A brief summary thus far of our time in Alaska:
We slept in an airport full of stuffed animals, hiked through Alaska’s oldest national park, crossed a stream teaming with fish on our way to the raptor center, explored downtown Sitka, ate the best King Crab ever, slept in a cabin by a shrine, camped beside a glacier (and saw a bear!), took a death-defying puddle jumper to Gustavus and hiked to one of my most favorite places in the world, hopped on a boat and spotted whales, seal, puffins, eagles, moose, bear, and calving glaciers,ate hands down one of the most memorable meals of our lives, got trapped in an airport for hours, then took a road trip up around the Kenai Peninsula, paddled down the Moose River (and saw a moose!), hunted for blueberries and stayed in a haunted hotel, hiked up to Exit Glacier before making camp at Denali National Park, took a 5.5 hr camper bus through Denali to Wonder Lake Campground, got caught in a rainstorm while hiking to Reflection Pond, watched the sunrise over Mt. McKinley, hunted (again) for wild blueberries (this time we were successful!). and saw 4 out of the ‘Big Five” in Denali.After getting off the bus from Wonder Lake Campground we dilly dallied for a long time in the various gift shops, buying postcards and snacks. For fellow gift shop aficionados, Denali has some pretty good ones.
Our next stop was the strip of road right outside Denali where you can find all the hotels, motels, resorts, restaurants, and tourists. We picked the most colorful looking non-chain restaurant and ordered local beer, a heaping plate of nachos, and entrees of house specialty cedar plankbaked salmon. The food was really tasty, but then we had been existing on ham and cheese sandwiches, pouched Indian food, and wild blueberries for three days.
With full bellies we drove from Denali to Anchorage, stopping for mandatory photos of the abandoned igloo building (now up for sale). We arrived in Anchorage sometime in the evening without any real plans or any real idea where we were going to sleep. The way we like to travel is by bookending our trips with a nicer place at the beginning and end of the trip with budget/camping/unique accommodations in the middle. Sly called a few of the fancier hotels but we decided on the more budget-friendly Anchorage Grand Hotel located in a more residential area. It was the first time in a long time we had hot water, a ‘real’ bed, electricity, and cable tv so we spent the evening feeling like kings as we reacquainted ourselves with modern conveniences.
If you plan on staying in Denali, the bulk of the restaurants and hotels are located just outside the park entrance that range from lodges to cabins to resort-style rustic rooms. In Anchorage the variety of lodging is even greater — most of the larger or chain hotels easily run $200 or more a night but there are tons of local b&bs, hostels, rooms/houses for rent that offer less expensive accommodations.EAT;
Denali Park Salmon Bake/Inexpensive-Moderate//I think we were drawn to this place because we wanted to experience a “salmon bake” which I think I assumed would be some kind of bbq type all you can eat event that involved salmon. I think those places probably exist somewhere but at least at this restaurant on this day it just meant they had baked salmon, which was tasty. The restaurant itself is a mecca for kitsch photo ops, which we obviously took full advantage of. It’s a nice, laid back, local restaurant with really friendly service and good local beer. Bonus points: they havecabins available to rent! We would totally stay there if we had not camped inside Denali.
Igloo City/Abandoned igloo hotel on the side of the George Parks Highway in Cantwell, AK. Originally planned as a hotel it never opened for business then was abandoned and left for ruin, and now is up for sale. I read that you can theoretically trespass and take a peek inside — not that I advocate that… We just drove by and took a few pix. I love kitschy old abandoned architecture.
Anchorage Grand Hotel/$100-$160//I’m pretty sure this building was once an apartment that has been converted into all (?) suite rooms. It’s located in a historic neighborhood near the train tracks. Our rooms were huge, quiet, and had a sitting area, breakfast area, and decent sized kitchen. Checking in was a bit strange as there is no prominent lobby, but from what I recall we received a really good deal on the room — $100 or so at the time — which considering that most fancier hotels and even not-so-fancy hotels go for about $200+ a night was a steal. Free parking is available in a nearby lot (must request parking pass). I have seen this hotel advertised as a boutique hotel but I wouldn’t quite call it that — it definitely feels like you are staying in an extended stay or a very clean apartment.. What it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in location, price, and room size. I would imagine this type of accommodation would be perfect for families.
We usually shy away from guide books. For the most part I find the information in guidebooks to either be dated, inaccurate, or written for someone much posher and richer than me. On the contrary the 2011 Frommer’s color guidebook (checked out from our local library), written by an Alaskan, was totally on point. I can count on one hand the number of guidebooks I have where I have actually felt the suggestions turned out to be exactly as described (I’m looking at you Let’s Go Europe — worst guidebook ever) and where all the food and lodging choices listed as “budget” were well out of our range.