On a quest to explore and learn a bit more about myself, I took advantage of an opportunity to visit Denali National Park. I had only been to Alaska once before and felt I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to see more of the state, especially while it was above freezing. I had a tough time deciding where I wanted to focus my adventure, as Alaska offers so many exciting National Parks and scenic towns. However, I felt as a single traveler, it was in my best interest to contact the professionals. I reached out to Explore Fairbanks to get the low down on my options that would allow me to experience Alaska while keeping safety in mind. Tyler, a representative at Explore Fairbanks, recommended Denali National Park. I admit I was a bit hesitant to hike on my own, but I trusted his recommendation.
I was flying into Fairbanks no matter what, so Denali made sense. It’s just a two hour drive south from Fairbanks on a well maintained highway with little traffic. It was such a scenic and serene drive that the two hours flew right by. I did some research on hotels near Denali National Park, but ultimately ended up taking Tyler’s recommendation and had him reserve me a room at Denali Bluffs. Denali Bluffs is located just across from the park entrance, so I could easily walk into the park every day. I could also just walk around the small town if I felt the need to explore beyond the park.
Denali Bluffs is a fairly basic property that offers clean and functional rooms. Their sister property, Grand Denali, sits on a hill just above Denali Bluffs. Grand Denali is a bit more luxurious for those who want a bit more comfort. However, I must say that Denali Bluffs spoiled me and assigned me one of their brand new RiverView Premium rooms. I had the best room in the house- far corner, top floor, and gorgeous view looking out over the Nenana River Canyon and the park. The room was modernly furnished, extremely spacious, and had a mini fridge. My short stay there was comfortable and the team at The Bluffs spoiled me with a few welcome gifts. As promised, it was also a fairly short hike across the highway into the park.
The park itself is unbelievable. I had never seen such striking scenery, though the view of majestic Mt. Denali alluded me throughout my stay. Prior to arriving, I pre-reserved a seat on the Eielson Visitor Center bus, which takes you 66 miles into the park. The current cost for this option is $34 plus a $10/person park entrance fee. If that option is not for you, you can do a variety of narrated and un-narrated tours which go to various points throughout the park. I chose the un-narrated tour, as it allows you to hop on and off the bus wherever you see fit so you can hike or explore at your own pace. It also happens to be a little less expensive. Our driver did some narration, which was just an added bonus. 66 miles is a long way in a bus and the journey takes 4 hours each way (including a few stops). So, plan accordingly. If you want to wander around on your own but don’t like long road trips, I did some self hikes from the Denali Visitor Center on the second day. There are multiple trails to choose from at varying lengths and skill levels. I happened to choose some challenging trails, which was probably not the best plan for someone who does not hike very often. Please note that if you do wander off on your own, remember to be alert for bears. The park recommends carrying bear spray, but there are other ways to practice safety, including wearing bells, clapping while walking, or engaging in louder conversations. Please listen to park officials on how to deal with wildlife encounters. It may have been humorous to see, but my loud singing and clapping worked! I SAFELY saw some incredible wildlife, including 11 bears (from a protected distance), a fox, and a moose.
Following my trip to Denali, I spent some time in Fairbanks. I have spent several weeks in that area over the course of a year, but it was all work and no play. However, I wanted to point out some highlights. I stayed at the SpringHill Suites in downtown Fairbanks, which is by no means a luxury property, but it is one of the nicer chain hotels in the area. The rooms are spacious and have a microwave and mini fridge for longer stays or stays with the family. It’s also walking distance to several museums and restaurants. Although it sounds strange, the Thai food in the Fairbanks area is delicious. I enjoyed multiple meals at Bahn Thai, which is just one block from the hotel. Also nearby is Tiparos Thai, which is not a fancy place, but the food is spot on. If you are in the mood for BBQ, Big Daddy’s is just two blocks away and you can pick and choose from the various meats and sides for a total feast. If you want Italian, you can enjoy some pasta and pizza just a block away at Gambardella’s Pasta Bella. A little further from the hotel is Banks Ale House, which offers a good selection of beers, burgers, and American entrees. For something a little more upscale, and more exotic, The Pump House offers reindeer, elk, or just regular beef steaks for those less adventurous (ahem- me!). Or, if you want something simple, East Ramp Pizza offers up wood fired pizzas overlooking the runway at Fairbanks International. If you are feeling especially adventurous and want to venture out of Fairbanks, Silver Gulch Brewery and the Turtle Club are just north of Fairbanks in the town of Fox. The Turtle Club is the go-to spot for prime rib and Alaskan crab legs. You can also chow down on some good Thai (Thai Cuisine) and Chinese (Pagoda) in North Pole, which is about 15 miles south along Highway 2. Why North Pole? Well, you may want something to calm your sweet tooth after visiting Santa’s House. Yes, Santa has a house in North Pole, Alaska and it just happens to have some tasty fudge.
If you are in Fairbanks during the winter, there are many fun excursions to try out, none of which I was able to do during my various stays. For a dip in the hot springs, Chena Hot Springs Resort offers you the chance to keep warm while outside in the cold. There are various aurora viewing tours, as well as dog sledding and ice fishing. You can also take a tour to the arctic circle, which I do recommend doing as an organized tour since most rental car companies will not allow you to take their cars that far north.
Admittedly, it would be nice to have the chance to explore more of Denali. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance again, but I’m glad that I focused my energy on that area. I feel very blessed to be able to have had such a unique experience and I recommend a visit there during an Alaskan Escape!
***As a travel agent, I received special considerations at Denali Bluffs. The time spent in Denali National Park was done so as a member of the general public. ***