Where to stay on a visit to Denali National Park

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Near Denali National Park, there are nearly 30 hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and wilderness lodges. Seventeen of them have the word Denali, the Athabascan word for the high one, in their name.

In these parts, the 20,320-foot-tall Mount McKinley -- the tallest mountain in North America -- retains its Athabascan name, so when locals refer to Denali, they could be talking about the park, the mountain or a hotel.

Denali the mountain looms over the Alaska Range, which  separates the south-central part of the state from the interior plateau.

When Denali comes out of the clouds, it can be seen at least as far away as Talkeetna, a village about 60 miles from the mountain and a popular stopover on the road to Denali the park.

Denali, in all its nomenclatures, can be reached easily in the months that arent winter by Alaska Railroad or vehicle.

But it was the cruise lines that really opened up the interior to tourists.

The lines use catchphrases like Double-Denali (Holland America Line) and Direct to Denali (Princess Cruises) to describe their tour offerings. Nearly every tour sold by Princess, HAL and Royal Celebrity Tours (the cruise-tour arm of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises) makes a stop in Denali.

McKinley Chalet Resort and McKinley Village Lodge

Aramark Corp.s Resorts and Parks division includes two hotels near the entrance to the park: the McKinley Chalet Resort and the McKinley Village Lodge. HAL uses the McKinley Chalet for its Denali overnights.

Rooms: The Chalet Resort has 290 minisuites in cedar lodges and 55 deluxe Cottonwood rooms. The Village Lodge is smaller, with 150 rooms. 

Views: Both lodges overlook the Nenana River.

Dining: The Nenana View Bar & Grille at the Chalet Resort offers Pacific rim and California-influenced dishes; the Gold Rush Dining Room is the restaurant at the Village Lodge.

Activities: The hotels offer guided tours through Denali, rafting, heli-hiking tours and horseback riding. Aramark operates Alaska Raft Adventures, which offers rafting trips on the Nenana River. Guests at the Village Lodge can pan for gold on site.

Details: Commission is 10% and is offered on all sales except in-park tours, Aramark said. For information and reservations, call (800) 276-7234 or visit www.denaliparkresorts.com.

Grande Denali and Denali Princess Wilderness lodges

Travelers on a Princess cruise-tour stay at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge during their visits to Denali National Park.While HAL uses the McKinley Chalet, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity passengers use the Grande Denali Lodge. Princess has its own property, the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. The hotels also are available for noncruise guests on an FIT basis.

Rooms: The green-roofed Grande Denali has 154 guest rooms and six cabins that each can sleep five. The Denali Princess has 480 rooms -- some are suites with Jacuzzis.

Views: The Grande Denali sits on a mountaintop in the Alaska Range (its tagline calls the hotel a peak experience). Guests get views of the Nenana River Canyon and the Alaska Range. At the Denali Princess, guests can take in the view of the Nenana River and Denali National Park while soaking in outdoor hot tubs (the tubs are open until midnight so guests can experience the extended sunsets) or while relaxing on a large terrace.

Meals: At the Denali Princess, the Summit Dining Room serves seafood and steaks. A new lounge called Base Camp was added recently. The Grande Denalis Alpenglow Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Activities: Tours can be booked in advance. Both hotels also have a tour desk in the lobby for last-minute planning. Both options provide shuttle service to the parks visitors center.

Details: Both hotels start agent pay at 10%. For information on the Denali Princess, call (800) 426-0500 or visit www.princesslodges.com. For information on the Grande Denali, call (866) 683-8500 or visit www.denalialaska.com.

Camp Denali and North Face Lodge

Alaskas wilderness lodges are mostly small, family-owned properties that function somewhat like a log-cabin version of a bed-and-breakfast. Guests typically get plenty of individual attention from the lodges proprietors, including recommendations on tours and activities; meals; and evening entertainment such as photo slide shows or lectures.

There are a few wilderness lodges nestled deep in Denali, hotels that were built on land annexed by the park in the early 1980s. For a chance to view Mount McKinley from the cabin porch, however, theres one option: Camp Denali and a sister property, North Face Lodge.

Rooms: Camp Denali, which opened in the mid-1950s, consists of 17 guest cabins, each with a wood-burning stove. Theres Alaskan art on the walls and a private outhouse. Each cabin is a short walk from the log lodge, which serves as the camps nerve center, lounge, library and gift shop. The North Face Lodge is a little more modern and a little less rustic. All 15 rooms have bathrooms. Rooms connect to the lodges living and dining room via a covered walkway.

Meals: Each property cooks breakfast and dinner, which is included in the price. Guests must bring their own alcoholic beverages.

Views: If its a view of Mount McKinley from top to bottom that visitors hope to see, they may be disappointed, even on a clear day. The mountain is a maker of its own clouds, and the peak rarely emerges. An estimated 25% of visitors get to see it each year, but when it emerges, it looms over the entire Alaska Range and can be seen from just about any vantage point, even huddled down in a kayak on a river in Talkeetna.

Activities: Camp Denali provides guided hiking and wildlife observation from anywhere along the park road, and its the only property allowed to moor its canoes at Wonder Lake. The staff can custom-design or advise on hiking programs, biking, canoeing and fishing excursions.

Details: Because Camp Denali is located so deep in the park, there are fixed arrival and departure dates -- Fridays and Mondays. Guests can book three-night, four-night or weeklong visits. Rates start at $1,200 per adult for the three-night stays. Visit www.campdenali.com for more information.

For a detailed list of Alaska properties, visit the Alaska Travel Industry Associations Web site at www.travelalaska.com.

Camping

If clients are interested in getting even closer to nature, they can camp. Denali National Park has five campgrounds. Visitors are allowed to camp a total of 14 days a year. The camps are dotted along the Denali Park Road. Reservations service for 2005 started on Feb. 15 and runs through Sept. 10. Call (800) 622-7275 for reservations. Camping fees vary depending on the campground.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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