Each year, six million–acre Denali National Park and Preserve gets roughly 400,000 visitors, who come in hopes of spotting the park’s own version of the Big Five (grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and flocks of Dall sheep) and to take in majestic views of the highest mountain peak in the country. Only a fraction of that number, however, escape the crowds and tour buses to make their way to the tail end of the 92-mile-long Park Road, which winds deep into the heart of Denali’s rugged backcountry to the old gold town of Kantishna. Those who do are rewarded at this all-inclusive vacation resort with 42 rustic cedar cabins, some of which have private decks facing secluded Moose Creek. (All come equipped with private indoor bathrooms and heaters, welcome treats in these parts). Activities range from morning yoga classes and gold panning to guided hikes and mountain biking excursions. After an invigorating day outdoors, guests can pamper themselves in the new spa, which offers treatments like Swedish massage with hot stone therapy.

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A friend from college had worked and lived in Alaska for many years and invited me to come and visit in the fall. Keep in mind, that “fall” in the tundra is mid-August to mid-September (snow will fly by October). I had been to Alaska before and knew that I should expect to consider everything on a massive scale. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, it’s like that, but still vastly bigger. I took the Alaskan railroad (one way) and spent the night just outside the park boundary. (For the return, I flew back to Anchorage.) I boarded an old Bluebird school bus for the 100-mile drive. As with all adventure travel of this kind, you accept that the day will be slow; you bring snacks (sandwiches and chips, etc.) and water, binoculars and camera, dress in layers and look forward to stops. Our tour stopped several times; we watched a pack of wolves chase down a grizzly bear with her two cubs. (She chased them all off!) We stopped for elk, for ptarmigans, and even to pick the bear berries and stretch our legs. Kodachrome Pass / interior visitor’s center was marvelous, I wish I could have stayed longer. It’s possible to stop here and catch the “last bus” out but not advisable. DBL is a very good lodge and I could not complain about any aspect of the room or food or service there. It was perfectly rustic and safe all at once. I’ve been twice and feel like staying in the park is really the best way to see it. The visitor center at the park entrance is top-notch.

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