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“Save your money--Take the green bus!”

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Denali Backcountry Lodge
Certificate of Excellence
Seneca, South Carolina
Level 5 Contributor
58 reviews
10 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 65 helpful votes
“Save your money--Take the green bus!”
Reviewed 9 October 2009

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

  • Stayed August 2009
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Helpful?
16 Thank r808m
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Texas
Level 2 Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
Reviewed 14 September 2009

Too romote location. Only hiking! Oh, panhandling for gold and videos. Took about six hous to arrive by school bus. Then if you want to go elsewhere, you can wait by side of road to be picked by bus, if the bus had a seat. Food was bad! One night they actually served us a chicken leg quarter. Really, how much does that cost! Especially for what they charge per night! Never again. Totally bored. Only good thing was the flightseeing around Mt Denali/McKinley. Room service? What room service. Oh, they made the bed, that was all. I had to go and ask for fresh towels. Heater in our room did not work the second night! And it was cold! Sandwiches for lunch? Breakfast was BADD!!!!

  • Stayed September 2009, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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Helpful?
3 Thank iseldagg
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Level 4 Contributor
27 reviews
6 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 23 helpful votes
Reviewed 6 September 2009

Decided to splurge for the first time ever....what a mistake. We choked on the food, bar was minimal and no one was ever there. Wonder Lake excursion dropped us off, no boats or canoes available--and came back an hour later. Did see Mt McKinley! Fishing equipment was dismal-not like our expectation after reading the brochure, but we saw no fish there anyway. My husband is an experienced fisherman. Hikes were fist come and we were too late, so didn't get to take the only a.m. hike..... No customer service here AT ALL. Septic tank odor in the lodging area 24 hour per day. Two other Lodges looked much better. Would rent a tent or stay at any other lodge. Might take the bus up and fly down next time and stay in the park at the bottom. Terrible place. We are not pampered people, but expect something much better for $1500. Hotels/restaurants around the entrance to the part had fantastic fish for lunch!

  • Stayed August 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
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Helpful?
4 Thank JenniferLee2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Sydney, Australia
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed 18 August 2009

I'm sorry to say but the best part of our 4 days in Denali NP was the bus ride in and out. The rooms were adequate but the food was terrible. The entree each night was a salad bowl put on the table for the guests to help themselves and the main was a choice of a vegitarian meal or one other meal. Again the food was placed on the table for you to serve yourself. The lunch was always processed cold meat and salads to make your own sandwiches.
The staff in the main a young russian girls and cannot communicate.
The evening natualist shows are videos.
The general feeling is that the lodge is always gearing up to please the day bus load of luncheon guests or the evening bus of new guests. Once they arrive they are ignored as the lodge is preparing for the next influx and so on. In fact none receives good service.
For the price most dissapointing.
The NP and the self guided hikes were wonderful, but this had nothing to do with the Backcountry Lodge.

  • Stayed August 2009, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
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Helpful?
3 Thank Gpgrjg
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
NY Metro
Level 4 Contributor
33 reviews
7 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 38 helpful votes
Reviewed 28 July 2009

We stayed at the Backcountry Lodge for two nights as part of a one-week self-assembled land tour before a cruise. The 7+hour bus ride through the park to the lodge was a journey in itself. We were fortunate to have a nearly clear day in which Denali was fully visible all the way in; the previous day (in late June) was a snow storm. Our driver had extensive experience hiking the park and was knowledgeable about the local history, flora and fauna and told good nature stories. We saw golden eagles, grizzlies with cubs, moose, Dahl sheep, mountain goats...pretty much everything except lynx and wolves. We quickly learned that you must be very patient and have good binoculars to observe wildlife in their natural surroundings.

The accommodations are Spartan but nice. Given the location, the extreme weather variation and the need to leave no environmental impact, expecting the Hyatt is unreasonable. The food was freshly prepared and honest but not extraordinary in quantity or quality. Again, given that everything must be bussed in at great expense and time, it isn't reasonable to expect 3 star Parisian dining. The kitchen did permit our teenage boys to eat at both dinner seatings one night, which I thought was quite generous.

The main point of staying at such an accommodation should be to get up close and personal with the Alaska backcountry and here the Lodge excels. You will likely get wet and muddy and you will be bit by mosquitoes (the Alaska state bird), but where else can you hike over tundra, passing fresh moose tracks, then look back to sea a moose cow and calf in the stream you just crossed? Put on hip boots and wade up the stream that was the epicenter of one of the gold rushes. After lighting a fire in the fireplace, the kids sat in the screened in gazebo in the twilight at midnight. One guest was catching releasing trout in a shallow pool in the stream right outside the dining lodge.

This experience will be remembered for a long time as something very special. With the cell phones, ipods and laptops turned off, calmness creeps up on you. You develop a great respect for the natives and early miners who lived here year round.

In America, we celebrate the frontier in our literature and films. Here you get a taste of the real thing. Go if you possibly can.

  • Stayed June 2009, travelled with family
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Helpful?
3 Thank MtKiscoKid
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Orchards, Washington
Level 5 Contributor
55 reviews
14 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 23 helpful votes
Reviewed 23 July 2009

Spent 3 nights (4 days) here June/July and it was the highlight of our cruise plus independent land tour of Alaska. The guided hikes were great, especially as the weather was perfect. Denali was out three of four days. Meals were excellent and the staff was very helpful and very unobtrusive. Late afternoon visits to Wonder Lake were wonderful (sorry). Saw lots of wildlife: moose, bear, and lotsa little stuff. Rides into and out of the park were informative and entertaining

  • Stayed July 2009, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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    • Service
Helpful?
1 Thank Mark D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Pennsylvania
Level 3 Contributor
16 reviews
8 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes
Reviewed 5 July 2009

I did a lot of research on whether to stay in one of the expensive backcountry lodges or stay near the Denali entrance. After reading several reviews, I decided on the Denali Backcountry Lodge. First, the booking staff were terrific. I got a discount by booking directly with the lodge and mentioning the "internet discount". Secondly, the Backcountry Lodge has its own bus that picks us up at Denali Cabins (or the train depot) and takes us on a guided 7 hour journey into Denali and then to Kantishna, mile 96 into the park. And the main reason I chose the Backcountry Lodge was that the price per person per night included meals, snacks, guided hikes, mountain bike rentals, fishing equipment, mosquito nets and spray, and gold panning supplies.
The Backcountry Lodge met all my expectations and more. The 7 hour bus ride into Kantishna was long, but insightful and full of fanciful facts and figures from our bus driver Barry. My brain was going to burst with all the unending data he pelted us with. Wildlife was abundant. Drinks, snacks, and bathroom breaks at the rest stops were adequate. The views of the Alaskan ridge were beautiful despite still no view of Mt McKinley. As Barry said, "some people go from cradle to grave without ever seeing such a sight".
We finally arrived at the lodge at 8pm and were fed a pleasant dinner family-style. Here was our opportunity to meet other travelers and sign up for our morning hikes, either casual or moderate intensity. Tara, the assistant manager gave a short orientation of the premises and activities. 9:30pm was a short nature film. We were so tired and weary from the bus ride that we went to bed by 10:30pm (still daylight, though). The cabin room was exceptionally clean, had private bathroom with shower and tub, 3 speed ceiling fan, dresser, writing desk., and electric heater. Hot water for the shower was abundant. The toilet was a little slow to flush, but please understand that the entire lodge is dependent on well water and septic tank. It has all the "basic" essentials for comfort; so please don't expect the Four Seasons. The only complaint is that the walls are a bit thin; and when the neighbors wake up at 5am to catch their 6am bus back to the Denali entrance you'll wake up as well.
In the morning, the moderate hike was known as the Quigley Ridge hike, about 4 miles total and highest altitude about 3000 ft. Not terribly strenuous for an experienced hiker, but could be challenging for the beginner or really out-of-shape individuals. Our guide was J.D. who was very knowledgable about native plants and geology. When we reached the top of the ridge, we were lucky to have perfect cloudless views of the north face of Mt McKinley. How marvelous it was! During lunch, we met Sara, the lodge's owner. She is a former registered nurse from India. Her husband is an electrical engineer. The bought the Lodge in 1992 and refurbished everything. It was nice seeing the owner ensuring quality control and overseeing the construction for the new additions to the lodge. The afternoon was filled with mountain biking along the gravel road from Wonder Lake. This was unguided, so we explored the area and spotted a moose. We were just 10 feet from it as it crossed the road!
I wish we had booked 3 nights instead of 2 because the weather was so pleasant while staying in Kantishna. Since we planned to stay only 2 nights we arranged a flight back to the Denali Depot with Kantishna Air Taxi. The airport runway is just a few yards from the Lodge. The alternate route home would be to take the 6am 6-hour bus ride back to the depot. I would highly recommend the air taxi if you feel the bus ride would be redundant or too exhausting, or if the weather is clear and you want great pictures of Mt. McKinley. It costs about $200 per person (if negotiated well), lasts 1 hour, and includes a scenic fly-by Mt Mckinley.
Overall, a pleasant and enjoyable stay at the Lodge. Expensive but worth it for the convenience and basic essentials of living comfortably. All the staff were young, energetic, friendly and helpful. Great scenery all around because the lodge sits right on Moose Creek. [no views of Mt McKinley from the lodge unless you go 5 miles to Wonder Lake]. Very cozy atmosphere.

Stayed June 2009, travelled as a couple
Helpful?
2 Thank groverPennsylvania
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Denali Backcountry Lodge

Property: Denali Backcountry Lodge
Address: Mile 95 Denali Park Road, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755
Phone Number:
Region: United States > Alaska > Denali National Park and Preserve
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Breakfast Free Parking Restaurant Shuttle Bus service Spa Suites Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 7 Hotels in Denali National Park and Preserve
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): ££££
Hotel Class:2.5 star — Denali Backcountry Lodge 2.5*
Number of rooms: 42
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

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