’ll save by staying out here but need a car to make the drive to Denali each day.
Now you’re a bit better oriented, let’s dive in; in each property I recommend, I mention where it’s located.
1. Grande Denali Lodge
I’ve been in almost every property in the Denali area after working there back in my younger days, but I’m always impressed by the Grande Denali Lodge. Situated high on the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain, “the Grande” is the first property you’ll spot as you approach the Nenana Canyon area by train or car.
The Grande has three types of rooms, plus the main building where you can enjoy a meal or drink at the Alpenglow Restaurant. Their “standard” rooms are one king or two queen rooms, and some come with incredible views of the Nenana Canyon and surrounding countryside. But the best-kept secret of the Grande Denali Lodge is their cabins.
There are six cabins on the Grande Denali Lodge property, each with a different animal theme, and they can accommodate up to four people (one king bed and one futon couch). You’ll be away from the noise and bustle of the main hotel buildings, and you can even enjoy a protected view of the sky – ideal for aurora-viewing if you’re visiting in the late season as we were!
Best of all, the cabins are only about 10% more per night compared with normal rooms – but they do book up, so be sure to reserve one if you decide that’s where you want to stay in Denali!
2. Denali Bluffs Hotel
It might seem odd that I’m only recommending two properties in the Nenana Canyon area, and they’re sister properties – but that goes to show the standard that the Grande Denali Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotel are at!
The Denali Bluffs Hotel is located just down the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain from the Grande Denali Lodge; it’s actually hard to tell the two properties apart by glancing at them. But they are quite different: the Denali Bluffs has a number of buildings across their property with a small number of rooms in each building. It’s almost like summer camp that way – and the outdoor walkways between the buildings add to the feeling (and cut down on noise when people are passing your room!).
Their standard rooms have one king or two queens – and many have a private balcony; they also offer premium rooms in the RiverView building. These are worth the splurge for the extra space and excellent views of the Nenana River and canyon.
3. Denali Backcountry Lodge
If you’ve got your heart set on staying in the Denali backcountry during your trip, there’s really only one place to be: the Denali Backcountry Lodge.
There are three properties deep in the heart of Denali, in the small community of Kantishna that now falls within the boundaries of Denali National Park. But the Denali Backcountry Lodge is the best – in part because every cabin has its own private ensuite toilet. (Other properties have shared toilets and a more communal atmosphere.)
If the Denali Bluffs Hotel feels like summer camp, Denali Backcountry Lodge is summer camp. In addition to a luxurious cabin all to yourself, there are daily activities including hikes, walks, gold panning demonstrations, bonfires, and more. You can also reserve one of two barrel saunas for a relaxing session or book a massage at their spa (which hasn’t been open since 2019 but is expected to be next year).
Additionally, meals are included, they have a bar for happy hour, and an enclosed gazebo with a fire merrily crackling 24/7 that allows you to escape the mosquitoes.
Note: As of writing, I am unsure whether the Denali Backcountry Lodge will reopen in 2022 due to issues with the Denali Park Road. Please be sure to check the hotel website directly before booking on a third-party site to confirm that you will actually be able to visit and stay at the property.
4. Harbor House
If vacation rentals are more of your style or you’re traveling with a bigger group and don’t want a bunch of separate hotel rooms, Denali can accommodate that too! The Harbor House is located south of the Nenana Canyon so you’ll need a rental car to reach this property – but don’t let that deter you.
This large cabin sleeps up to six people with four beds – two queen beds, a twin daybed, and a twin rollaway bed –, making it ideal for a family with children. You’ll have the entire property to yourself and plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy Denali on your own terms. There’s also a gas fire pit, a BBQ grill, and a wrap-around deck where you can enjoy morning coffee and keep an eye out for moose crossing the property.
From $385/night, book on VRBO.
5. King’s Deer Lodge
For another vacation rental option, the King’s Deer Lodge is one of my favorite places to recommend – and many people have loved staying there after reading about it in my Alaska itineraries.
This huge log cabin is also perfect for groups (it sleeps up to 9 people!) and requires a rental car to reach. But you’ll have everything you need to feel like you’re really living in the wilds of Alaska at this property. There’s a king bed, two queen beds, and a double bed (with space for two more mattresses in the house on request); there’s also a semi-finished basement with three more queen beds and one twin bed – this place is huge!
You’ll be responsible for preparing feasts in the huge kitchen and dining at wooden tables – or you can head one mile up the Parks Highway to 229 Parks, one of my favorite – and the best – places to eat in Denali.
If you’re looking to imagine life in a log cabin of old but with modern amenities, the King’s Deer Lodge is the perfect option.
From $254/night, book on VRBO.
Bonus: Denali Park Hotel
For one last option, I wanted to include the Denali Park Hotel – which is actually located 10 miles north of the park entrance in the town of Healy.
The Denali Park Hotel makes my list of the best places to stay in Denali because of its history. As I detailed in my story about the history of hotels in Denali National Park, the Denali Park Hotel is home to the last remaining relics of the storied McKinley Park Hotel, which once stood at the entrance to the park. You can see several of the old train cars from the “temporary” second hotel, as well as other building structures that have been repurposed into rooms at the Denali Park Hotel.
You’ll need a car if you plan to stay at the Denali Park Hotel, but the drive from Healy to the park entrance is beautiful.
There are certainly other places to stay in Denali, but these are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most and recommend. If you have any questions about these properties or other places you might want to stay in Denali (if you want my opinion on them), let me know in the comments!
I was hosted at both the Grande Denali Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotel during a recent Alaska trip. This post was produced as part of that partnership.
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