Date of stay: August 5-8, 2009. The experience at Back Country Lodge fell far short of expectations based on representations of the web site and in discussions with Denali Tours representatives. This complaint is not delivered lightly. I have over 30 years of experience in hotels and the hospitality industry. There were nine other couples and families who told me of their disappointment as well. None of them will recommend Back Country Lodge to friends and family. Denali Tours needs to re-evaluate its operations. Details of my complaint follow.
Schedule—This is the first resort I’ve heard of that requires you to book three nights to have two days. Although I was encouraged to book a fourth night at the companies Denali Cabins at the entrance to the park, I was never told that other buses would be allowed in earlier. If you book at BCL, you are not given the option of taking the early bus in or the mid-day bus out—these are reserved for the day visitor (who paid a fraction of one night’s charge). So you arrive at 8 pm and depart at 6 am. The only reason I could determine for this lack of flexibility is to save the cost of a lunch! As you will see under the comments on food, this would be a small cost to the owner. Denali Tours will say the bus times are due to the train schedules but why not let those who choose come in on the day visitor bus?
Accommodations—To say that the cabin is Spartan is not an exaggeration. I’ve seen more amenities at a Motel 6! There was no shampoo, conditioner or body lotion. The shower dispenser didn’t even have soap—for two nights. And then, of course, we had to leave at 6 am.
Program—Probably the area of biggest disappointment because the web site and reservationist pitched it the most. Upon arrival our first night, we were advised that extra activities were scheduled for the next afternoon since all of the morning hikes had already been booked by in-house guests. There was no mention of what we might do in the morning.
Hikes were advertised as casual, moderate and challenging. All hikes were to be escorted by a naturalist. No challenging hikes were offered. I was told I would have to recruit three other hikers before they would consider it.
When I asked the head guide for a recommendation for a more strenuous hike, he gave me a map that had few details. When I asked how to find the trailhead, he pointed to the building next door and said, “It’s just beyond that building.” That would have been true if I were a crow. To actually walk to the trailhead, I had to go the other direction to reach the road which .7 mile later would reach the trailhead.
When I asked about what wildlife we might see in the area, I was told, “There’s not much wildlife at this elevation. What you saw on the ride in is pretty much what you can count on.” That is NOT what I had been led to believe. I did not pay $800 per night to do self-guided hikes with little hope of seeing wildlife.
The one guided hike we did was a moderate (no elevation so really a stroll) led by Tricia whose knowledge was impressive. The hike was marred by guests incapable of walking the distance so that the first finishers waited over an hour on the others to complete the hike so we could return to the lodge. They clearly should have been told to turn back the first time they asked, “How much further is it?”
The naturalist programs in the evening were Alaska trivia and backpacking 101, neither of which drew much interest from guests.
Food—Is lousy too harsh a description? No but ‘PITIFUL’ is probably more descriptive. Being in the hotel business a number of years, I’m pretty familiar with costs. I figure BCL spent about $8 per guest per day for food cost. BCL makes a big point about how remote their location is. Yet, everyday they have three buses that go by the Costco in Anchorage. They certainly had no problem filling their cookie jar with Costco cookies! I’m not sure buying better food would have resolved the problem as there didn’t seem to be a chef on site, just staff to heat some of the items, like frozen waffles and link sausages.
The lunch menu I referred to earlier was soup du jour and sandwich buffet—it was the same thing two days running except for tweaking the soup a bit. Not only was the food plain, there wasn’t much of it to sustain energy for the strenuous hikes that we took on our own. Oh, maybe that’s why they didn’t offer those hikes!
Staff—It seemed as if half of the staff was from Russia. They may have understood English but we have no proof as they never spoke in the time I was there. Other staff did not seem happy and one guest was told it was due to overwork because of recent staff departing early.
Recommendation: Skip BCL and do the day tour. All buses, including the green ones operated by the park service, stop to see wildlife. The national park also operates buses that go to the end of the road although Denali Tours told us otherwise. The one day trip is a fraction of the cost of a one night stay and the national park green bus is considerably less expensive than Denali Tours. Since this is where you will see the wildlife, there is NO REASON to book Back Country Lodge
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- When planning your Alaska vacation don't settle for just another Denali hotel! Journey with us winding through the Alaska Range, deep into the heart of the Denali National Park, with opportunities to see Denali's famed wildlife: Grizzlies, Caribou, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves, and Eagles. At the very end of the Denali Park road, past Wonder Lake, you'll find a unique enclave in the park known as Kantishna. This area is home to Denali Backcountry Lodge. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Denali Backcountry Hotel Denali National Park And Preserve
- Hotel Denali Backcountry
- Denali Backcountry Lodge Alaska/Denali National Park And Preserve