Rustic cabins will make you fall in love with Alaska all over again
March is a tough month in the Anchorage area. It feels like winter should be over, and it isn’t. It feels like summer should be here already, and it’s not. The weird, seasonal in-between makes for often-abysmal outdoor conditions, like icy and wet trails. Heck, Iditarod is one of the bright spots, and even that’s been less than ideal in Anchorage in recent years due to crummy snow cover. Boo.
At certain times of year in Alaska, being happy and having fun isn’t happenstance; it’s a commitment. And sometimes we need a little motivation – and, perhaps a temporary relocation – to remember the unarguable truth that we live in a beautiful, wonderful place.
For a sweet getaway any time of the year, and for an especially special wintry retreat, head north to Hatcher Pass Lodge. It always surprises me how many folks are unaware of Hatcher Pass Lodge. It’s a relatively nearby and fairly affordable spot for just about any Alaskan – from the backcountry skier to the snowmachiner to the lodge bunny whose idea of a good time is a thick novel and hot cocoa.
The resort consists of a main A-frame lodge that perches just downslope from the historic Independence Mine area. Its peaked chalet windows afford incomparable views of the surrounding mountain peaks and sweeping valley below. My favorite place to sit and sip a glass of wine is at one of the stools overlooking the bowling snowy landscape, with the woodstove warming my back.
The interior of the lodge is toasty, cozy and European, with various artists’ portraits of the area adorning the wood walls. The menu covers the bases, with everything from full breakfasts to homemade soups to cheese fondue. Prices are on the steep side for food, but I cut them some slack there, considering the miles required to make a milk run.
In addition to your usual spirits, wine and beer, the lodge has a fun selection of drinks, too. A favorite was the adult twist on a hot chocolate, served piping hot with peppermint schnapps in a mug with a pillowy topper of melting whipped cream.
Accommodations at Hatcher Pass are found in one of nine A-frame cabins. Depending on the size, they can sleep between 2 and 6 guests on various configurations of queen and double beds, and sofa pull-outs. Rooms are basic but comfortable, with tables for playing cards or other games you’ll find in the cupboards (our cutthroat game of 1990s Pop Culture Trivial Pursuit lasted into the wee hours!).
“Rustic” is an appropriate word for the cabins. They’re simple and charming, and no-frills for sure. They’ll provide a vessel of drinking water, and toilets are the kind you pump water into and flush by releasing a hatch – almost like you’re on a boat. Lofts are accessible by ladders. There are no kitchens but you can plug in a hotplate to warm food prepared in advance or bring in a cooler packed with goodies.
The view is something to behold – and every cabin has some sort of spectacular view. An overnight here will remind you why you live in Alaska, and the elevation means delightful winter conditions last far into the spring.
Some other perks about these cabins: Many allow dogs for an additional fee, and most cost just $135 a night. You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere in Alaska where you can have this privacy, this view, and this unique outdoorsy experience for that low a cost.
One of Hatcher Pass’ crown jewels is its wooden sauna. You have to notify the proprietors well in advance if you intend to use it, and then you and your guests will have it all to yourselves for an hour. The sauna sits on top of a creek, and you can lie back on the hot boards and hear the cool water rushing beneath. Want to take it up a notch? Dash out the backdoor, down the ramp, and plunge into the freezing creek, then scurry back in to enjoy the searing sensation of the sauna warming you again.
When you’re not busy dunking crusty bread in gooey pools of cheese, sweating in the sweet sauna or ogling the magnificent surroundings, get out and play. Hatcher Pass is a recreational dream all year long, with areas for skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, biking, snowmachining and more.
From Anchorage, head through Palmer and hang a left on Palmer Fishhook Road toward Independence Mine State Park. About 10 minutes down, just before the road starts to ascend, you’ll pass a gas station and minimart that’s your last chance for snacks and beverages. For more information go to www.hatcherpasslodge.com.