With wonderful opportunities to see wildlife and potential views of Mount McKinley, the Savage Alpine Trail is one of the best trails in Denali National Park.
Savage Alpine Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated shows the entirety of the Park, but the scale is too small for field navigation.
PERMITS: no permit for day hiking, but there’s a $15 park entrance fee.
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: 4 miles one-way
ELEVATION: west end 2,590ft – east end 2,785ft – high point 4,140ft
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: The west trailhead at Savage River is located 15 miles into Denali National Park from its entrance gate. The east trailhead is at Savage River Campground. The road is generally open from May through September, and you may drive to the trail. Note that the park road is closed to private vehicles beyond Savage River.
SHUTTLE: A free, seasonal shuttle goes to Savage River from May 20th to mid-September. A number of different bus tours go into the Park, but this one is specifically called the “Savage River Shuttle.” You may connect this one-way hike via the shuttle.
ROUTE: well maintained trail
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
Here’s a schematic map that shows the Savage Alpine Trail, as well as the nearby Savage River Trail. You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
See the general hiking guide page to view larger maps of Denali that show the Savage Alpine Trail’s proximity to other features in the park.
The Savage Alpine Trail is one of the best ways to spend half a day in Denali National Park. There’s only a few trails in Denali, and I think that this one offers a great experience, especially when combined with the Savage River Trail for even more variation.
This is rated as a strenuous hike. It’s only 4 miles, but there’s 1,500 feet of elevation gain. There’s two trailheads – one is at the Savage River (Below the large “Savage Rock”), and the other is across the road from the Savage River Campground, at the Mountain Vista day-use area.
The logistics are simple because the park shuttle bus (Savage River Shuttle) makes regular stops at both ends of the trail. You’re also allowed to drive your vehicle and park at either end of the trail.
These trailheads are separated by only 2 miles of road, so I suppose you could walk along the road to complete a loop. If you’re not afraid of a little off-trail hiking, another option would be to access the Savage River itself (Through the campground), and follow the river to connect the loop.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I did this hike one day after work with Jackie and friends Lexie and Aaron on June 12th. We chose to begin at the river and end at the campground, and we would discover that Spring is a great time to look for Dall Sheep in the area. 🙂
I was in for a treat just a few steps above Savage Rock, as I got to see Mount McKinley aka Denali aka “the great one” for the very first time!
The mountain is a distant site from here, but that made its appearance even more mystical and surreal.
“Let’s do some jumping pictures!”
We saw some Dall Sheep! The trail brought us very close to their position, and they simply stayed just as they were, relaxed and unafraid.
They struck us as a gathering of philosophers as we mused about the life a Dall Sheep… simply lounging in the grass on the mountainsides and pondering the day’s majestic view.
There were plenty of arctic ground squirrels up here to keep us entertained too.
Denali is big – just leagues upon leagues of open wilderness toward the Alaska Range in the south.
The Park Road stretches way to the west. At the time I had yet to go beyond Savage River, so this view held an extra call of adventure.
The trail begins descending toward the road.
I especially enjoyed the character of this lower trail near the road in the evening light with clusters of dotted spruce trees.