Make Carlo Creek your base for Denali adventures

Denali National Park is one of the most popular destinations in Alaska. And rightfully so! With the tallest peak in North America as the main feature, this is the third-largest national park in the United States. Visiting Denali National Park, once is just not enough. 

Since I moved to Alaska, I have traveled to Denali every year. Sometimes several times a year. It’s about a 5-hour drive from Anchorage, which makes it a perfect road trip destination. We went on the bus tour inside the park. We camped in the park, exploring the park on foot. We flew in a bush plane and landed on a glacier. Stephen biked the Park Road. We drove all the way to the end with our car after winning the Denali Road Lottery.  And we also explored the boundaries of the park.   

Denali area is more than just the National Park Road and the bus tour. There are many ways to experience the area. My favorite place to hang out is the Carlo Creek area of Denali. You already know I love to stay at Denali Hostel & Cabins, which is located at Carlo Creek. Here are the reasons why Carlo Creek is the perfect place for your Denali adventure. 

Away from the crowds

More than six hundred thousand people visit Denali National Park each year. Most of the visitors stay near the park entrance, where the majority of hotels, restaurants, and shops are located. In the height of summer, this area is booming. The boardwalk is busy, restaurants are full, hotels are fully booked, and lots of cars and RVs are around. It’s the typical summer high season scene. 

In Carlo Creek, it’s different. There are lodgings and restaurants in this small, isolated community, but it’s not nearly as crowded as the ‘downtown’ Denali area. At Carlo Creek you can actually feel the vast nature that surrounds you. I like that. 

There’s everything you need

In the community of Carlo Creek, there are places to stay, places to eat, and trails to walk. McKinley Creekside, the Perch, and Carlo Creek Cabins are lodging and have food options. Denali Hostel & Cabins has accommodations from dorms to tents to private cabins and a shared kitchen for the guests. In fact, the restaurants at Carlo Creek are some of the best places to eat in the Denali area. McKinley Creekside Cafe has an amazing bakery and serves outstanding meals. From freshly baked rhubarb-strawberry coffee cake to an Alaska seafood dinner plate, it’s a great choice at any time of the day. The Perch is a fantastic fine dining restaurant with a great view. You may not expect a gourmet meal in this stretch of wilderness along the highway, but there it is. There’s also hand-tossed pizza at Panorama Pizza Pub and a simple grab-and-go food truck at Moose’s Brew Coffee located at Carlo Creek Cabins.

How to get around 

If you’re traveling with your own car, Carlo Creek is about 13 miles south of the Denali National Park entrance. So if you’re driving from Anchorage, you’ll stop here before reaching the park entrance. There’s currently road construction just south of the park entrance, so traveling north takes a bit longer. 

Sheep Shuttle provides local transportation if you’re traveling to Denali by motorcoach, the Alaska Railroad, or van transfer. Sheep Shuttle can take you to the park entrance for your bus tour, pick you up from the bus/ train station, and take you to other important places in the Denali area. It’s a paid service but it saves the headache of renting a car and parking. If you’re doing any activities, such as rafting, you can use the shuttle service to get to the check-in location. Other tours, such as Denali Photo Guides, pick you up from wherever you are in Denali. 

Things to do 

E-bike to Denali Highway 

Photo: Stephen Bugno

Have you tried an e-bike? There’s a new service, Chain Lynx Bike Shop, that rents pedal-assist e-bikes. The bikes meet the guidelines of Denali National Park, so you’re allowed to take the bike into the National Park on the park road. You can ride 13 miles north on the Parks Highway to the park entrance and enjoy the park from there. 

A better option is to head to the Denali Highway. As I mentioned before, Denali in summer is busy. Although no private vehicles are allowed into the park beyond mile 15, there is plenty of traffic on the tour and shuttle buses, RVs, and cars on the first 15 miles. 

Head south from Carlo Creek to the Denali Highway instead. The Denali Highway is one of the most scenic roads in the world and it’s not nearly as busy as the Parks Highway and park road. The scenery is as amazing as the national park. You’ll have a chance to encounter wildlife, see amazing views, and ride without much traffic. 

Rent by 4 hours/ 8 hours or be a Midnight Rider (pick up your bike between 7:00 & 9:00 pm and return it by 11:00 am the next day. Available through July 21 when it starts to get dark.)

Hike to Morning Mountain 

Photo: Stephen Bugno

This is a relatively unknown hiking trail in Carlo Creek. This intermediate hiking trail is 3.3 miles one way, leading up to the beautiful alpine tundra on Morning Mountain. Plan enough time to spend some time up there with the view. Pack your own lunch or buy a prepared lunch from one of the restaurants in the area. You’ll be surrounded by the views of Denali National Park. 

Relax and enjoy nature 

You’re not obligated to be active on your holiday! Read a good book by the creek, go for a short walk (there’s a walking path along the Parks Highway), and take yourself out to a fabulous meal at one of the restaurants. 

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