After one night in Anchorage, we were up bright and early for a beautiful, scenic drive North through the interior of Alaska. We would spend the next two days in Denali, which was a highlight of the trip!
Visiting Vancouver & A 49th State Alaska Adventure
- Vancouver: Rosewood Hotel Georgia
- Vancouver: Excursions & Dining, including Grand City Tour, Salmon Hatchery, Grouse Mountain & Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Alaska: Holland America Line and the Noordam Ship
- Alaska: Ketchikan Excursions & Dining
- Alaska: Juneau Excursions & Dining
- Alaska: Skagway Excursions & Dining
- Alaska: Glacier Bay Experience
- Alaska: Anchorage Glass Dome Train, Accommodations, Excursions & Dining
- Alaska: Denali McKinley Explorer, Accommodations, Excursions & Dining
- Alaska: Fairbanks Accommodations, Excursions & Dining
The McKinley Explorer Train: Anchorage to Denali
The North bound McKinley Explorer line, also owned by Holland America, features double decker glass dome trains. Guests are seated on the upper level, which the lower level for each car holds the kitchen and dining area. Up in the regular seating area, a bar tender is also on hand to make drinks and snacks. A local guide made the journey with us, keeping us entertained with stories of each town we passed through, pointing out wildlife and letting us know when we were approaching something particularly beautiful or noteworthy.
We enjoyed both breakfast and lunch on the train, which is such a fun experience. For breakfast we chose the salmon spread on bagels, just like the previous day. Lunch brought yummy soup and sandwiches.
We found the caboose!
In the last fifteen minutes of our journey, we saw Denali soaring high above the rest. We learned it was a rare treat to actually see the top of the mountain and, in fact, only saw the top one other afternoon during our stay.
McKinley Chalet Resort
After a short bus transfer, we arrived at the McKinley Chalet Resort that we would call home for the next two days. Again, the resort is owned by Holland America and everything was completely seamless.
The main lobby is the hub for off site transportation, contains a gift shop, information about Denali, a Starbucks and a few dining options. The guest rooms are located in a variety of outer buildings and cabins, most of which are located along the water. A shuttle service provides pretty much non-stop transportation around the resort, but there are also walking paths.
We were so thrilled to arrive at the new Ridge View building where our rooms were located. It was absolutely charming and weather was perfect the whole time we were there. Look how fabulous this room is!
Common outdoor spaces had porch swings, fireplaces and rocking chairs! These pictures were taken at 12:11 PM and it was still light out.
Denali Square is the wonderful outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment area at the McKinley Chalet Resort. Our room was about a two minute walk from here, but the shuttle stopped here frequently. The mornings meant coffee in the rockers, which the evenings were spent listening to live music, having a cocktail or roasting smores at the fire pits. It was just a charming space that felt very Disney-esque. :-)
Karstens Public House
Karstens Public House is the main dining location in Denali Square and was so great that we ended up eating here multiple times during our visit! They serve craft brews and authentic Alaskan comfort foods. The food was excellent and they easily accommodated our large party of 10 each time we went. There are other restaurants at the resort as well.
Music of Denali Dinner Show
We kicked back to eat, laugh and sing out loud at the Music of Denali Dinner Theater one night. Located right in Denali Square at the Golden Nugget Saloon, it was a great way to spend a couple of hours and we were all so glad that we went. The food is served family style and is all you can eat. The quality was fine. But the entertainment is where the night really shines. The musical comedy about the first men to reach the summit of Denali is lively and spirited and brings some Alaskan history to life! It was a fun place for a celebration, where the performers sang Happy Birthday to Jay, Whit and Sister, and also celebrated Mother and Daddy-O’s 50th anniversary!
This was a cute show and I recommend making a reservation if you wish to attend!
Fireweed Ice Cream
We saw fireweed ALL over Alaska, from Southern port towns to Denali National Park. It was quite beautiful and we couldn’t resist trying fireweed ice cream in Denali. It tasted a LOT like vanilla honey but, you know, we still enjoyed it. :-)
Denali National Park and Preserve
While a 9 hour bus ride up into Denali National Park was included in our package, we opted out of that in lieu of other adventures. (See more below) However, we did head over to the visitor center to learn more about the park, get our US National Park Passport stamped and stickered, and walk a couple of the easy trails.
Nenana Gorge Whitewater Rafting
We were up bright and early on our first morning for Nenana Gorge Whitewater Rafting! We chose the very first departure time of the morning to make the most of our time in Denali. No sleep until the plane ride home! :-)
We were picked up by a fun and memorable driver right at our resort for a short ride to get suited up and learn some basics of whitewater rafting adventure. Our guide easily navigated the 11-mile stretch of class III and IV rapids, while we just held on and enjoyed the ride!
The views were stunning and we felt so small and in awe of the nature around us, without another human in sight. We learned that the water we were rafting had come off the glacier just 12-15 hours before! Amazing! It was cold, even in our dry suits but was a grand adventure.
As far as activity level, I would say this one would be suitable for kids age 10+ and any adults with a moderate level of activity that don’t mind getting a little wet and cold.
Read more about Nenana Gorge Whitewater Rafting – Oar Option 2019 – Denali National Park – https://travelagents.viator.com/tours/Denali-National-Park/Nenana-Gorge-Whitewater-Rafting-Oar-Option/d22364-70538P2?mcid=56757
Denali Highway Jeep Tour
Just my family of four opted for the rafting. Mother and Daddy-O explored Denali on their own.
Sister’s family did a Denali Highway Jeep Tour that they enjoyed and highly recommend. The 4-hour guided Jeep excursion was named #2 on ‘National Geographic Traveler’ magazine’s ‘Drive of a Lifetime’ list. Each family drives their own vehicle in tandem and the guides share info and answer questions via CB. They had nothing but great things to say about the experience and the scenic views of Denali, the Alaska Range, and glaciers.
Read more about Denali Highway Jeep Excursion 2019 – Denali National Park – https://travelagents.viator.com/tours/Denali-National-Park/Denali-Highway-Jeep-Excursion/d22364-41227P1?mcid=56757
Midnight Sun ATV Tour
We enjoyed the afternoon at the Denali National Park and dinner with the family at Denali Square. We headed back out at 9PM for a Midnight Sun ATV Tour! Honey really wanted to do two – two seater ATVs but I REALLY didn’t want to drive one and hear whichever child I had complain they wanted to be with daddy for his expert driving. I love to strike out on adventurous excursions but had no idea what to expect here. In the end, I absolutely could have driven one but we had a great time nonetheless and all I did was sit back and enjoy the ride.
There were four stops along the way and our guides were a wealth of interesting info at each one. The stops are all scenic and allow for a change of driver / passenger as well. Whit loved the dry river and collected an entire bag full of jadeite and granite that he packed in his carry on. I honestly thought we had lost track of it until they pulled his bag off the belt at the airport and had to inspect it. Luckily, it was no big deal and apparently many people carry home rocks from Alaska. :-) I was a little sad that the skies didn’t look like they do on the website, but the boys absolutely loved the ATV and had never done anything else like it. Honey, of course, loved driving the thing through any puddle or crazy terrain he could.
I’ll share the last stop on our trip tomorrow: Fairbanks!
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