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McKinley Chalet Resort: An Epic Base For Exploring Denali

McKinley Chalet Resort, nestled in the heart of Denali, Alaska, is more than just a hotel. It’s a gateway to the stunning natural beauty of the area, offering a unique blend of comfort and adventure for its guests.

We stayed at the resort as part of our Holland America cruise and land tour. We share our overall experience, dining options, and access to Denali National Park.

Arriving in Denali by the McKinley Explorer train, we were blown away by the area’s scenic beauty. Everything flowed seamlessly, from stepping off the train and receiving a warm welcome from staff to seeing our luggage in our room.

Overview Of McKinley Chalet Resort

McKinley Chalet Resort is a rustic and charming hotel located on the banks of the Nenana River in the heart of the Denali Canyon. The resort offers modern amenities, comfortable accommodations, and warm northern hospitality.

The following closely examine the resort’s location, property shuttles, and Denali Square.

Location And Accessibility

McKinley Chalet Resort’s location is a major draw for guests seeking comfort amidst nature. The resort is just minutes from the Denali National Park & Preserve entrance, making it an ideal base for exploring the park’s rugged wilderness.

The resort is also easily accessible by car, located on the George Parks Highway.

Property Shuttles

The Holland America hotel is built on a hill, with the main lodge by the highway. The guest lodges are downhill, which is fine going down but a steep walk coming up.

Fortunately, the resort offers a complimentary shuttle service, making it effortless to navigate the property’s unique layout, from the main lodge by the highway to the guest lodges nestled on the hill.

Canyon Lodge, McKinley Chalet Resort
Canyon Lodge, where we stayed

Our stay at Canyon Lodge, the closest to the main lodge, was a breeze. We found it more convenient to walk the hill than wait for a shuttle. The walking route, marked by charmingly large bear paw prints, added a touch of whimsy to our journey.

However, those staying at Cottonwoods, down by the Nenana River, were the furthest away.

For guests staying at the lower lodges, the walk to the main lodge is up a hill or up the Stairmaster staircase, both of which offer scenic views.

Denali Square

Denali Square is the heart of McKinley Chalet Resort, where guests can find a variety of dining, shopping, and entertainment options. The square features restaurants serving Alaskan cuisine, a coffee shop, a general store, and a gift shop.

Denali Square is also home to the Music of Denali Dinner Theater, which offers a unique dining and entertainment experience. In the evenings, the amphitheater featured musical performances which we could hear from our lodge.

A firepit in Denali Square
A firepit in Denali Square

The nicest feature of Denali Square was the firepits, which we enjoyed on cool evenings. Nearby, Wickersham Cabin sold s’mores kits to use at the outdoor fires.

Another unique feature is its 1924 Fageol Safety Coach, used in Alaska from 1928 onwards. The large vehicle could carry up to 22 passengers.

1924 Fageol Safety Coach
1924 Fageol Safety Coach

Accommodations

The resort offers a variety of room types to accommodate different needs and preferences. Guests can choose from Junior Suites, King Rooms, Double Queen Rooms, and Accessible Rooms.

All rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with modern furnishing, comfortable beds, and beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness.

The Junior Suites are particularly popular among guests, as they offer extra space and amenities such as a separate living area, and a fireplace. These suites are ideal for families or couples who want a little more luxury and comfort during their stay.

For a unique experience, guests can upgrade to rooms in the Cottonwoods Lodge. These rooms offer a balcony with a picturesque view of the Nenana River. Please note that none of the rooms have air conditioning, bar fridges, or microwaves, ensuring a more authentic and nature-immersed stay.

We visited during the first week of June, and the room was hot. Judging from the portable fan, it must get very hot during peak season. I thought the numbering system in the Canyon Lodge was odd. The first floor had numbers in the 600s, the second floor in the 700s, and the top floor in the 800s.

Our Canyon Lodge room
Our Canyon Lodge room

All lodge floors had drinks machines with water and soda, as well as ice machines. There were also laundry facilities onsite.

Wi-Fi Accessibility

Wi-Fi access was the biggest disappointment for the property. Although the Canyon Lodge had a router in the downstairs lobby, I couldn’t connect when standing next to the router.

Complimentary Wi-Fi was only available in Denali Square and Main Lodge. This was in stark contrast to the neighboring Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge, where excellent Wi-Fi service was available throughout their property.

Dining Options

The McKinley Chalet Resort offered a variety of dining options. One morning, we took a leisurely five-minute walk to the Princess Lodge next door for a delightful breakfast. For more choices, there were several eateries conveniently located across the road.

Karstens Public House

Karstens Public House, a unique open-concept pub, stands out with its classic food infused with a distinct Alaska flair. It’s no wonder it’s a popular dining spot, often bustling with large groups. However, as a party of two, we were fortunate to secure a table without a wait.

The menu was decent, the prices reasonable, and the service quite fast. I tried the Fuji apple and bacon salad with grilled chicken, which was great. My sister tried the beer-battered fish and chips, but the batter wasn’t fluffy.

Fuji apple and bacon salad with grilled chicken
Fuji apple and bacon salad with grilled chicken

Guests can wash down their dinner with a choice of 12 local brews on tap and cocktails made with Alaskan spirits. The restaurant has a friendly and casual atmosphere, perfect for a night out with friends or family.

For those with early morning tours, guests could pre-order breakfast meals on the go. Restaurants carried a selection of pastries, muffins, cereal, and other quick bites.

Canyon Steakhouse

The Canyon Steakhouse is a must-visit for meat lovers. Located in the Main Lodge, the restaurant offers a variety of steak entrées, tasty appetizers, and delectable desserts. Guests can enjoy sipping on local wines, microbrews, and liquors with their meals in a cozy atmosphere.

The menu includes classic steakhouse dishes like filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip, and Alaskan specialties like caribou and salmon.

Grizzly Grind Espresso

Grizzly Grind Espresso at McKinley Chalet Resort has you covered for a quick bite or a caffeine fix. The Main Lodge’s coffee shop offers various coffee drinks, sandwiches, and pastries.

Grizzly Grind coffee shop

Guests can grab a coffee or sit in the cozy seating area and enjoy the mountain views. The shop has a friendly and laid-back vibe, making it a great spot to relax and recharge.

Music Of Denali At Gold Nugget Saloon

The Gold Nugget Saloon in Denali Square is a haven for guests seeking a lively evening after a day of exploring Denali National Park. The saloon hosts exhilarating live music performances by local artists, infusing the air with a vibrant and fun-filled atmosphere.

It’s highly recommended to secure a spot for a dinner and music event in advance. The venue is a hot favorite amongst land tour guests, so booking early is a must.

Shopping

The resort has a variety of gift shops that offer unique souvenirs and gifts. One of my favorite stores was the Old Sourdough Studio, which offered unique, personalized photography in an Alaskan setting. So, if you want a family picture with a reindeer or one on a fur-lined sled, this store delivers.

Next door, the Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge has numerous shops, including a Christmas store.

Across the street, there are lots more shopping, and it’s where we found the best prices and selection. The gift shops offer various items, including clothing, jewelry, and artwork.

Denali shops
Denali shops

Visitors can find items made by local artists and artisans, which make great souvenirs. Large purchased items can be shipped home to any of the lower 48 states.

Artist In Residence

McKinley Chalet Resort has an exceptional Artist in Residence program that brings local artists to the resort to showcase their work.

This unique initiative allows visitors to witness the creative process of these artists, who work in various mediums, including photography, painting, and sculpture.

Visitors can watch the artists learn about their creative process.

Access To Denali National Park

All accommodation in Denali is located outside the national park. However, the McKinley Chalet Resort, situated just one mile from the park entrance, offers a convenient base for exploring the park’s attractions.

Denali National Park Shuttles

During our stay, we utilize the complimentary shuttle service which travels between the resort to the Denali National Park Visitor Center. This shuttle service is available from mid-May to mid-September and operates daily.

Denali shuttle
Denali shuttle

The shuttle service is a convenient way to explore the park without worrying about parking or navigating the park’s roads.

Our cruise and land tour included the 6-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour. However, if visitors have no excursions, they can book complimentary tours offered by park rangers at the Denali Visitor Center.

The shuttle service is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so arriving at the shuttle stop early is recommended to ensure a seat. The shuttle service is wheelchair accessible, and the drivers are friendly and knowledgeable about the park.

Guided Tours

For those who prefer a more structured experience, the Holland America Lodge offers guided tours of Denali National Park.

These tours, a comprehensive way to explore the park, are led by experienced guides who are knowledgeable about the park’s history, wildlife, and geology. They provide a rich and informative experience.

The guided tours are available in half-day and full-day options. They include transportation to and from the park and a boxed lunch. The tours are a great way to see the park’s highlights and learn about its unique features.

Additionally, there are adventure tours such as helicoptering over Denali, sightseeing by small plane, river rafting on the Nenana River, or ATV rides. We did the evening Black Diamond ATV and BBQ dinner, which was a blast.

Enjoying my Black Diamond ATV tour
Enjoying my Black Diamond ATV tour

Proximity Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge

McKinley Chalet Resort is just a five-minute walk from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Both cruise lines are owned by Carnival Cruise Corporation, the parent company.

Guests at McKinley Chalet Resort can take advantage of the complimentary shuttle service between the resort and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

The shuttle service is available from 4:30 a.m. to midnight, allowing guests to explore the area at their leisure.

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge offers a variety of dining options, including two restaurants, a coffee shop, and a bar. McKinley Chalet Resort guests can take the shuttle to the lodge and enjoy a meal at any of these restaurants.

On our last morning in Denali, we ate at the King Salmon for breakfast. I ordered the Alaska Crab Omelet, which was delicious and filling.

Final Thoughts

We enjoyed our stay at the McKinley Chalet Resort, which gave easy to the national park. The resort’s rustic appeal and scenic location draw many guests seeking comfort amidst Alaska’s natural beauty.

With restaurants, shops, and evening entertainment in Denali Square, it was perfect for our two days in Denali.

With complimentary onsite shuttles and ones to Denali National Park, it’s an excellent choice for those without a private vehicle.

While some visitors feel that the resort’s charm doesn’t entirely offset its shortcomings, such as no room Wi-Fi or air conditioning, others appreciate the unique experience that the venue provides.

Overall, the resort is an excellent choice for those looking for a friendly and comfortable place to stay in Denali Park.