A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage: 45°/61°/Mostly cloudy
Fairbanks: 46°/69°/Partly sunny
The round-rumped grizzly bear ambled toward us, and I swallowed a scream and the urge to run. It had 6 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve wilderness in which to roam, yet somehow this bear had managed to find my backpacking partner and me, alone on the Savage River.
Southcentral towns outside Anchorage often have a wide selection of lodging to accommodate visitors who come to town for a weekend's relaxation, to fish or to show off the state to relatives.
Western Alaska's grand expanse of terrain, water and wildlife attracts many visitors with an interest in the outdoors. Its larger cities -- Kodiak, Bethel, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Nome -- put up quite a few visitors and governmental and commercial guests for the night.
Hotels in Barrow and Kotzebue, in Northern Alaska, cater to tour groups, which arrive by plane from Anchorage or Fairbanks.
Accommodations are grouped at the park entrance
Each summer a small city opens up at the entrance to Denali National Park -- a burg of hotels, lodges and campgrounds. These businesses, concentrated in the canyon along the Nenana River and Parks Highway known as Glitter Gulch and just north and south of the park, provide housing for most of the park's overnight visitors.
Many hotels provide bus service to the Alaska Railroad depot and the park's main visitors center. Taxi service is also available, and visitors may walk to restaurants and shops.
The lone hotel on park property for years was the Denali Park Hotel, a remnant of the days when passengers were delivered by train, which stops across the street at Mile 3 of the park road. The hotel was closed and removed after the 2001 season, to be replaced by a visitor-education center.
Denali National Park has several campgrounds, two of which are for tents only and three of which allow vehicles as well.
Lodges in the heart of the park advertise their closeness to nature. Camp Denali and North Face Lodge sit 88 miles up the park road from the entrance. They are the only accommodations inside the park with a view of Mount McKinley. In the old mining town of Kantishna, 91 miles in, is the Kantishna Roadhouse, and at the end of the park road sits Denali Backcountry Lodge. Each lodge, built on privately owned land, operates its own bus service to the park entrance. A couple of the park's green shuttle buses also drive to Kantishna daily.
South of the park entrance, a number of campgrounds and hotels cater to park overflow and to people who just want to avoid Glitter Gulch. Denali Grizzly Campground, which has been in business since 1982, operates where the Nenana River crosses the Parks Highway at Mile 231, eight miles south of the Denali entrance. It has tent, RV and cabin camping, plus all-important showers.
Other lodges and motels have built up there as well. Some dining is available at hotel restaurants. More to the south, The Perch bakery and restaurant at Mile 224 attracts diners year-round.
Denali visitors who find themselves without reservations or a campsite in the park may need a copy of the Healy Lions Club's guide to park-area businesses. It lists campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and the location of ATMs.
Healy, a coal-mining town 11 miles north of the park entrance, has motels and B and Bs, as well as all services.