Primrose Ridge offers a simple yet fulfilling exploration of Denali’s backcountry, with simple access to the Park’s wilderness.
Guide to Mount Margaret – Unit 26
MAP: Trails Illustrated shows the entirety of the Park, but the scale is too small for field navigation. The modern USGS topos that show this area are split between Healy D-5 SW and Healy C-5 NW (see below).
PERMITS: required for backpacking, but not day hiking
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: ~7 miles round trip
ELEVATION: trailhead ~3,150ft – summit 5,069ft
DIRECTIONS: Ride the Savage River Shuttle (free) to its western terminus at the Savage River Bridge. Hike west along the road to access your “trailhead” to leave the road to the north. The bus ride takes about 45 minutes, one-way.
ROUTE: off-trail travel up grassy mountain ridges
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
Though sometimes referred to as the Primrose Ridge Trail, there is no official hiking trail out here. One may occasionally, however, locate social trails running along the ridges.
Stepping off of the Savage River Shuttle Bus, you’ll cross the bridge over the Savage River and walk the road to the west. Primrose Ridge trends from east to west, generally paralleling the park road. The idea is to scan this landscape to the north, inspecting the secondary access ridges that trend from north to south.
You’ll want to walk for more than 1.5 miles before leaving the road. The first ridge you see will be tempting, but exercise some patience and continue – I made this mistake my first time up here, and got cliffed out.
To be extra sure of your access point, you can go to the pullout at the 17-mile mark. The green arrows on the map (below) show the best places to leave the road.
Other access routes to the Primrose Ridge are possible, but generally not recommended. Access up the ridges farther to west can be more gentle, but require more time. Access up the drainages can be possible too, but these tend to be slow and brushy, with limited visibility.
Mount Margaret is not a dramatic high point. The true summit, rather, is a rock outcrop that can be difficult for a layman to distinguish from other outcrops along the ridge. The names Mount Margaret and Primrose Ridge are interchangeable, though I use Mount Margaret to refer to the high point, and Primrose Ridge to refer to the greater landmass.
If you begin up one of the ridges pointed out below, it’ll be a good workout ascending about 1,300 feet to the broad expanse of Primrose Ridge. Its crest will appear wider and more flat than you may have expected, but you’ll gain another 600 feet to reach the true summit of Mount Margaret, to the northwest.
Another interesting highlight on the ridge is to explore to the east, achieving some unique views of the Savage River as it slices through the landscape below.
Primrose Ridge Map
The USGS topo maps for this area are split between Healy D-5 SW and Healy C-5 NW.
Below, I’ve merged these maps into a single image file and inserted arrows to show the best places to leave the road.
You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
My Trip Report and Photos
A season in Denali National Park goes by so fast. Soon it was late August, with limited time before the bus system was due to close in early September.
One of the very first hikes recommended to me was Primrose Ridge. It probably has great wildflowers in the spring, but now it was too late in the season to see those. A friend also told me the Ridge is a good place to look for Dall Sheep, and I’d heard about the hike from several other sources, too.
The draw of the area likely stems from its ease of access. Rather than booking a ride on one of the shuttle buses, you can get close enough to the hike with your own vehicle, or on the free Savage River Shuttle.
I set out for this day hike in somewhat of a rushed manner on two separate afternoons after work – once on August 21st and again on August 23rd.
On my first attempt, the Savage River Shuttle Bus actually broke down. The hike felt rushed after the delay, pressuring me to leave the road to access the ridge too soon. Don’t make this mistake! I got cliffed out, and essentially had to return the way I came.
A trip into the park is never in vain. On the return bus ride, I was lucky to get my first close-up view of a moose!
She came right up to the bus and crossed the road behind it. In case you didn’t know, the moose in Denali are huge. She easily could have rested her chin on the roof of a car… or maybe even on an SUV!
My second attempt on the hike was much more enjoyable and successful. The highlights on this next hike were a picturesque grouping of Dall Sheep on the way up the ridge, the wonderful scenery on the ridge itself with Mount Margaret, and finally a close-up view of a caribou near the road with an impressive set of antlers.
Overall, this pair of hikes yielded a better set of wildlife photos than I’d captured all season.