Since I am “homesick” this winter and thinking about Denali National Park a lot, I figured I’d write a bit about some of my favorite hikes up there – today, the Savage Alpine Trail.
There are only a few actual trails in the Denali National Park which is a bit different compared to other parks where there are A LOT of trails of different difficulty levels. Denali is FULL of hike-able backcountry and you are welcome to get out there and explore on your own.
One of my favorite areas in Denali National Park is the area surrounding Savage River and there is a lot to explore right there. I wanted to start out by sharing a bit about my favorite actual trail in the park. The Savage Alpine Trail has a special spot in my heart because it was the first hike I did in Denali National Park and although I have since done quite a few other hikes (which were all amazing) I keep going back to Savage Alpine Trail. It’s that good.
Before you go: Please check in with the park rangers either at the Visitor Center in the park entrance area, or with the rangers at Savage River check station. The rangers can give you any information you need regarding current conditions and they’re also great to chat with regarding how to be smart and safe while out in nature. Be sure to read about how far away to stay from wildlife, how to make sure you minimize bear encounters and how to behave in case an encounter is unavoidable.
What to bring: Always, always bring water and food to last through the day. Dress in layers and be sure to bring some extra. Weather can change quickly in the area and it is not uncommon for temperatures to drop or wind picking up FAST. Be sure to also let someone know where you’re going – this may be extra important if you are planning on going off trail. PS. If you have bear spray, bring it, but more importantly be sure you know how to behave in nature and what to do in case you should encounter a bear out there.
The hike: The Savage Alpine Trail is a 4.7mi long point to point trail. The trail is accessible from both Mountain Vista and Savage River. Decide if you want to start at Savage River for a steep incline to start out, or at Mountain Vista for a long, more gradual climb up to the ridge before you head down the steep decline to Savage River.
I personally enjoy starting at Savage River and end the hike at Mountain Vista. The climb up to and past Savage Rock is somewhat steep but I have met hikers in all ages on this trail. I’d say if you find it challenging, just take your time – there’s no need to be stressed. Once you have climbed up the initial incline the trail mellows out and is fairly flat for a bit before a gradual decline starts heading down towards Mountain Vista.
Note: There are some brushy areas on the way up, and on the way down to Mountain Vista. Otherwise there’s good visibility. When you are in areas with brush or forest around, or if you feel insecure – be extra sure to make noise as you move forward and keep your eyes on your surroundings. Making noise as you go will let any wildlife in the area know you are coming, and will very likely lead them to move on.
Get to and from by shuttle: Catch the free shuttle from Wilderness Access Center (WAC) or the Visitor Center. Schedule varies depending on time of year, but it can be found here and you can always ask at the Visitor Center and WAC for more information. Whether you end the hike at Mountain Vista or Savage River, simply wave down a green bus heading toward the entrance area. The driver will let you know if they have room for you on the bus.
Get to and from by car: During the summer season you are allowed to drive out to Savage River which is situated on Mile 15 of the Park Road (note: please be sure to check in with rangers at the Visitor Center or check current closures on Denali National Park’s website because sometimes they are in fact closing the road for wildlife).
If you ended your hike at Mountain Vista – wave down a green bus heading west (it’ll say Savage River) and catch a ride back to your vehicle at Savage River (just about 5-10minutes on the bus) and drive out. If you ended your hike at Savage River, catch a ride with any green bus heading towards the park entrance. Get off at Mountain Vista to drive out of the park.
Have you been to Denali National Park?
What is your favorite National Park?