While Denali National Park is one of the few national parks where you can hike off-trail, one trail that you have to check out is the Savage River Loop Trail. This easy hike is so scenic and breathtaking, and you don’t have to worry about getting lost as you head far into the backcountry on other, more adventurous (and daring!) routes.
While hiking on the Savage River Loop Trail, you can expect to find wildlife, a rushing river and the opportunity to see some amazing views in this small canyon. While you won’t catch views of Denali from here (even on a good day of weather, which can be rare!), you are very likely to get incredible views of the surrounding area.
If you have an hour or so, then we highly recommend getting out and hiking the Savage River Loop Trail!
SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 2.1 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Loop
- Elevation gain: 409 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 2,648 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Early summer to early fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 9:30 am or after 4:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Mosquitoes, bears
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 60 to 90 minutes
The Savage River Loop Trail is just one of many hikes and countless things to do and see that are covered in our downloadable itinerary for Denali National Park. We also cover where to stay, bus tours, what to bring and what else you may want to do in the area. Be sure to download it ahead of your trip!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL
Savage River Loop Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Savage River Loop Trail is really quite easy to find. After you get into the park on Denali Park Road, continue to mile 15. This is the furthest you can drive on the park road without a permit. The parking area is on the right side of the road.
- Directions from the Denali Visitor Center to the Savage River Loop Trail parking area (this will take about 30 minutes, as the speed limit is slow and you can expect some traffic).
The parking lot for the Savage River Loop Trail is actually quite small, holding space for only about 30 vehicles. The hike is short and not everyone takes the entire trail, so if you are patient you should see a spot open up every few minutes or so. During busy times of the year, the parking area does fill up quite fast and can be crowded as people try to find a spot.
Another option is to take the Savage River Shuttle, which is a free bus ride to the area and is in operation from May into September.
Pit toilets are available at the parking area, but there aren’t any restrooms on the short trail.
SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is packed dirt with some rocks that you have to navigate over. While not challenging, you should be prepared with closed-toed shoes as it can get a bit muddy if it’s rained recently.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. If you are steady on your feet with a cane, then taking this trail should be fine, at least partway. However, use your best judgement, of course!
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL
This hike is short, but there are a few things that you really need to be sure you have with you. And, since this is bear country, you’ll need a few more things than just the essentials you may bring on a day hike in some of the other National Parks! Here are a few of the things we recommend:
- Water. No matter how short the hike, we always recommend bringing water with you.
- Bug spray. The mosquitoes in Alaska will team up and give you an unwelcome ride to a remote location if you aren’t careful. Take some bug spray with you, and use it. You can also use a bug net, but be sure it goes over your arms and torso in addition to your head.
- Bear spray. Bears protection in Alaska is no joking matter! Be sure that you have at least one can of bear spray in your party, and be certain that you know how to use it.
- Warm gear. The weather along the Savage River can be particularly windy, so it can get pretty cold! Be sure to have a jacket to keep warm.
- Shoes. Since the trail can get wet, we do recommend bringing closed-toed shoes. Plus, this will allow you to go further at the end of the loop if you want to see what’s on the other side of the hill!
HIKING THE SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL
Savage River Loop Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Once you are all geared up, the hike starts by heading north along the Savage River. You can hike the loop in either direction, but most people hike in the counter-clockwise direction since the parking area is on the east side of the river. Whichever way you hike, you’ll be rewarded with similar views.
As you head north, you’ll feel like you are heading into the wilderness. The river winds between Healy Ridge and Mount Margaret, and the trail travels right along the river. The views to the north are spectacular, with the wildflowers popping against the green and gray of the canyon.
At the 1.0-mile point, the trail heads across a short, picturesque wooden bridge and turns back south in the Canyon. At this point, you have the opportunity to continue north if you want, though there isn’t an established trail. We hiked a few hundred yards further, which involved a short climb to see the river as it headed further north. While this is not required, it did provide us a perspective of the canyon and the bridge that we wouldn’t have gotten if we stayed at the level of the trail. Be advised that the climb is pretty steep if you choose to take this optional detour!
As you head south, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Alaska Range providing a backdrop to the river. We loved this view in particular, and it made the whole hike worth the work!
As you head back to the trailhead, you’ll come alongside a rocky shoreline. Here it’s common to see wildlife relax and graze, particularly caribou. You may also see Dall sheep in the cliffs up high!
If you stick to the trail, you can expect the route to require relatively little climbing at all. There is about 400 feet of elevation gain, but it is hard to even notice as it occurs slowly.
SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Amazing Views. While you won’t see Denali on this hike, you will get amazing views of the river and surrounding canyon. It’s honestly hard to beat this trail in terms of how the view is compared to the little amount of work you have to do to experience it!
- Easy. After a heavy day of hiking or being out on the bus, getting to do a fairly easy trail is very much welcome.
- Colors. We loved how vibrant the colors were on this hike. The green hills, rough and rugged gray mountains combined with the sky and wildflowers to be truly amazing.
- Crowds. You can expect this hike to be pretty crowded. Since it is the “end of the road” for private vehicles and it’s quite easy, you can plan on many other people to share the trail with you. If you come earlier in the morning or in the evening, that is a way around having to navigate the crowds!
HIKING THE SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL IN WINTER
The road out to mile 15 is not plowed, so if you want to hike this trail in the winter, you also have to trek the 12 miles out here via snowshoe. If you can do that, then you are going to think this hike is an easy stroll in the winter, and you’ll have all the gear you need!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE SAVAGE RIVER LOOP TRAIL
If you made it out to the Savage River parking area, then it’s likely that you’ve already seen the main viewpoints along the Park Road. Still, there is another great trail right nearby. The Savage Alpine Trail is a great hike to combine with the Savage River Trail, if you are up for the challenge! This 8.2-mile (round-trip) trail heads up to a viewpoint that offers the ability to see all the way to Denali! It’s challenging, as it gains about 2800 feet in elevation if you do the full out-and-back hike. You can also just hike one-way, and then take the shuttle back or walk on the Park Road, which is about 2 miles.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON DENALI NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Before you head out on your trip, check out our Denali National Park itinerary. We help you plan out the trip with all the details on the local hikes, what to pack and what you need to know ahead of your journey!
- Be sure to check out our other blogs on Alaska, including What to See and Do in Kenai Fjords National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
- When you return from the trip, check out how we can create a vintage-style travel poster from one or more of your photos. If you love remembering your trips, this is a great way to do so forever!