“This great route is perfect for those seeking a longer trip through two distinct ecosystems.”
— Ike Waits
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildlife
Whether you're seeking to explore alpine tundra or are seeking a riverside hike, this route will deliver! You'll begin your trek near the Savage River Campground, a popular destination for those camping in the park, and will travel through the tundra to the Savage River Loop Trailhead, where you'll embark on the riverside portion of your journey. Once you've taken in all that the journey has to offer, you can hop on the Savage River Shuttle for a scenic and well-deserved ride back to the campground.
Need to Know
Bears frequent this area. Please be bear aware by making noise while you hike, and bring bear spray.
Starting from the Savage River Campground, you'll either park your vehicle, disembark from the shuttle, or leave your warm sleeping bag behind. You'll need to cross the Park Road to really start your journey, so keep an eye out for posted signs directing you to the trail. The first portion of this route is a pleasant warm up, and you'll be hiking over mostly flat terrain. Take some time to take in the spectacular view, especially while the going is easy. Though you'll be moving through forests at first, soon enough you'll reach the tundra where spectacular views will open up in almost all directions. On a clear day, you'll have plenty of vistas that open up all the way to Denali. Even from 60 miles away, the incredible mountain looms over the surrounding ranges, making for spectacular photos.
As you continue, you'll enjoy moving along this well-built trail as it continues to climb. You'll be climbing away from the drainage that the trail starts next to, but switchbacks will keep the going at a comfortable grade. Once you reach the ridgeline, you'll begin a westward trend. This continues to an open, spectacular view, and makes for a very scenic hike.
By the time that you've reached the 2.5-mile marker, you'll have reached the high point in the hike, and you'll start a rather steep descent to the Savage River. This portion of the trail is a testament to the hard work of the trail crew, as there are beautifully built switchbacks that ease your travel over some challenging and rocky terrain. You'll make short work of the descent, and you'll soon find yourself at Savage Rocks. Continue past the rocks, to reach the Savage River Loop parking area and trailhead, where you'll embark on the Savage River Loop Trail
By the time that you've reached this loop, you'll have knocked out the most difficult portions of the journey, and you'll be able to enjoy this more mellow portion of the hike. Start working your way to the north. The trail is well defined, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to take a look around you at the spectacular scenery and wildlife. Keep an eye out on your journey up the river for collared pika, marmots and Dall sheep, depending on the season.
After about a mile, you'll come to a well-built bridge that will deposit you on the other side of the water. From here, you'll begin a journey heading south to return to the Savage River Trailhead. The trail remains easy to navigate and enjoyable.
Once you find yourself back at the trailhead, take off your pack and rest while you wait for the next Savage River Shuttle, which you can take free of charge to return to the Savage River Campground. If you've arrived after the shuttle has stopped running or want to extend your journey, you can also travel back to your starting point via the park road. You'll still enjoy many great views, and the road isn't heavily traveled, so you won't be interrupted by auto traffic.
This content was contributed by author Ike Waits. For a comprehensive hiking guide to Denali National Park and to see more by Ike, click here
Flora & Fauna
Visitors will see a variety of ecosystems, ranging from forested terrain to tundra slopes. Animals range in size from pika to grizzly bear, and you'll likely see smaller mammals along the way.