8 of the best Alaskan lodges for getting close to glaciers, Denali and more
With more than 57 million acres of designated wilderness, Alaska remains one of the few places in the country -- let alone the world -- that still captures our imagination with the possibilities of untouched nature. This is where you can crunch across the ice of a frozen glacier (and hear the sound in the surrounding quiet). Where you can enjoy an exhilarating snowmobile ride on your way to watch the electric Northern Lights. Where you can feel humbled at the sight of a 500-pound brown bear balletically fishing salmon for her cubs.
But how do you access the inaccessible? Wilderness lodges offer a glimpse of what lies beyond the roads and typical tourist agendas. They invite visitors to see an isolated glacier and to try sledding in the remote tundra. (Of course, the smaller and more luxurious the lodge, the more customized the experience tends to be.)
Here are some of the top lodges throughout Alaska for every type of budget.
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For some of the best bear sightings in all of Alaska, you can’t do better than Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park. Designed as a fishing camp in 1950, it’s mere steps from the Brooks River and Falls, where up to 50 bears live and look for food during salmon season. (The Lodge claims that many visitors see bears within minutes of their arrival and enlist the National Park Service to give guests a safety briefing.)
With so much bear action, it follows that this is also an excellent spot for sport and fly fishing. The prime time to visit is May to September when the fish are at their busiest. For a change of scenery, Brooks Lodge offers daily bus and floatplane tours of the remarkable Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The site of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, today it’s a surreal lunar landscape -- in more sense than one. NASA used it in the 1960s to train the Apollo astronauts.
Rates: From $218 per person per night (prices vary based on room occupancy).
Related: These are the best times to visit Alaska
Chelatna Lake Lodge
With some of the most luxurious accommodations of Alaska’s wilderness lodges, staying at Chelatna Lake Lodge is not exactly roughing it. South of Denali National Park, winter is the perfect time to visit and witness one of Alaska’s most magical wonders: the Northern Lights. With zero light pollution and the Alaska Range in the background, Chelatna Lake Lodge offers unparalleled views of the sky. The lodge’s deep, undisturbed snow also provides perfect conditions for snowmobiling and sledding during the coldest months (all the better to find that perfect viewing point). Afterward, unwind in a cedar hot tub and take in views of the lake from your chalet.
Rates: From $975 per person per night (all-inclusive with air taxi from Anchorage, prices vary based on the number of nights).
Related: 8 activities to try on your next visit to Alaska
Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge
Near the entrance of Denali National Park, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge offers convenience at a great price. The Denali National Park Visitor Center is just a quick, complimentary shuttle ride away, so you’ll have no trouble finding Denali, the highest mountain in North America or other park highlights. For a more hands-on experience, the lodge offers guided nature hikes and water sports like rafting on the Nenana River. Guests can also stay close to home and enjoy the main lodge’s outdoor deck with scenic river views through soaring 40-foot windows. Note: Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is only open for the summer season.
Rates: Rooms from $149 per night.
If you’re craving a more intimate experience, Camp Denali is the way to go. Founded by a trio of homesteaders in 1951 who fell in love with its view of Mount McKinley, Camp Denali has been run by the same family since 1975. Today, it is only one of two lodges deep in the park (the other is its sister property North Face Lodge) and remains one of the most popular wilderness camps in Alaska. True to its roots, Camp Denali specializes in educational guided outings that teach visitors about the local ecology, geology and history of the park. Many of their guides are naturalists and specialists on topics like birds, migration and even dinosaurs. Visit during summer (May to September) for the greatest chance of beautiful weather, vibrant flowers and bear cubs.
Rates: $655 per person per night (all-inclusive and based on double occupancy).
Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge
For a front-row seat to the aurora borealis, this is the place. Sixty miles from the Arctic Circle, Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge offers visitors the chance to live out their own winter fantasy in total luxury from the moment a dog team ferries you from the airstrip to the lodge. Explore the Gates of the Arctic National Park, learn to drive your own sled of huskies and take a photo safari into the wilderness to capture the perfect shot of the dancing Northern Lights. With a group to guide ratio of 1-to-1, everything you could ever want is within grasp -- you just have to ask.
Rates: All lodging priced as part of a customized, all-inclusive package.
Related: Unforgettable Alaska winter adventure for families
Ultima Thule Lodge
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in the United States -- the size of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Switzerland combined. It’s also totally (perfectly) remote. This is where you’ll find Ultima Thule Lodge, located 100 miles from the nearest maintained road. Easily the most opulent lodge in Alaska, guests are provided pilots and Piper Super Cub airplanes to explore the frozen land and hulking glaciers beneath them. With the ability to land almost anywhere, these 13 million acres are yours. Handcrafted log cabins, a cedar sauna and gourmet meals don’t disappoint when you return to camp. Go during the summer for the best wildlife spotting and weather.
Rates: Standard package (four nights/four days, all-inclusive, based on double occupancy) $8,550 per person.
Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge
Overlooking the Kenai River, this particular area has been known to offer some of the best salmon fishing in Alaska since the Kenaitze Indians first set up fish camps. With a full-length deck to take in river views, Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is the ideal base for salmon fishing during the summer, as well as other water-based activities, such as kayaking and rafting. It’s also a one hour drive from the popular Kenai Fjords National Park, which contains nearly 40 glaciers and some of the state’s most stunning scenery.
Rates: Rooms from $149 per night.
Sheep Mountain Lodge
Just two hours from Anchorage, Sheep Mountain Lodge offers an escape without the expense or hassle of air travel. Family-owned since 2010, the couple who owns the property emphasizes its homespun, welcoming spirit and desserts, including treats like fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and strawberry-rhubarb pie. During the summer months, expect berry-picking, flower gardens and wildlife viewing. For the more adventurous guest, a visit to the Matanuska Glacier is easily arranged.
Rates: Rooms from $99 per night.
Related: How to find the right Alaskan cruise for you
No matter your appetite for adventure, there is a wilderness lodge in Alaska suited for your next trip. From viewing the Northern Lights to rough landing a bush plane on a glacier, it's time to see what the wilds of Alaska have to offer.