You’re visiting Denali National Park. Where to stay?
What kind of accommodation do you choose when traveling to a new place? A boutique hotel? Comfortable international hotel chain? Cozy guesthouse? Living and working on the road for many years, I’ve gotten used to staying in a private room of a guesthouse or a short-term apartment rental. But when I started my journey of world travel, I spent every night in a hostel.
My very first accommodation on my first international trip was a hostel, or a ‘backpacker’s’, how we called it in New Zealand. Cozy little backpacker’s in a small neighborhood of Auckland, New Zealand. I wasn’t fluent in English back then, but I still managed to talk to fellow travelers and formed a little hostel community. I instantly fell in love with that shared camaraderie. Since then, I’ve stayed at a number of hostels in numerous countries. I met some of my closest friends at hostels. So naturally, when I first moved to Alaska, I looked for hostels.
I was thrilled to find Denali Hostel. It’s located in the Denali National Park area, which is a perfect place for a hostel. A hostel is almost a synonym for adventure, isn’t it? When Stephen and I traveled to Denali National Park for the first time, we stayed at Denali Hostel and it was love at first sight.
Denali Hostel: the ins and outs
Denali Hostel and Cabins is located in the Carlo Creek area near Denali National Park, which is about 13 miles south of the park entrance. It’s a small community of lodges and eateries by the beautiful Carlo Creek. The restaurants here are some of the best in the Denali area!
Don’t think of your typical hostel with a big room and a dozen bunk beds. Instead, Denali Hostel has bunk rooms (up to 6 people) as well as private cabins, platform tents (Canvas Castles), and their newest addition, a tiny house. All the accommodations share bathrooms and showers, which there are plenty of throughout the property. I stayed here during high season but never had any issues with the bathroom or shower.
The Octagon, an octagon-shaped building in the middle of the property has a well-equipped kitchen and lounge area. The kitchen is also not your usual hostel kitchen. All pots and pans are commercial grade. If you’ve ever cooked at a hostel, you understand how nice it is to use functioning pots and pans! With cute and colorful kitchen towels and nice curtains, it was like being in my own kitchen. The kitchen is also stocked with tea and locally roasted coffee. As a tea drinker, I was impressed to see both a stovetop and electric kettle. The proprietor, Bethany explained that depending on where people are from, they expect to see different ways to make hot water. I loved it.
There are also coin-operated laundry machines that include detergent.
Denali is a great place to be unplugged. You’re in the wilderness, afterall. There’s no reliable cellular service in the Carlo Creek area, but don’t worry, there’s functioning Wi-Fi in the common house.
Environmental & COVID conscious
Located close to the National Park, Denali Hostel is committed to sustainability. I noticed that all of their soap products are biodegradable and odorless. There’s a dedicated recycling area and they support the Denali Zero-Landfill Initiative. You can read more about their practice on the Sustainability page.
In the time of COVID-19, there’s always a question “Will I be safe?”. Denali Hostel is practicing all State of Alaska mandates. All the dorms are currently operated as private. All common areas are closed for cleaning for a few hours each day. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray bottles are in every shared area, and guests are encouraged to clean up after themselves. The check-in/out process is contactless. Guests and staff are wearing masks in common areas. As new cases are going up, staying at a shared accommodation can make some people feel uneasy. But I felt very comfortable. We cooked in the kitchen with our masks on and ate in our room, and only hung out in the common area when there were no other groups around.
All the superb facilities aside, what I liked the most about the hostel was the staff. As travelers, we know it’s the people we meet that often make great memories. The owners Bethany and Terry are souls of Denali. Both came to Denali separately, at different times, fell in love with the area, and never stopped coming back. They got to know each other here, got married, and the rest is history. Terry started a photo guiding business, Terry Boyd Photography, now rebranded as Denali Photo Guides. He’s a true light wrangler. Together they purchased the Hostel and continue serving the community.
The hostel is filled with Bethany and Terry’s friends from Denali and back home. Because of that, there’s a true sense of community here. During my three-day visit, we got to meet and talk to all the staff, but I was sure there were so many great stories still to be told. Todd and his dog Copper are probably the first greeters you’ll meet. Copper is loved by all and she loves them back. She’s always looking for someone to throw a ball, so look out for her if you want some pup time! Todd loves to talk to the guests and share stories and travel tips. Some of the people are new to the area but they are whole-heartedly loving it and it really shows the great community Bethany and Terry created here. Especially in this difficult time of the pandemic, we’re all longing for human connection and it was great to experience that from a home away from home.
Dining and things to do
As I mentioned earlier, the Carlo Creek area, where the hostel is located, is made up of a group of lodges and restaurants. The restaurants are just across the street from the hostel and they have some of the best food in the Denali area. My dinner at the Perch blew me away and there’s no better place for breakfast than McKinley Creekside Cafe and Bakery. If you want to explore further, the Denali “downtown” is 15 miles north, just a mile past the National Park entrance. There are an array of restaurants here as well.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is unquestionably the most important attraction. If you’re here with your own vehicle, it’s a 14-mile drive to the park entrance. Otherwise, the Hostel provides shuttle services. Most people visit the park via bus tour, which is a full-day activity. However, there are many different walking and hiking trails in and near the park. I love Horseshoe Lake and recently discovered the new Riley Creek trail. For more elevation gain and spectacular views, try the Mt Healy Overlook trail.
For photography enthusiasts, Denali is a great place to go on a photo tour. This is a lightwrangers’ dream destination! Terry and his excellent photo guides have been scouting this location for more than a decade. They will share tips, show you how to property use all sorts of camera gear and accessories, and share a story or two.
What do you say?
We’re so fortunate to live near amazing public lands like Denali National Park. My visit to Denali National Park is always more fun thanks to Denali Hostel & Cabins. If you’re in the area and looking for an adventure, stay at the Hostel and meet fellow adventurers! There’s no better place to stay in a hostel or cabin than Denali. Make sure to say hi to Copper the hostel dog for me.