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“When can I come back?”
Review of Camp Denali

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Camp Denali
Certificate of Excellence
Thousand Oaks
Level 6 Contributor
250 reviews
57 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 117 helpful votes
“When can I come back?”
Reviewed 6 July 2011

We just returned from a too short stay in Alaska. Camp Denali has long been one of those "bucket list" sorts of places for me and it was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. They have been hosting people here for 50 years and they have it down to a science. The food was wonderful - the reindeer ravioli was one of the best things I've ever eaten and they grow their own greens so a salad is just an hour or so out of the green house. The guides were outstanding. This is the kind of place where even the guy washing the dishes has a degree in an environmental science. Of course, the guy washing the dishes may, tomorrow, be washing a bus and leading a tour. In fact the owner of the lodge drove the bus out on our last day. You are not coddled here. One has to be fairly self reliant to stay where there are out houses down a steep hill behind your cabin, the walk to the showers and the main lodge are up another steep hill and to be fit enough to take advantage of the walks. However, they bend over backwards to make sure you have a wonderful time. We were blessed to have Shelton Johnson as our invited speaker. He was funny, warm and passionate about getting diversity of people into the National Parks. Would I go back? In a heartbeat. But first I have to save up.

Room Tip: Tell the reservations agent, when you book, if you want or need to be near the lodge and showers.
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  • Stayed July 2011, travelled as a couple
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3 Thank parkwife
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Scottsdale, Arizona
Level 3 Contributor
19 reviews
9 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
Reviewed 5 July 2011

We only saw "the mountain" for a short time on the first day, but it did not matter at all. We stayed for four nights. This was one of the most amazing vacations my husband and I have ever taken, and that is saying a lot. The staff at Camp Denali is incredible. We learned so much, and their passion for the park and its wild inhabitants is palpable. Hiking across the open tundra with a guide who knows what he/she is doing and where to go is an experience not to be missed. Did I mention the food? I have had less spectacular meals in five star city restaurants. Of course having an appetite from all of the outdoor activity is certainly good seasoning. The cabins are extremely comfortable. The beds were amazingly comfortable. The propane lamps are easy to work and give off a bright, warm light. The woodstove is fun! Don't be put off by the outhouses. They are spotlessly clean. I would take them over flush toilets in the average gas station ANY day. Biggest surprise was how enjoyable getting to know the other guests was. The staff does a great job of mixing people up and bringing out the best in the group. Did I mention the wildlife, the flowers, the hiking, the biking, the company, the staff? I just can't think of anything that wasn't perfect. OK, it is Alaska, so we had mosquitoes. That's it. Ha!

  • Stayed June 2011, travelled as a couple
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1 Thank desertgspgal
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Minneapolis
Level 5 Contributor
78 reviews
31 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 57 helpful votes
Reviewed 2 July 2011

The second I saw the Camp Denali story on the PBS show, "Great Lodges of the National Parks" three years ago, I knew this was the perfect 50th birthday present for my wife. So I called to make a reservation the following day. The question then was, after watching the video 50+ times (it's on their website) and three years' worth of anticipation, would Camp Denali ever live up to our expectations? The answer turned out to be a resounding "yes." It was so far beyond what we expected we were overwhelmed.

The reviews here of Camp Denali have been, for the most part, right on the money. Some things worthy of re-stating are: First, read the "what you should pack" list on their website carefully, and bring those items. Although we never had to hike in the rain, we did use our rain jackets (not pants) several times simply to cut the chill or the wind.

Second, if you can swing a 7-day stay, do it without hesitation. We did, and we were absolutely glad we did. Every one of the 4-day or 3-day guests we talked to during our stay told us they'd wished they'd have done the 7-day stay. With seven days you don't feel rushed to suck-in the whole "Camp Denali Experience" in a few, short breaths; you can let it waft over you.

Third, the naturalist guides are magnificent, and turn a "walk in the park" into an exciting, educational, fun look at nature. We went on 4 organized hikes during our week (one "Strenuous" and three "Moderate") and each of the guides was knowledgeable, informative, affable, and entertaining. Particularly outstanding were Anne and Jan.

During our two "non-hike" days we canoed on Wonder Lake. There is NOTHING like being the only people on a 3-mile-long lake in the middle of nowhere and having a magnificent, 20,000-foot Denali looming in the sky over your partner's shoulder at the front of the canoe. One of my most memorable moments.

While many say the bus ride into the park is long, we found it fascinating, and the 6 hours evaporated into minutes as the breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife, and informative bus driver completely captivated us.

The personnel at Camp Denali are totally focused on each guest's happiness, and go out of their way to keep everyone satisfied. The meals were 5-star restaurant quality. Our cabin was clean, cheery, and roomy; the beds were more comfortable than the ones we sleep on at home. (Worried about mice? Don't. They don't live in Denali National Park. No such thing as wood ticks, either.) We were fortunate in that our cabin was the second-closest to the shower building; I can see where others could complain about their distance from the showers since some of the cabins ARE a good walk up a steep hill away.

In short, our experience at Camp Denali was nothing short of extraordinary. My wife has called it the best vacation we've ever taken, and I'm apt to agree with her. She literally cried on our last night there because we had to leave. The Camp is set in a park that offers some unbelievably expansive vistas, and the experience of staying there is one that will probably never be matched by any hotel anywhere else on the planet.

I can't use the phrase "if we return," because I know we'll be back. We've tasted vacation perfection, and we want more. Much more.

  • Stayed June 2011, travelled with family
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7 Thank BigG-28
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Illinois
Level 6 Contributor
56 reviews
14 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 43 helpful votes
Reviewed 25 April 2011

We stayed at Camp Denali for 3 nights in July 2010. Although this is an expensive option, the scenery, wildlife, service, and activities are worth it! The unparallelled views of the mountain and land are gorgeous. Our cabin was clean and cozy, the food was delicious, and everyone was friendly. We enjoyed having different levels of guided hikes to choose from. It allowed my teenage son the ability to do the strenous hike while we did the mid level hike. We found the guides extremely knowledgeable and helpful. We loved gathering around the fire in the dining area at the end of a long day to warm up and relax and share our adventures of the day. This is an experience not to be missed. The more time you spend in the park, the better chance you have for wildlife viewing opportunites. We saw at least 15 bears, caribou, moose, wolves, fox, beaver, golden eagle, and numerous birds. They provide rain gear and one day we hiked all day in the rain, but saw the most wildlife I've ever seen in one day! This backcountry lodge was a wonderful experience. We would return in a heartbeat if we ever could.

  • Stayed July 2010, travelled with family
    • Value
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Helpful?
2 Thank parkhiker
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Tucson, Arizona
Level 5 Contributor
50 reviews
33 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 49 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 November 2010

I spent 3 nights at Camp Denali Wilderness Lodge with 3 other friends. We all had a great experience in the wilds of Denali Park. From the time we were picked up at the Denali Visitors Center to the time we returned our every expectation was met. The bus ride in is long and can be harrowing on the narrow roads, but they have it down to a science. We stopped for all wildlife sitings; and we were lucky enough to see bears, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, and many birds, a late afternoon picnic, and potty breaks. We arrived to warm drinks and a snack. The food is home made and very good. We were introduced to all the staff and they discuseed the level of activities offered. Then to our cabins which have propane lights, wood burning stove, and a water faucet outside the door. The pit toilet is down a short path. We spent 2 days hiking at 3 offered levels that are suited the stroller to the peak bagger. We arrived in overcast weather, and left in overcast weather, but were lucky enough to have one day of sunny weather and could see the magnificent view of Mt. McKinley. This is a great vacaton for individuals, honeymooners, and familys. It is a bit pricey, but what isn't in Alaska, and worth every penny.

  • Stayed August 2010, travelled with friends
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Helpful?
4 Thank Kathryn B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Columbus, Ohio
Level 5 Contributor
85 reviews
37 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 117 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 September 2010

When I first started looking into visiting Denali National Park, I have to admit I was shocked at the costs of staying at Camp Denali. But after reading so many fabulous reviews (and after a lot more research revealed how expensive lodging is, in general, around Denali), we decided to take the plunge. Was the cost worth it? Yes. Was Camp Denali what I expected? Not entirely.

First, I cannot recommend Deneki Lakes B&B highly enough if you are looking for a place to stay in “glitter gulch” prior to and following your trip to Camp Denali. Marianne and Fritz, the owners, both worked for Camp Denali for several years and she was a great source of information for us. I’m going to write a review of Deneki Lakes, as well, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

Second, several other reviewers have talked about the great naturalist guides at Camp Denali, the outhouses and the wildlife so I won’t say much on those topics. We saw several bears, two golden eagles, several herds of caribou, 3 or 4 moose, several groups of Dall sheep and, finally on the trip out, one wolf. (We were told by several naturalists that bald eagles don’t live in Denali because there are no salmon, but we were lucky enough to see one close up in Anchorage.) All of the wildlife we saw was on the bus rides, either in and out of the park or on our way to and from the guided hikes. We didn’t see any big wildlife on any of the hikes, though other groups did. We were also fortunate that the mountain was out on our first day there, but we didn’t see it for the rest of our four day stay and the weather was never calm enough for us to do the flightseeing trip around the mountain. I have to be honest that, if we hadn’t seen the mountain or all of the wildlife that we did (which many people do not), I probably wouldn’t be so positive about the experience.

The first thing that surprised me was that the whole Camp Denali/North Face Lodge operation is much slicker that we expected, though I certainly don’t mean that in a negative way. Their web site makes a lot of the fact that they are family-owned but in our four day stay we only met Simon briefly the first night and he happened to be our bus driver on the way out. They have a staff of over 50 people and you see many of them only once – this is a VERY efficient operation. The buses are washed every day and they have a paint shop, a full-service garage, etc. Also, EVERYTHING is branded. You can buy all sorts of gear with the Camp Denali logo on it. I’m not saying this is a bad thing – it just surprised me. The whole experience was much less rustic than I expected. I grew up camping all over the country and this is not the half-step up I expected; it was several leaps and bounds.

I was also surprised by how spread out the camp was. We had a solid 10 minute walk up a steep hill to get to the dining hall and shower house and there were four cabins further down the hill than us. If you aren’t up to that kind of trek, make sure to request a cabin near the dining hall.

The schedule of events was also MUCH fuller than I expected. I envisioned plenty of time spent on our front porch just hanging out and that really didn’t happen. Breakfast is every morning at 7:30 (and the food is just as awesome as everyone has said it is). Then, they clear the breakfast dishes and lay out the stuff for you to pack your lunch. The hikes leave right after that and you aren’t back until at least 4:00. In fact, two of the days we were told we would be back at 4:00 and we weren’t back until nearly 5:30, which barely gave us time to shower before dinner at 6:30. Then the scheduled talk started right after dinner and it was time to get ready for bed because you had to be up again at 6 AM. If you wanted to opt out of the hikes, you could, but you still had to pack a lunch because they don’t serve lunch at the camp. The third day we did not hike because we wanted to canoe Wonder Lake. And there were some more surprises. One of the buses for the hikes was willing to drop us off but we had to find our own way back so we ended up lugging bikes, helmets (they won’t let you bike without one), paddles and life vests with us on the bus and then had to strap the paddles to the bike (that was interesting) and wear the life vests to bike back. (And, yes, biking in a life jacket and helmet looks just as ridiculous as you would imagine – HA!) We stopped at North Face Lodge on the way back just to check it out and they kindly let us leave the equipment there so we didn’t have to haul it back up the hill to Camp Denali; we only had to haul ourselves and our day packs, which was plenty. (One note is that wandering through the greenhouses at North Face is pretty interesting, if you get the chance.)

There are no options for half-day guided hikes or anything like that. You either go the whole day (regardless of which level hike you choose) or you are on your own, though they do have trail maps for paths that leave from the camp. This isn’t entirely up to Camp Denali; they are only allowed to take people into specific parts of the park at specific times and some of those places take 30 minutes by bus to even get to. Still, it would have been nice to have more options. It felt like the schedule was pretty inflexible and, while we had a fantastic time, we left totally exhausted! Also, there was a lot more lecture on the hikes than I expected. I got the impression that the naturalists get a little tired of all the guests only caring about big wildlife, and we heard a lot about glaciers and wildflowers, etc. I will say this varies quite a bit depending on which guide you get. Oh, and they won’t tell you which guide is leading which hike until you sign up. The guides will tell you at breakfast they don’t know.

I was also surprised that the guides don’t carry any kind of radio on the hikes. When I asked our guide about it the first day, just out of curiosity, she said “you’re just supposed to not get hurt”. Well, um, ok. Obviously, cell phones don’t work once you get a few miles in the park road (we have Verizon and had lost our signals before we got to Savage River) but there are all sorts of other radios that would work so it really surprised me they don’t take that safety precaution when they have a groups of 15 people of unknown fitness levels up in the foothills with the ever changeable mountain weather.

The final thing I’ll say about the hikes is that the level of effort was exactly what I expected. This is not a cruise where anything that requires you to move your body at all, even to stroll through a craft market, rates as moderate activity. We did the strenuous hike the first day and gained about 1,500 feet of elevation in the first mile, then hiked along a ridge with very uneven ground before descending the 1,500 feet along another trail. Frequently, the trail was no wider than 12 inches and we had tall brush on both sides. Several people did the strenuous hike every day, but they were definitely not couch potatoes back home.

The one other surprise that comes to mind is that, on the final night, they ask you to tip the staff. As someone who just paid about $4,200 for four days for two people, that seemed a little excessive to me to be asked to leave a tip. The staff is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I just think the whole tipping thing has gotten a little out of control.
A few other items: we picked up a couple of bottles of wine in Fairbanks and most of the guests at Camp Denali brought wine to dinner (though you obviously don’t have to). Camp Denali does have corkscrews and wine glasses so no need to purchase a corkscrew like we did. Also, they give each guest a clothespin with your name on it that is used as a place card and they rotate where you sit each day for breakfast and dinner – you just show up and find your clothespin. It was nice to meet pretty much everyone that way but you get really tired of the standard where-are-you-from-and-what-do-you-do conversation after the seventh or eighth repeat. I would have preferred if they rotated us the first couple of meals and then let us choose our seats. There was also at least one staff person, usually a guide, at each table and that was very nice to get a chance to just ask questions.

One last thing (I promise): comply with the packing list on Camp Denali’s web site!! For most of the country, it has been an unusually hot summer but it did not break 60 degrees the whole time we were in Fairbanks and Denali. On one of our hikes, it started sleeting and we were VERY happy we had hats, gloves and rain gear.
All in all, an excellent experience that was worth the money and we would highly recommend it to certain types of travelers.

  • Stayed July 2010, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
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    • Cleanliness
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Helpful?
26 Thank tripgirlMichigan
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Diapensia, Manager at Camp Denali, responded to this review, 2 February 2011
Dear tripgirlMichigan,

Thank you for your very comprehensive review of your stay at Camp Denali. You cover some of the finer points that often get overlooked. It's helpful for everyone to hear that yes, in fact, you may actually need those hats and gloves, even in the middle of summer in Denali!

I’m going to address a couple of the other points you made, just for clarification.

The summer of 2010 was indeed an especially chilly and rainy season, more so than our average cool and sometimes inclement summers. Even so, given that our guests stay with us for 3-, 4- or 7-nights, the overwhelming majority of our guests caught a glimpse, if not several, of that ever-elusive mountain. It is staying for multiple days that makes all the difference, especially when there is a stormy weather system in the neighborhood. As you said, your mountain views were only in the first day. Imagine if your one day visit to the park happened to be on the second day.... it would have been a mountain-less experience!

While Camp Denali is very much owned and managed by the Hamm Family, we do strive for it to be a professionally run operation. Simon and Jenna, the owners/managers are intimately involved in the operation and live with their two children at Camp Denali. You may find them hosting your stay, driving your bus, chasing their kiddos around, enjoying an evening program along side guests or with sleeves rolled up underneath the engine of one of our buses. When we say "operated by the owner," it means they are literally making things operate! Simon and Jenna strive to be involved in each guest stay and enjoy carrying on the tradition that was passed to them from Jenna's parents, but the degree to which they are able to very much depends on which "fires" need putting out.

The guided hikes and outings are a significant part of what we offer. Each morning, we make a tentative plan for where we will send our guided hikes, however it always remains tentative for a few reasons: 1. We never know how many of our guests will sign up for each level; 2. We never know what we might run into while out on these hikes (such as wildlife that prevent us from accessing an area, or localized fog that deters us from a ridge hike); and 3. Sometimes we realize once we've started our hike that the abilities of the participants might be stronger or weaker than expected, and therefore adjust the plan accordingly. These are far too many variables for us to make a firm plan and actually assign guides prior to when we ask our guests what they want to do. The short story is our flexible and competent guides literally don't know which hike they'll lead until sometimes minutes before they walk out the door to greet their group! We also attempt to rotate our guides around so that guests can have a variety over the course of their stay.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address our approach to safety in the backcountry. It is something we have considered frequently over Camp Denali’s nearly 60 year history and continually reassess. We feel that being safe in the backcountry starts with our initial communications with guests: through marketing on the website, photos and verbally over the phone. We want our guests to have not only the proper attire and equipment, but also realistic expectations about what the terrain will be like so they can prepare and then choose an outing that is appropriate. This is followed up by on-sight descriptions, guide assessments of abilities, footwear and confidence levels, and a hike introduction, including proper behavior in bear country, etc. Once out in the field, safety is the primary concern. All of our guides carry extensive first aid kits and airhorns that can be used as a noisemaker (three long blasts are a standard for indicating distress). All guides are Wilderness First Aid certified (the industry standard), and most of our guides are certified Wilderness First Responders (an intensive 80 hour course). All of our vehicles are equipped with extensive first aid equipment, as well as CB radios. They serve as our “base” when we are on our field trips since we are rarely more than an hour’s hike directly to the road or the lodge. In the mountainous surroundings, line of sight radios are often rendered useless, and the park has not allowed us access to their repeater system. Instead of relying upon equipment that may or may not be reliable when we need it, we focus on sound planning, attention to safety, medically trained staff, and a plan of response.

I feel badly that your perception was an expectation to tip because that is not the impression we hope to make. We frequently receive questions regarding whether it is appropriate or necessary to tip the staff and how that works, so much so that our hosts include something about tipping in their discussion with guests on the final night. We recognize tipping as one way to express gratitude directly to the staff and we offer that opportunity to our guests with no expectation. Our approach is to let guests know that while they may have personally interacted with around 10 staff, there are 50 making the place run smoothly, many behind the scenes. Any tips that are received are divided equally among all staff.

Thank you for writing about your experience at Camp Denali! Hopefully we’ll see you back someday, maybe next time for a full week so you can do all the activities and have some time to relax!

Sincerely,
Anne Beaulaurier
VP & Program Coordinator
Camp Denali & North Face Lodge
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level 2 Contributor
8 reviews
8 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 16 helpful votes
Reviewed 4 September 2010

We stayed at Camp Denali for four nights in late August. The staff was friendly and well-trained. Initially a staff member is assigned to the occupants of each cabin. "Bob" carried our bags for us, then explained the workings of the wood stove and propane lights. We loved the whole experience of Camp Denali. The outhouse was clean as promised and proved to be no problem at all. Mt. McKinley started to clear off the first night we were there, then was out every day! We were privileged to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights early one morning (following an outhouse visit). The staff was great, we enjoyed all the fellow guests, the food was exceptional, and the scenery spectacular! The only non-adult guests were two well-behaved, intelligent siblings. All in all, well worth the substantial cost!

Stayed August 2010, travelled as a couple
Helpful?
3 Thank midwestnature
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Camp Denali

Property: Camp Denali
Address: Mile 89 Denali Park Road, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755
Phone Number:
Region: United States > Alaska > Denali National Park and Preserve
Amenities:
Free Breakfast Free Parking Restaurant
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 26 Speciality Lodging in Denali National Park and Preserve
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): £
Number of rooms: 18
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Camp Denali, with sweeping views of Mt. McKinley, is located deep inside Denali National Park. Offering active learning vacations since 1952. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Camp Denali Hotel Denali National Park And Preserve
Camp Denali Alaska/Denali National Park And Preserve

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