An Unfortunate Negative Review of the Kennicott Glacier Lodge // Kennicott, Alaska

October 28, 2019

Caravan Sonnet Blog
When I first decided to accept a second road trip writing job throughout Alaska in the summer of 2019, I immediately knew that I wanted to include Kennicott/McCarthy (and the infamous McCarthy Highway) in the trip. It sounded like a a unique and wonderful adventure and in many ways it did not disappoint. Unfortunately what was a disappointment and a true concern with severe issues (and has led me to filing a complaint with the ADA for non-compliance with the disabilities act) was our stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. 

*warning: this post is very long due to the serious issues we encountered in our stay*
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After I accepted the writing trip job the first thing to do was to look at lodging options in the Kennicott/McCarthy area. We were limited in our options (lodging is sparse as many people camp on the side of the Kennicott River and then walk across the bridge) and in hindsight I truly wish we would have gone that route. 

Not being familiar with the area though, I decided that it would be a better fit for us three girls to choose the Lodge. Safety is extremely important to me and I also factor in realistic concerns for those readers in this community who, like myself, may have health struggles or specific allergies or needs due to health related concerns. After quite a bit of research on the Kennicott/McCarthy area and knowing that we would be driving approximately 10-12 hours to get there in one day and then 10-14 hours on the day we left, I decided to splurge on a stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge property, based on my talks with people at the lodge (prior to booking), the website information, and what I was told in my conversations with the lodge in emails/conversations prior to our stay.

I made our reservations for our stay in the third week of April (something important to note), so our lodging was finalized (and paid for) at that specific time.

I have always promised to be honest on this site about my experiences in my travel adventures which can be hard sometimes. The reality is that I am a pretty easy-going traveler who loves to relish the experience and adventure. But unfortunately there sometimes are situations that don't always work out the way that I hoped and I feel it is important to share the good and the bad of an experience.

This was completely unusual as it is the first time in my nearly seven years of travel blogging to have such a horrendous and serious situation. I hope that this will encourage you NOT to stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge until the owners change their policies.
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The Kennicott Glacier Lodge is a lodge that was built in 1987 and was built as a replica of one of the historic mining buildings from the mining town days. (You can read more about the town of Kennicott and the Kennecott mine HERE.) 

The Kennicott Glacier Lodge is the only lodge in Kennicott and is describes itself on their website as, "a family owned lodge featuring gracious hospitality, breathtaking Alaska scenery, and access to lots of outdoor activities". The Lodge "prides" itself in "gracious hospitality" as they mention that as a hallmark and benchmark of the lodge on numerous places on the website. Since this is something that became a HUGE issue in our stay I wanted to make sure that I point this out. Unfortunately, the hospitality that we encountered was ANYTHING but friendly or gracious. 
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We arrived at the footbridge to Kennicott/McCarthy on Monday, August 5th at 6:55pm after a 12 hour day driving across Alaska 1 and the McCarthy Highway. Despite it being a long day, I smile with so many precious memories from the time with Emily and Sue and our adventures and laughter
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At one point during the day Sue asked me if we had to be at the lodge at a certain time and I assured her "no" because I had been told that we could arrive at any point in time and we would be welcomed. I was told to call when we arrived at the footbridge and we would be met at the other side of the footbridge to be picked up by the lodge's shuttle. I was also told that the parking was "right next to the bridge" and would be easy. This seemed simple enough and when we got to the footbridge we started to encounter our first issue with the lodge.

We drove up and learned that the parking area for the footbridge was not "right next to the bridge" but about a mile away from each other. I was surprised, but we decided that I would drop Emily and Sue at the footbridge and then I would park the car and then make my way down to meet them. I turned though to them right before we pulled out of the gravel parking lot and said "you know what, how about I call to just let them know we are here". I picked up my phone and called the lodge where someone answered and when I explained who we were, she said, "oh finally.. yes we will come pick you up- it is a good thing you called because the last shuttle is in 2 minutes at 7pm."

After a long day in the car it wasn't the warmest greeting, and I had no idea what she was talking about "the last shuttle" but decided to just move forward with getting our things together. I dropped Emily and Sue off with our belongings and then drove the car back before making my way down to the footbridge. 

On the way down a truck beeped at me and a kind older gentleman offered to drive me down to the footbridge. I was grateful and accepted and on the way learned that he was heading to the footbridge to pick up his wife who had been injured hiking on the glacier earlier that day. She had fallen face first and was really hurting. He was very upset and shared that there was no EMT's at the lodge or doctors, but he had been told by a staff member that she would be "okay" and just to "rest". He didn't agree and when we pulled up I could see why. Her head and face were crudely bandaged with towels but she was still heavily bleeding and they had about a 5-6 hour trip ahead of them to get good medical care. 

As I thanked him for the ride, he said to me, "be careful because if you need medical help you won't get it there at the lodge". I watched him drive his bleeding wife away and wondered what in the world we had gotten ourselves into. 

After crossing the footbridge I met up with Emily and Sue and shared what had just taken place. Before we could really talk more our shuttle arrived and we climbed in and were driven about 6 miles to the lodge. Going those 6 miles on the small gravel road took us about 20 minutes and so by the time we arrived at the lodge it was about 7:30pm. We were told by our shuttle driver we would have time to freshen up, change and then go to dinner, but when I went to check in I was told there was no time to check in and to "hurry up because we were missing dinner and there was no time for us and food would not be kept if we didn't get in the dining room "RIGHT NOW"". I literally ran out of the lodge to go get Emily and Sue and started yelling about coming into the lodge to which they looked at me like I had lost my mind.
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Writing this all out it seems crazy... and it was and it was just the first 30 minutes of our experience at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. I want to say from the beginning that I walked into this experience really excited about this stay and it makes me incredibly sad to say that I unfortunately can't recommend this property at all. 

really wanted to love our stay, but unfortunately I was extremely disappointed by eight different situations. These eight situations range in "importance", with the several being extremely serious (I am filing a complaint with the ADA for non compliance with the Disabilities Act), to a couple of things being more of irritations.
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(1) SERIOUS COMPLAINT: Non-Compliance with the Disabilities Act
I could write about #1 for a LONG time (as this is my most serious issue with our stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge), but I am filing a complaint with the ADA to investigate the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. This was something that was absolutely unacceptable, appalling, and completely concerning that must be addressed on a level beyond a blog post. 

There were NO accommodations for those with disabilities and this is the reason why I am filing a complaint with the ADA for non compliance with the Disabilities Act. There was no elevators, no accommodations, the shuttle van had no lift and when I asked about a few things I was told that they were ADA compliant because they had "a ramp" at the end of the porch?!? 

For the record... this is NOT all that is required to be ADA compliant- especially if the ramp goes to a gravel parking spot/drive. Also you can see in the picture on the left above that the porch (in the main lodge where the dining area is) is way to skinny for someone with a wheelchair to easily get through.

The most concerning thing though? I asked the front desk for a couple of recommendations for those that have limited energy with hiking (for myself) or disabilities and was told (word for word) that "no one with disabilities would come here or should be here if you can't do everything at a normal level. People in that situation should not be out in nature." I was so shocked that I didn't know what to say and then tried to have them clarify to which I was told, "this is the way things are at here, we don't need to be disability friendly or compliant. If people come with those issues that is their problem not ours". 

This is unacceptable. Kennicott Glacier Lodge that is not for you to make a decision on on where people should or should not travel to and yes, you do need to be disability compliant. 

I refuse to let this type of situation repeat itself or be said to anyone else. It makes me so sad and so angry that Kennicott Glacier Lodge feels that they are so entitled to have determined that not everyone should be welcomed or accepted, especially if they have some health challenges or physical disabilities.
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(2) Room Situation
When I made the reservation I went back and forth a couple of times about the room situation. I was originally told that we would have to move rooms for the second night but was then told that we would be able to stay in the same room. When we arrived I couldn't check in right away so after we ate and "were allowed" to check in we found out that we were in fact moving rooms for the second night. When I questioned that I was told that I had been informed of this (I was not) and that this is the way things were. By this time at night it was close to 9:30pm and we were exhausted from our long travels. Without another option of a hotel we decided to embrace the experience and that it would be okay. Well our room the first night (pictured above) was "okay" (the roll away bed was broken and we were told that we couldn't get another one) but the second night we were in the main lodge. 

In the second room they literally jammed the three of us into a room that would have been tight for one single bed (and not for 3 people) and there was no way that a roll away bed (broken or not) could have fit into the room. Emily ended up putting pillows on the floor that we gave her with blankets and tried to sleep that way. It was honestly ridiculous. 

OH... and imagine my shock when I got talking with another couple who stayed who made the reservations after I had (in May) and when they were told they were going to have to switch rooms they shared they offered to pay a little extra and "walla" they were able to stay in their room. 

In our second bedroom (in the main lodge) we also didn't have a bathroom to ourselves, but instead shared it with an entire floor. They do mention this on the website, but because I had been told we wouldn't receive "any of those rooms" I didn't pay much attention to it, until we were there. It was weird, a little odd, and definitely not something we would have chosen. 

Also- there were no phones in any of the rooms. We were informed that this keeps "the charm in Kennicott" but honestly it is just dangerous. This is a serious thing if someone needs help or medical attention because you either had to walk in your room from the main lodge to the front desk or walk all the way from the south wing (not connected) to the front desk to have a question answered. This is extremely dangerous, especially with the way that they have numerous adventures going on and someone might need serious medical help and not be able to call for help. 
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(3) Guest Help/ Moving Bags
While our bags were delivered to our room for the first evening (because we were told we couldn't take the time to do this or there would be no dinner for us) we were responsible for moving our luggage for the second night. The room wasn't ready for us just to move right into so we had to store our luggage in a closet in the main building. This required a couple of trips for us (up and down stairs). This was more annoying that concerning but it did add another level of frustration to our stay.  All I could think was that when I had originally called and been assured that they were "disability friendly" this was anything but that or "gracious hospitality". 

In addition to this when I had checked in the girl at the front desk had said that we could bring our things down at 11:00 to 11:30ish, but the next morning as we were leaving breakfast I was informed that we had to be out of the room by 10:30. When I explained what I had been told the night before I was told that the girl was wrong and if we weren't out by 10:30 than we would owe an extra $50 for each 5 minutes we were late! WHAT?!?
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(4) SERIOUS COMPLAINT: Dining Room/Meals/ Allergies
The dining room for dinnertime is a preset meal and the cost of it was $39. For dinner you received some bread, a salad of some sort, and then a meal with a small dessert after wards. It sounds like a lot of food, but you definitely are given exactly what the chef wants to cook and you couldn't deviate off the menu for anything. There was a vegetarian option that someone at one of our dinners tried and it was literally just cooked vegetables and plain rice. When she asked if there was any beans or tofu that could be added she was told "no". She later confided in me that this was the same meal that she had been receiving for the last three nights. 

It was a similar situation with the gluten free option that I needed due to my allergies. Before (and after) booking our stay I had called ahead of time and had been assured that there would be gluten free options available for the dining room. While this was true, there was a pre-set gluten free option at dinnertime and there was no choices outside of this that you could order. For the first night I was offered a chicken dinner (which as some of you know I have an intolerance to) and the second night I was offered a plain salmon fillet. For a salad on the second night we had a Caesar salad (the croutons were still in the salad) and when I requested a salad to be made without the croutons I was told they couldn't do that and I could move the croutons off the plate.

 I tried to explain that I couldn't do that due to my extreme allergy and was told that they couldn't do anything about it. I obviously opted not to eat the salad but when the salmon fillet came it was so hard and cooked so well done that I requested a bit more Caesar dressing to try to help the taste. Despite trying numerous times to get the waitresses attention, they ignored us and so my sister finally got up to get more dressing and she was told by the wait staff that "the chef had locked the refrigerator and they weren't allowed in it"

Later we asked for more water and I was literally told by a waitress, "you have already had three glasses tonight that is all the water I can serve you"!?!?! I have never heard of being told that you can't have more water... I don't know... maybe the faucet was locked up too?!?!

A strange aspect about dinner is that you have no choice about where you sit at the mealtimes. You are assigned a table and while everyone else kept the same tables for the second night we were there, we were moved out from the table with younger people around our age to a table with those that were older. This wasn't "bad" it just made it very confusing and definitely showed the reality that the Kennicott Glacier Lodge staff like to exert control in each situation instead of caring about their people.

It was things like this that definitely made us feel like we were not in a safe situation. In addition to this...  this was the worst and most expensive meals in our entire trip. Considering this was a lodge that prides itself on "customer satisfaction" truly also was disappointing on a different level.

I completely understand that not every hotel can cater to different allergy issues. I also understand that some of my allergies are a bit strange. For example, as I mentioned above I have an intolerance to chicken, but when you ask if there is anything else you can get (and see another person at a table eating salmon when I was told it was impossible and could only eat chicken)it doesn't lend itself to "gracious hospitality". I didn't understand, but that is fine. But to be assured that there would be gluten free options available with many choices and that my allergies (also discussed ahead of time) would be "no problem" and to run into the situations that we did in my mind was unacceptable

Allergies are a serious issue, especially for those traveling while fighting serious health issues. Had we known ahead of time that this would not be a possibility or be an issue we would have made other arrangements. 
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(5) SERIOUS COMPLAINT: Shuttle Bus/ Leaving the Lodge
Because the reservation was paid for in April I had discussed the importance about leaving the lodge early on Wednesday morning. I had explained that we had a long day of driving ahead of us to get over to the Denali area and because we were looking at a 12 hour day I needed to leave by 6am at the latest. I was assured that this would be "absolutely no problem" and if we wanted to leave even earlier than that the shuttle could "take us at any time". I was delighted and made the reservation without any hesitation. 

Imagine my surprise then when we were eating dinner on Monday night and during announcements we were told that the first shuttle would be leaving at 8:30am on Wednesday. My head shot up and Emily, Sue, and I were looking at each other frustrated because we quickly realized that this was going to be another issue. I decided to speak with the receptionist at the front desk after dinner and was assured that we would be able to leave "earlier" and to talk to them in the morning. 

The next morning in the midst of switching rooms and delivering our bags to the closet I brought up the subject of leaving again. This time I was told that there would be no shuttle bus that could take us earlier and if we wanted to leave at 7:30 then we could pay $50 to do so... if permission was given. 

By this point I was completely frustrated as I was now having to pay extra for something that "may or may not be possible" and when I asked to speak with my contact who had given me the media rate (Christina) I was told that she was "unavailable" and they weren't sure that they could get an answer. 

I asked again to speak to Christina Kirkwood and was rudely told by the receptionist that she wouldn't be available at all and they would try to find an answer before the next morning (Wednesday morning) but that "I shouldn't hold out hope". I finally asked that Christina talk with the receptionists and give me the answer through them. Again, I was told to "not hold out hope".

At this point I did something that I have NEVER done or had to do in all of my years of travel blogging (nearly 7 years and counting) and I said firmly, "I will give you ten minutes to get an answer. If I don't have one within the next ten minutes then I am going to share across my social media accounts that we are being held here like prisoners and are not able to have contact with someone who can help." Unsurprisingly, we received an answer within the next three minutes stating that we could leave early (at 7:30am) but it would be the $50 charge. Now... whether or not they actually talked with Christina or not, I will never know. 

At that point I wanted OUT of Kennicott Glacier Lodge and so I agreed to pay the $50 and we were signed up for the 7:30am shuttle.

Ironically as this was all going on the phone rang and the main receptionist (who we later found out was working her second year at the lodge) proceeded to tell the person on the phone that "the shuttles operate all throughout the day and night and you can come and go as you like"... exactly what I had been told several months prior... and yet it was anything but what was true or happening. 

I discuss this more in #8 so scroll down for more on this subject...
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(6) SERIOUS COMPLAINT: Lack of Medical Supplies/Qualified Nurses, EMT's or Doctors
I understand that we were traveling over to a very remote part of Alaska and area of the world without a hospital, urgent care clinic, etc. but when I called to discuss my concerns with this before I booked our stay I was assured that the Lodge (which operates tons of different outdoor excursions and activities) was prepared for "any and all minor and major medical issues". As a lady who is healing from the fight of my life and still struggles with health issues I spoke at length before making my reservation about this topic because of my background. I kept being told again and again that they were "well prepared" and that they had everything that would be needed. 

In addition to the situation with the man I met who had to take his wife to a doctor (a very serious situation) we ended up having a minor medical emergency after dinner the first evening. Sue and I were walking back to our room when all of a sudden she says, "ow!". I thought she was joking about something but quickly realized that she had gotten stung by some kind of bug. We went to our room and within 10 minutes realized that Sue needed some allergy meds/bee sting help, etc. Sue's fingers (she had actually gotten stung on both hands) were turning red and swelling a tiny bit so I went to call the front desk and realized that there was no way to call so we had to walk all the way back to the main lodge. This simple situation just proved how unsafe this was to not have a phone in the room ... I mean what if Sue hadn't been able to walk?!? Anyways, Sue and I went down to the front desk and quickly explained the situation. 

The reaction we received was concerning and alarming at best. Instead of offering to help, we were basically brushed off and told that it probably wasn't that bad. After they suggested that we just sleep on it (WHAT?!?) we kept asking for help. I should interject here that Sue has worked for her entire life in the medical profession and is extremely brilliant at her job. Sue explained what had happened and showed her fingers, but we were told to "check with the kitchen" because "they might have something"

We then walked to the dining room (and were not greeted nicely) by the wait staff. We explained the situation again (and by this time Sue's poor hand was throbbing) and finally they said they would see what (if anything) they had in the medicine plastic bag. I thought they were joking but no, they were serious... it was a dirty old gallon size plastic bag with a bunch of wrapped up samples of meds that they brought out from the kitchen. I have NEVER in travel writing seen anything like this - there wasn't even a basic first aid kit?!?... and then imagine my shock to find out that all of the dates on these sample meds were at least a year old. I was so upset. 

Sue (who kept very calm) took one of the allergy pills (that was old) but I was getting more and more upset. I asked where an Epi Pen was and was told, "Oh I don't know I think we have one laying around here somewhere". WHAT?!? What happened to being prepared for any and all situations? What happened to having medical supplies? What in the world was wrong with this lodge?!?
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(7) The Staff/Owners of Lodge
Overall 98% of the issues we had revolved around one thing: the staff and owners at the Lodge and the competence of having qualified and trained staff that are professional, able to handle minor situations like the ones we experienced (I can't even begin to imagine if there had been a serious situation like the man I met or something worse!), and who are able to have customer service skills like being polite. I won't comment on the fact that the website assures potential visitors that the lodge provides "gracious hospitality" as I want to keep this review professional, but it was a disappointment as we encountered the strangest and rudest encounters and experiences with each staff member, especially the front desk receptionists and the wait staff (the two groups that we saw the most during our stay). There were so many additional strange incidents that occurred during our stay that I could write about 10 blog posts, but there were two more that happened that I did want to add in. 

First, there was a definite way that the staff treated those who had paid the money to fly into and be picked up and transported to the lodge versus the group of us that drove in and had to be shuttled in. Those that flew in seemed to be definitely catered to (my guess is the cost that is associated with this and the fact that it was believed that these people would tip more) and those of us that drove in were definitely treated differently. One evening Sue and I were sitting out on the chairs waiting for dinner (after being told that we couldn't sit inside and wait) when we overheard that some being who had just arrived by shuttle had asked to use the hairdryer so she could go shower and wash her hair after the long trip in. They had had car trouble and had gotten very delayed and were all really tired. She received a similar "greeting" as we did to the lodge with being told that she had the option to either eat dinner then or have no food and that she could only keep the hair dryer for 10 minutes. The wife was very upset and finally the husband said, "we are going to keep the hair dryer as long as we like... what kind of crazy place is this?" and off they marched unhappily to their rooms. Sue and I just looked at each other and realized that we were not the only ones running into issues with the "gracious hospitality". 

And imagine my surprise when I heard at the dinner table by the woman sitting next to me (who had been flown in and was staying a week at the lodge) that she had spent the afternoon relaxing and was so grateful that the lodge provided hair dryers for people to keep in their rooms all day so you didn't have to go back and forth to the front desk asking for things.

It was little things like this that were just odd and strange in the experience.

Second, when we were being shuttled back to the Kennicott River foot bridge the woman driving our shuttle bus shared some very unsettling aspects of her job. She proceeded to talk about the way that the lodge was "so good to its staff" and fed them "a piece of toast in the morning, a small sandwich for lunch, and sometimes a salad or chicken for dinner". They also had "great hours" because they received a few hours off each week. She was working at the lodge with her husband and they were most excited about the raise that they would receive at the end of the summer for "staying through the whole summer". This was EXTREMELY concerning as she thought this was normal and yet to me was a huge warning sign of better bureau business practice. 

Another thing that was odd was that on the way to the bridge she insisted on slowing down and pointing out all of the different coffins that there were in Kennicott. It was definitely an unsettling way to end the stay and the three of us just wanted out of the bus and out of the situation... which leads me to #8. 
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(8) SERIOUS COMPLAINT: The Feeling of  Being Trapped/Not Being Able to Leave
I am "bookending" my eight things with the beginning and end being on the more serious end of things with MAJOR concerns in the middle of this review but this one is definitely important to note and why I wouldn't recommend to anyone to stay at the lodge.

The way that we felt that we couldn't leave the situation (even if we offered to pay more than the $50) was an extremely scary and unsettling situation... especially as women. With the lodge being a good 6 mile hike with our bags we didn't have the luxury to just walk back to the footbridge (due to my health rehabilitation and energy levels). We also had been told when we checked in that we should avoid walking around Kennicott because people liked their privacy. We also didn't have the opportunity or availability to call for a taxi or uber or anything like this in this part of the world. Not having the freedom or the ability to leave gave us a feeling of being trapped and unable to leave that was the most unsettling experience that I have ever had in my nearly 7 years of travel blogging. 

I have traveled around the world in my experiences and have NEVER had this situation before. It wasn't the fact that we were in a remote place it was the staff being unwilling to drive or take you to be able to leave. I didn't share this with Sue or Emily at the time but I went and asked for a shuttle ride the next morning after we arrived so that we could leave because that is how unsettling it was. I was told "there was no availability on the shuttle buses for Tuesday and you will have to wait till Wednesday". I insisted and became quite adamant that we had to leave, even citing that I needed to go for health reasons (sharing part of my health story) and was directly told, "I have already told you - there is no shuttle availability and you would have to walk." That next day I saw the shuttle van parked for 85% of the day... including never seeing it leave in the lunch hours when we were eating lunch. 

This inflexibility, especially after I shared my health issues, was the most scary part of our stay and extremely concerning. Was it that the front desk receptionists decided that they didn't like us particularly and that is why we had a bad experience or was it that the lodge truly doesn't take it's visitors back to the bridge at anytime? Was it that they liked exerting control over the guests? Was it that they wanted to make things difficult for three women traveling from across the country? Was it that they were prejudice against those with health issues or physical disabilities? I will never know but this is to serious not to mention. 
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Honestly, it is always hard to share a negative review and this is only the third time here on the blog I have done so in the nearly 7 years of travel writing, and NONE as serious as these issues that we encountered at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

 I have never heard of these type of situations happening before at any property, but are to serious not to mention to anyone that might be considered a trip to Kennicott. These are also to serious to let go and not file a complaint with the ADA regarding the non-compliance with the Disabilities Act. I can only hope and pray that doing so will help to change what took place for us and others who came to the lodge.

My best recommendation is for anyone traveling to camp by the footbridge and then take the free Kennicott/McCarthy shuttle to the area that you want to explore or have adventures and NEVER to stay at this lodge. 

Note: Ironically this was the most expensive hotel/lodge stay of our entire trip! While I did receive a 10% off media rate for my stay (equaling $60 which went to pay for the shuttle trip on the way back) I wish that I would be refunded the entire price of our stay as it was so nightmarish. While I do not believe the lodge would do that, I mention that to say, that even if they did, I would still say the same review. I feel that this is so important to note so that you readers know without a doubt that my concerns are completely not based on money of any kind. 

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