Flipping back to this long forgotten Alaska trip report to wrap things up at last. Following our incredible adventure on the Dalton Highway, we wrapped up our vacation with three days in Denali National Park. After looking at several options, we settled on the Denali Grizzly Bear Resort, in Denali Park, Alaska. At just 7 miles from the park entrance road, this presented the best combination of convenience, and amenities we needed like a full kitchen in the cabin. The place itself decent enough, if expensive and rather basic for the price.
This post is part of a larger trip report series about my trip to Alaska in August. Click here for the introductory post.
Denali Grizzly Bear Resort
- MP 231.1, George Parks Highway, Denali Park, AK
- Website: https://www.denaligrizzlybear.com/index.html
- Amenities: food truck, RV park, picnic tables, general store, guided tours, guest laundry
Like most hotels around Denali, the Denali Grizzly Bear Resort operates seasonally. The resort typically opens from mid-Mayo mid-September (May 20 – September 12 in 2023). As mentioned above, it’s 7 miles south of the park entrance, at MP 231.1 of the Parks Highway. While on-site services are limited, several restaurants/shops are in Denali Park, 9 miles north. There are also a couple of restaurants a few miles to the south. When driving from Fairbanks, it’s 127 miles down the Parks Highway (Highway 3), about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Meanwhile, if driving from Anchorage, it’s 231 miles up the Glenn and Parks Highways, about 4 hours. The hotel can provide shuttle service from the Alaska Railroad Denali depot with advance notice.
Dates of Stay: August 6-9, 2020
Check-In and Common Areas
We drove in all the way from Wiseman, so we didn’t arrive until after 8 pm. Though the front desk was already closed, the clerk left the room key outside the front door. The next morning, we stopped in to sign the receipt and provide the credit card. I used that opportunity to take some photos of the entrance area. If you’ve stayed at limited-service tourist motels near National Parks out west, the overall feel looks really familiar.
Just like those family-style resorts out West, there’s plenty of kitschy tourist stuff out front. First is the obligatory cheesy sign stating that cussing, spitting, and chewing are allowed.
There’s also a few items to amuse the kids, like these photo cut-outs and a cute bear-shaped directional sign.
At the exit, there’s also a helpful reminder to avoid a certain Griswold-like situation.
As an aside, yes, failing to retract the RV step can result in a very, very bad day. My dad once forgot to store the step after a stop at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. A closed shoulder on the Golden Gate Bridge took care of that problem, with unfortunate results.
There’s also a Thai food truck on the property, but during our visit, it wasn’t open. There are no other food/beverage facilities on the premises.
All guests receive access to a guest laundry facility behind the office.
Down by the Nenana River, there are several common use picnic tables with fire rings for cooking. While these are meant primarily for guests tent camping, any resort guest can use them.
And of course, the views of the Nenana River are 100% free. (You do need a state fishing license if you want to fish, though.)
Meanwhile, the Alaska Railroad tracks run on a bluff just the other side of the river from the resort. If you’re out and about as the train rolls through, you’ll get a nice view of the Denali Star train heading down the tracks.
The resort’s setup certainly is family friendly, with plenty of room for the kids to run around, and enjoy a cookout along the river.
Denali Grizzly Bear Resort – Campground
In addition to the hotel, the Grizzly Bear features a campground for both tents and RVs. The RV sites are large enough for full-size RVs, both with water/electric hookups, or dry sites (no hookups). The RV sites do NOT include sewer hookups, but there is a dump station near the office. All RV sites currently cost $60 per night.
The resort’s tent camping sites are down by the river. In addition to the picnic tables and fire rings, campers have access to common use bathrooms and showers. There is a fee to use the showers, though. These are similar to the facilities available at RV parks, which is to say, not fancy but functional. You might want to consider bringing paracord, a versatile rope that can come in handy for various purposes, you can get one on the Paracord Galaxy website.
A unique feature of the resort are the “tent cabins”. These are small cabins with beds, but no heat, water, or electricity. Essentially, it’s a way to camp without having to remain exposed to the elements outside. These run $52-60 per night, compared to $36 per night for a regular campsite.
Denali Grizzly Bear Resort – Motel Rooms and Cabins
The resort features two types of hotel accommodations, standard motel rooms and several stand-alone cabins. In total, the resort has 119 motel rooms at the back of the property. Most of these front the Nenana River, although two buildings instead face the mountains. These are basic rooms, including two double beds, cable TV, a coffee/tea maker, and bathroom with tub and shower. There is a breakfast building across from the rooms, but it’s only available for groups of 14 or more. Rates range from $309-329 per night during peak season, and $259-279 per night during shoulder season (first 3 weeks of the season in late May/early June).
Our family, however, decided to spring for a cabin. The resort features 30 cabins with varying amenity levels and price points. At one end are three very rustic cabins, with electricity but no water or toilets. With these cabins, you can use the same common restrooms available to campers. One such cabin is the “Mushers” cabin, which sleeps 4. Rates range from $128-155 per night.
One step up are two cabins with a toilet and sink, along with a picnic table out front. This includes the “Bootlegger” cabin. Rates for these cabins range from $172-182 per night.
One step up from these, meanwhile, are the 22 “Basic” cabins, which essentially contain the same amenities as motel rooms. These are also priced identically to the motel rooms, ranging from $259-329 per night, depending on season.
Finally, the resort features three “premier” cabins, which add a full kitchen to the mix. These range in price from $260-310 per night for the “Hunter” cabin, to $399 per night for the “Alpine” and “Railroader” cabins. The only difference between the three is sleeping capacity – 4 for the Hunters cabin, 6 for the other two. In addition, the Hunters cabin has no TV. Since we only needed room for three, we selected the “Hunter” cabin. (Although we took this trip 3 years ago, peak season pricing hasn’t changed much. We paid $280 per night in peak season.)
The cabin itself is recessed into the trees a bit, providing a quiet setting (it’s the cabin next to the blue SUV).
You actually have to walk to the back of the cabin to reach the entrance. This cabin includes a long front porch. While the porch technically overlooks the river, it was blocked by tree growth when we visited.
Close to the door is a small bench to sit and listen to the river a short distance away.
Upon entering the two-room cabin, you’ll find the kitchen to the right, and the dining area to the left. The kitchen comes fully equipped with a range, oven, small fridge, and basic utensils. So, you can cook all your meals here if desired. Note that the nearest grocery store is 18 miles north in Healy, so you’ll need a car.
The dining area includes seats for 4 around the table, and a small lounge chair.
During our stay, my son celebrated his 4th birthday. We marked the occasion with some cupcakes and candles we picked up in Fairbanks on the way in.
Also in the kitchen is a gas fireplace, which had plenty of oomph to keep the entire cabin warm. Even in early August, nighttime lows drop well into the 40s, so the heat came in handy.
The bedroom is small and simple, with two double beds and a couple of old photographs on the wall.
The bathroom, meanwhile, is tiny. The sink, thankfully, is outside, because the toilet/shower area is too small to get a usable photo. At least the water was plenty hot, and the water pressure good.
The resort does have WiFi, but guests only receive half an hour free for their entire stay. I found cell service pretty well nonexistent by the river, so you’ll need to pay for WiFi if you need to stay connected. The hotel charged $15 per day when we visited; it was fast, at least. On the bright side, the Grizzly Bear is one of the few hotel accommodations in the area that doesn’t charge “resort” fees for “free” WiFi.
Overall, I found myself a little surprised at just how basic this cabin was. Though we paid considerably less at Boreal Lodging, I found that cabin better appointed. Of course, it’s simply supply and demand at work. Denali gets a ton more visitors than Wiseman, and so lodging naturally costs more.
I Appreciated Their Flexibility, But…
First things first – I greatly appreciated the Grizzly Bear’s flexibility in re-tooling our vacation. We originally planned this trip for June, but while Alaska re-opened in time, Denali remained largely closed until July 1st. By the time this became clear, we were within the 60-day cancellation window. I figured for sure we’d flushed 50% of our money, but I reached out to the property about rescheduling. The resort’s manager graciously agreed to apply our full deposit to a re-do in August. He didn’t have to, but I appreciated that he did. That’s why I often prefer to use mom-and-pop establishments over chains, even at the expense of hotel points.
But…we found ourselves put off by the cancellation of all housekeeping services during our stay. I don’t actually mind the trend towards making daily housekeeping optional. If I’m traveling alone and staying somewhere only a couple of days, I really don’t need it. But it’s a different story when traveling with a 4-year old. You end up generating a lot of trash…and the bathroom especially really needs a cleaning daily. What really irritated me, though, was the front desk clerk’s insistence that nobody could clean our cabin “for our protection”. For once, I wish somebody could just be honest. “Our hotel is only 1/3 full, so we can’t afford to provide housekeeping right now”.
The Denali Grizzly Bear Resort is a decent enough option in the area, especially for those who prefer an actual hotel to a vacation rental. No, it’s not cheap, and the cabins are basic for the cost. But the resort is conveniently located to the park and other services, the accommodations functional, and I greatly appreciated the flexibility provided to reschedule our trip. It’s unfortunate they chose to play the hygiene theater game, but then again, who didn’t in the summer of 2020.