We just returned from our 10-day trip to Alaska. We spent 3 days and 2 nights inside Kantishna at the Skyline Lodge. While we were booking our various lodgings, we debated whether or not to stay at Skyline or one of the more expensive options and based on the research that we have done, we decided to stay here. It proved to be a brilliant decision. Skyline is a remarkably comfortable and even luxurious place to stay in the middle of Denali. All their cabins have amazing views of the valley. One night (around 11:00pm), as the sun set, the entire lodge was basked in a breathtaking golden hue. Because the lodge only has a handful of rooms, we were the only one standing on the balcony enjoying this quiet moment.
The staff was extremely friendly, helpful, and fun. I played ping pong with pilots, shared a glass of wine with off-duty staff, and chatted with Marge the chef about her experience growing up in Fairbanks. The rooms are clean, well furnished, and quiet. There is no need to carry a key (no one locks his/her door). The beds are "super comf." There are three shared bathrooms (2 with showers) and an outhouse (all clean and the vents for the bathrooms provide all the audio-privacy one would need). The main building has three stories: the first floor has a communal dinning area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a ping pong table. The second floor is where the main office resides and there is an observation area with binoculars and a telescope along with books and a bathroom. The third floor gallery contains Greg the owner's office, a bathroom, and a couple of pilot's rooms. Our cabin was no more than a 20 feet walk to the main building.
Every night, Marge prepared food for us and the pilots. Meals were $40/day/person which included not only dinner but also self-serve lunches and breakfasts. I was expecting no more than some soggy pasta a la classic cruise food for dinner but what we got was real homemade meals. I watched Marge as she read recipes and carefully prepared meals all afternoon. My wife is a vegetarian and Skyline accommodated her above and beyond the call of duty. On our first night, we had three different kinds of pasta dishes: a baked casserole, a linguine in lemon cream sauce, and a spicy red pasta sauce with ziti. Along with that, we had salads with homemade tahini lime dressing, homemade onion bread, and fresh baked cookies for dessert. On our second light, Marge prepared honey chicken, pan friend panko-covered halibut, steam vegetables, a quinoa salad, and mushroom and barley. There is nothing like hiking all day only to come back to a real meal.
For breakfast and lunch, we had the options to make sandwiches, chow down cereals, oatmeal, bread of all kinds, left-overs from the night before, fruits, granola bars, cookies, etc. Skyline does not have an alcohol license so we bought in a few bottles of wine. The lodge also provides accessories like pans for gold-panning down the road, hiking poles, free mountain bikes (that were in great shape!), laminated hiking maps, etc. They also have a key to Fannie Quigley's (a legendary miner from 1870-1944) house down the road. A staff gave us the key and directions to the house and we walked down there to explore it ourselves.
From our research, we did not expect to see a lot of wildlife but as we checked into the lodge, we spotted a giant cinnamon black bear about 1/4 mile away digging for food. Later that afternoon, as we were gathering ourselves for a quick hike, one of the staff ran out to tell us not to hike for the bear was literally across the road from us! We stood there watching it eat. We also saw ptarmigans and other birds, ground squirrels galore, and there were enough moose droppings to convince us that they were around.
Immediately surrounding the lodge are a dozen hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. And Wonder Lake is a good 6 mile bike ride away (be warned, some of the hills to the lake are challenging even for regular bikers). One could spend a lot more time than we did and still not exhaust all the nearby activity options. In addition, since Skyline is first and foremost an air taxi service, one could sign up for any flightseeing tours (which are cheaper than their competitors). Alas, the three days we were there, Mt. McKinley was cloud-covered. However, the staff told us that residents of the lodge always have first dip if the weather proves ideal.
One of the most compelling reason to pick Skyline is the cost. Everything in Alaska is a bit more expensive but with some smart planning, one could minimize the bleeding. Compare Kantishna Roadhouse to Skyline for relatively similar arrangements, here are your numbers.
Kantishna Roadhouse costs $435 per person per night but it includes all the meals and the bus ride in and out with commentaries. They also provide guided tours while you are there along with sled dog demonstrations and other goodies. For two people staying at Kantishna for two nights, it would cost you $1740 (without tax).
A two-person cabin at Skyline costs $235 a night and meals are $40 per person per day. Add in the Kantishna Experience Tour ($159/person) that provides commentaries for the bus-ride in, it would cost you $948 (without taxes). Granted, you have to share bathrooms with the other cabins but ask yourself, is a private bath and sled dog demonstrations worth $800? What you get with Skyline is a sense of being in a seclusive cabin and not a tourist trap along with dozens of other people. For us, it was an easy choice.
The ride out to the entry of Denali is also taken care of by the Camper Bus route. The only bus that would take your luggage into Kantishna is the camper bus. If you choose the Kantishna Experience Tour, you can only bring a small carry-on type bag. We chose the camper bus which cost $30 or so. There was no running commentaries (indeed, our bus drivers ranged from stoic to mildly creepy). But, if you do your homework ahead of time, read up on the route, you can learn a great deal about the park and the route on your own. We saw 14 bears, countless caribous, moose, dall sheep, brown eagles, etc. to and fro Kantishna. I am not sure how much more we could have learned and seen having a guide on our bus.
Call in advance. Rooms are filled quickly.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC