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Wilderness Lodges of Alaska

From rustic cabins to luxury, all-inclusive accommodations, find the best place to stay on your Alaskan family vacation.

 

Imagine sinking onto a plush sofa to relax after a full day of wilderness adventures and a scrumptious meal. A fire blazes in the stone hearth, casting a glow on the hand-hewn log walls. As night descends, brilliant northern lights dance outside your window. This is an Alaskan lodge experience.

Exuding warmth and comfort and a hint of adventure, lodge is the favored term for all sorts of Alaskan accommodations. But not all lodges are created equal.

When planning your trip, find a lodge that’s right for you. Think first about whether you want only a place to rest your head or an all-inclusive experience with a host of activity options. 

Remote luxury lodges

Think of the luxury lodge as a cruise ship, with Alaska’s expansive wilderness as your ocean. A stay at a remote lodge, accessible only by small plane, is a great way to see parts of Alaska you’d never see otherwise, provided you can afford it. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per person, per day, which includes your bush flight. The best of these lodges offer personalized attention to every guest, gourmet meals and a full range of adventure options in an upscale atmosphere, with amenities like plush robes, outdoor hot tubs and the quintessential Alaskan fireplace.

Why indulge in the all-inclusive experience? “People want to be treated like they mean something,” says Art Moody, longtime manager of Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge on Prince of Wales Island. “We cater to guests,” echoes Boardwalk’s owner Brad Steuart. “I like to quiz people as to their interests.” If you’re thinking of bringing your family, he says, be sure the staff asks about what each family member will enjoy.

Other questions you’ll want to ask before booking a lodge: 

  • What kind of accommodations can you expect?  
  • What is not included in the daily rate?  
  • A private bath should be a given at upscale retreats, but how large are the bedrooms?  
  • Are there common areas available to spend time with your family and to mingle with other guests? If so, what are they like?
  • What are the chef’s credentials? What are some typical menu items?  
  • How are guests invited to select their activities each day? What activities are available?
  • What is the staff to guest ratio? How long has the staff been with the lodge?  
  • Are children welcome? Is there a minimum recommended age?
  • May you contact previous guests to discuss their experiences?
Kirsten Dixon, who with her husband Carl owns Winterlake and Redoubt Bay Lodges, agrees that potential guests should ask a lot of questions before signing on.  In addition, she recommends booking through a reliable agent.

Traditional log-cabin lodges: affordable options

If you’re looking for something that’s uniquely Alaskan but not so upscale, consider a lodge that offers an “a la carte” menu of lodging, meal and activity options. Accommodations at these lodges will tend toward the rustic—some might even call them primitive, but chances are your experience will be genuine and memorable.

“Here, you get away from all those crowds, which are so far removed from what Alaska is all about,” says Bettles Lodge’s Tyler Klaes, son of owners Dan and Lynda. “We get people who’ve never been in the woods or wilderness before.” That includes children as young as 4 years old, who get a big thrill out of watching hundreds of caribou from a floatplane, seeing fish in the water almost everywhere they go or just running around on the lodge’s lawn.

If simply a clean bed to rest your head is all you need, discard the postcard lodge image unless you know for a fact that the place you’re staying features hand-hewn logs, roaring fires and other creature comforts. It’s just as likely to be a collection of cabins with a few outhouses out back or a row of rooms with a shared bath at the end of the hall.

I enjoyed one night at a historic lodge where the delightful owners offered me their ATCO unit—a sort of construction trailer—because the rooms in the main lodge were full. Luxury it wasn’t, but the price was right, and it kept out the rain. It’s all in what you expect, and when it comes to Alaskan lodges, be ready for anything—unless you do your homework.

Recommended full-service lodges

Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge

Tel. 800-764-3918; www.boardwalklodge.com. The Boardwalk is an Orvis-endorsed lodge, with rates starting at $3,995 for a three-night stay.

Though many guests come for the world-class salt-water and freshwater fishing, Alaska’s Boardwalk offers a whole slew of activities in the lush rainforest of Prince of Wales Island and its surrounding waters. Explore historic totems nestled among stately cedar and hemlock trees, wind your way through one of the largest caves in North America, visit sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks, or hike along a network of old logging roads. You’ll return happily exhausted each evening to enjoy a five-course meal and swap stories in the hand-hewn log dining room. The staff-to-guest ratio is nearly one-to-one, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier group of folks. A minimum age of 10 is recommended. When I was there, three generations of the Smith family from Kansas, including two 10-year-old cousins, were having the time of their lives, staging fishing derbies and reeling in lunkers.

Bettles Lodge

Tel. 800-770-5111; www.bettleslodge.com. A two-night package is $1,080 per person. If you don’t want to stay overnight, the Arctic Circle day trip is $500 per person.

A great place for exploring Alaska’s Arctic, including the Brooks Range and the Gates of the Arctic. The original lodge, dating from 1948, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The accommodations are basic, but there’s a full menu of a la carte activities, including fly-out fishing, float trips to the gold rush ghost town of Old Bettles, flightseeing for caribou and other wildlife, and treks to the native village of Anaktuvuk Pass. Lots of folks sign on for aurora borealis viewing in the winter, as there’s no light pollution. I enjoyed the down-home atmosphere and the chance to rub shoulders with real Alaskans as well as with guests from around the world.

Winterlake Lodge

Tel. 907-274-2410; www.withinthewild.com. Three-day float trips start at $1,895 per person.

Take off by floatplane from Lake Hood in Anchorage, and within an hour you’ll be touching down at Winterlake Lodge on the shore of pristine Finger Lake, one of the first Iditarod Race checkpoints. Owners Kirsten and Carl Dixon will likely be on hand to greet you personally and help you plan your stay. You can hike Wolverine Mountain, float the Happy River, fish Canyon Creek, or choose from a number of other options, including bear-watching at the Dixons’ Redoubt Bay Lodge. Trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, Kirsten also offers gourmet-cooking classes featuring fresh ingredients from the lodge’s expansive gardens. While I was there, I learned to make Gruyere Cheese Puffs with salmon pate before I headed out to canoe around Finger Lake. Later I lounged on the deck and took in the expansive views of Trimble Glacier and Rainy Pass while admiring Carl’s amazing feat of raising a massive log lodge in a place where all materials have to be flown in on small planes.

Road-accessible lodges (accommodations only)

A Taste of Alaska Lodge

Tel. 907-488-7855; www.atasteofalaska.com. More upscale than many of its counterparts, room rates start at $175 per night.

Just outside of Fairbanks, this 7,000-square foot log lodge offers great mountain views and a variety of guest rooms and suites, all with private baths.

Gakona Lodge

Tel. 907-822-3482; www.gakonalodge.com. Rates start at $95 per night.

Between Tok and Fairbanks, this family-owned lodge dates back to 1905. It’s on the rustic end, with shared baths, but there’s a great restaurant on site and a lot of historic appeal.

Motherlode Lodge

Tel. 866-369-4050; www.motherlodelodge.com. Rates run $135 for a double in the summer.

Located in Hatcher Pass, about a 90 minutes north of Anchorage, the lodge began as a roadhouse in 1942. Rustic but charming in its relative isolation.


Destinations: Alaska

Themes: Family Travel, Luxury Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Sleep


User Comments

Hiring a Alaska Fishing Charter was the best thing I have ever did when I decided to go to Alaska with me and a few friends. I wouldn't do it any other way now, and we just booked out trip for next year! We decided to stay at the The Cedars Lodge and took out their Charter, their staff was very experienced and the lodge was perfect! I would just tell everyone to do their homework and figure out what works best for you but I would recommend a charter. The Cedars Lodge 1471 Tongass Ave. Ketchikan, AK 99901 (800) 813-4363 www.cedarslodge.com a href=" " target="_blank">

Kirsten & Carl Dixon True Alaskans Hey Deb, I enjoyed your Wilderness Lodges of Alaska. I had read of Kirsten & Carl Dixon when they owned Riversong Lodge on the Yentna River. By the time my husband and I made the commitment to visit, they had sold the lodge to Robin and Randy Dewar. We had a great time king salmon fishing, but I'm still saving my pennies until we make it to Winterlake Lodge or Redoubt Bay lodge. I've met the Dixons and they are true Alaskans. My blog:

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