The Perfect 10

Susitna River Lodging, Alaska

May 15, 2003
Outside Magazine
Susitna River Lodging

Doubles (suites in the lodge) start at $99 per night; cabins that sleep up to five people start at $119.

THE PRIVATE PLANE SWOOPED LOW, buzzing us like a fighter jet in Top Gun and drowning out the marriage vows. But that's life in Alaska. When you're 120 miles north of Anchorage, 270 miles south of Fairbanks, and a thousand miles from anywhere else, lots of people own small planes and are happy to show them off. (In this case, the grandstander was a tardy guest.)

A friend's mid-September wedding was being held at Susitna River Lodging—a cluster of four cedar-sided, two-bedroom cabins and a main building with a wraparound deck, all tucked into a birch forest near Denali National Park. Just before the ceremony, my husband turned and experienced another only-in-Alaska moment: flower girl Sophie Anton, age six, jumping up and down on a juicy dead salmon that had washed up on the riverbank (under threat of having to take a bath, she finally abandoned tickling it with her bare toes).

Susitna is unusual as an affordable-for-families Alaska lodge with remarkable sporting access—it's walking distance from Talkeetna, a town that serves as a staging area for mountaineers preparing to climb 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. The 2.5-acre property faces the wide gravel bars of the Susitna River, where the silver salmon run had recently ended and bald eagles feasted on the spawned-out carcasses.

Sportfishermen come to catch rainbow and Dolly Varden trout, Arctic grayling, and five species of Pacific salmon; kids love the half- and multiday whitewater rafting trips offered on the Class II-III Chulitna River and adults get a thrill on the Class IV Talkeetna River. Experienced backcountry skiers can have a field day on McKinley's Ruth Glacier, less than an hour's flight away. Viewing the raw, jumbled power of the Alaska Range was enough for us, though—that and tickling dead fish with our toes.