Few people visit Alaska without spending some time at Denali National Park, and with good reason, writes Teresa Ooi.
Denali National Park and Preserve, in the centre of the Alaska Range, encompasses six million acres of wild terrain where you can hike, cycle or take a tour to spot wild animals including moose, caribou, wolves, bald eagles and the mighty grizzly bear – Alaska’s own Big Five. Its namesake mountain Denali – formerly known at Mount McKinley – is the tallest peak in North America and has the dubious honour of being the coldest mountain in the world. As a result, Denali National Park is a haven for adventure seekers and wilderness junkies, as well as those wanting a spectacular retreat into nature; some 400,000 intrepid travellers journey to Denali National Park every year.
Princess Cruises, the leading cruise line in Alaska, realised early that while guests loved the experience of cruising the area, they also wanted to touch and feel the place.
Their answer to that was to start its own lodges. Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a beautiful timber hotel about a mile from the park’s main entrance was the first.
The main building has floor-to-ceiling windows and a large outdoor deck for wonderful views of the landscape and the Nenana River Canyon, as well as a two-storey stone fireplace, which usually smells of something delicious being baked.
The rest of the lodge is open in summer only, and is spread out across the grounds in separate buildings connected by trails that also lead to the nearby river. The lodge has several eateries including a deli, pizza parlour, a casual restaurant and an upmarket dining room, the King Salmon Restaurant, which serves freshly caught Alaskan king crab, halibut and wild salmon. There’s also the Music of Denali Dinner Theatre where you can enjoy a meal of local produce while watching a musical about pioneer days in Alaska.
Princess organises a wide variety of excursions for guests of the lodge. Visitors can enjoy water-based activities on the Nenana River including a scenic float, an exhilarating jetboat safari, high-octane paddle rafting or white water rafting in the gorge. Off the water, guests can also take flightseeing tours, go quad biking on old coal mining trails, play a round of golf under the midnight sun or even just visit a husky kennel for some puppy cuddles.
Princess offers a range Denali Explorer Cruisetours which add various land packages of two to eight nights to the seven-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise. Passengers can add these popular land tours as either pre or post-cruise additions at the time of booking.
Princess operates three other lodges in Alaska from which you can explore the Last Frontier.
The Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge on the southern edge of Denali National Park is a 460-room retreat with amazing views of the famed Denali. It offers one of the closest encounters of the mountain a visitor can experience.
The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge is a cosy 85-room lodge bordering the country’s largest national park, the Wrangell-St Elias. It offers a variety of excursions including river rafting, hiking and dog-sledding.
The Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge has the perfect mix of tranquillity and adventure as the 86-room lodge is nestled on the banks of the Kenai River. It has dramatic mountain and river views, and activities such as hiking, sport fishing and horseback riding.
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