McKinley Wilderness Lodge

Welcome to the third installment of the Bucket List: Alaska series. If you are just joining us, you can go back to read the start of our Alaska adventure in Anchorage here. There will be links at the bottom of each post to take you to the next one.

A bit of background on the planning of this trip. With our friends Pam and Eric also having Alaska on their bucket list, we decided to include a land tour and an inside passage cruise for our trip to Alaska, since there is so much to see. We chose Princess for our operator on the recommendation of friends and family. Interesting fact, it was the first cruise for all four of us, so this was truly a leap of faith. Our travel style is typically the antithesis of cruising; out of the way, uncrowded places, loose itinerary, control of our own schedule. You get where I am going with this…we chafed a little at the schedule, crowds, and regiment. But, all in all, it was worth it to see a state as vast as Alaska. Now back to the story…Princess has established large lodges in several remote areas of Alaska so that their clients have a nice place to stay while exploring the wilderness. This is the first of three we visited.

McKinley Wilderness Lodge is located in Trapper Creek, north of Talkeetna and along the Susitna River, and consists of a large lodge building with restaurants and common areas, and guest rooms scattered over the lodge property in smaller buildings. After checking in, we took a shuttle bus tour of the property, got our luggage settled, then enjoyed a stroll from our rooms back to the lodge and took in a few sights.


Part of the huge deck behind the main lodge


Flowers were still blooming in mid-September, and the colorfully painted moose was standing guard!


The flowers were so lush and gorgeous!


We found the fire pit to be a great place to relax, warm up, and enjoy a pre-dinner adult beverage.

Leaving the fire pits, we ventured onto the nature trail behind the lodge, which revealed beauty both natural and man-made. 🙂


Tiny rock cairns on a giant boulder


Another cairn display on a fabulous nature-decorated boulder

The trail took us back to the lodge for dinner, followed by some shenanigans and hysterical laughter in the lobby. We could NOT stop laughing, both photographers and subjects!


I guess you had to be there. 🙂

Later in the trip, we would fondly remember the leisurely next morning, as we had the bulk of the day to ourselves and wouldn’t get back on the bus until 2 PM for the ride to Denali. We started out with the most important meal of the day, breakfast, and we were lucky enough to have a gem of a waitress in the form of Martina, who hails from Bosnia and was in her third season at McKinley. The breakfast started off shaky due to the lodge toaster being out of commission. This may seem like a minor issue, but Martina made it a riot by repeatedly stating “no toast, just biscuits”, which of course, we took up as a battle cry! Anyway, many laughs were shared and breakfast enjoyed by all. 🙂

After breakfast, we took a few photos on the lodge deck, which reportedly has the best view of Denali around. I say reportedly because there was no Denali to be seen on this day due to heavy cloud cover.


No Denali, which is behind these peaks, but still a majestic view


The clouds draped the peaks beautifully

Next, we took a walk on the lodge grounds with Naturalist Sherry, who introduced us to the many medicinal uses for various native Alaskan plants. It was so nice to feel crisp air and see fall color after leaving the hot temperatures that still prevailed in Georgia in mid-September!


A glimpse of the Susitna River was offered on the nature walk

Following the walk with Sherry, we found a bit more fall color, as well as, attempted to see Denali again behind the lodge. To no avail, I might add.


Moody, gorgeous, but no Denali 😉


This placard shows what Denali (previously known as McKinley) might look like on a clear day

All this walking and nature was followed by, you guessed it, lunch with Martina! She even brought us a plate of biscuits to enjoy with lunch! She was truly a joy to interact with and we will remember her long after other staff has faded from memory. ❤

That afternoon, we queued up for another 2+ hour bus trip to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. We had a couple of scenic stops along the George Parks Highway, aka Alaska Hwy 3, and passed through Denali State Park, and the town of Cantwell, following the Susitna River and then the Nenana River to our destination.

We arrived at Denali Lodge late that afternoon. It is located in an area the locals call “Glitter Gulch”, which seemed hilarious to us, but the name is due to the plethora of restaurants, t-shirt and souvenir shops found across from the lodge.

“Where there are tourists, there will be t-shirts?”

Again the lodge consisted of a large main building with registration, restaurants, and common areas, and several large buildings with guest rooms. We took a few photos on the way to dinner that evening.


The Nenana River from behind our guest room building


Denali National Park in the distance


Sadly, this is not Mt Denali, either


Jerry and me in the main lodge


Pam and I found a friend, the first moose on the trip 🙂

Denali National Park and Preserve and its 6 MILLION acres of wilderness are a mere mile from the lodge, but I’m going to leave that topic for the next post. You can go straight to that post with this link. I hope you are enjoying this glimpse of the vast majestic treasure that is Alaska. Thanks for coming along!

7 thoughts on “McKinley Wilderness Lodge

  1. […] The weather took over at this point and we ran for shelter as the rain pounded down. I understand there is a neat historic cemetery in Talkeetna, and cool jet boat adventures; unfortunately, we weren’t able to experience those. Instead, we headed off to our accommodations for the night at Trapper Creek, at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, which is the subject of the next post. Please join me there! […]


  2. Beautiful views even though you couldn’t see Denali.

    Cruises are one of those things we have been reluctant to try as well because of how many people, well that and hubby doesn’t like the idea he is trapped on a ship with no way off but swimming. I am glad you found it so enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The views were so amazing, Brandy! I will go into it more on the cruise posts, but I don’t think we’ll be doing any more. It was a great way to see parts of Alaska that you can’t drive to, but the huge ship, too many people…just ugh. 😉


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