a short but scenic maintained trail in Denali National Park
Savage River Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated shows the whole park. If stay on the trail, you shouldn’t need a map for this one.
PERMITS: no permit for day hiking, but there’s a $15 park entrance fee.
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: 1.7 mile loop
ELEVATION: average 2,550ft with negligible change
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: The trailhead is located 15 miles into Denali National Park from its entrance gate. 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 here.
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.”
ROUTE: well maintained trail
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
This is a short loop that flanks the river on the north side of the park road. The Savage River in this area begins carving into a canyon and flows to the north as a single channel.
The trail follows the river downstream, crosses a bridge, and returns up the other side. There’s very little variation in the terrain, but the Savage River offers different scenery than the park’s entrance area.
If you have more time and energy, consider adding the strenuous, 4-mile Savage Alpine Loop to your agenda.
Here’s a schematic map that shows the Savage River Trail, as well as the Alpine Loop.
My Trip Notes and Photos
This was just a quick hike that I did with some friends one afternoon.
Sometimes referred to as the Savage Canyon Trail, this is a simple stroll that’s one of the easiest hikes in the park. Despite its pedestrian nature, the trail lies within some of Denali’s legitimate wilderness. It’s 15 miles up the park road from the entrance area, and it has a different feel than the trails near the main visitor center.
We went out here on the afternoon of June 7th. Less than a mile before arriving at the trailhead, I was treated to my first grizzly bear sighting of the season!
Some people on our bus spotted the bear down in the wider, braided part of the Savage River drainage. It was actively rambling around the shore of the river, just going about its business… as is to be expected of a bear.
The bear was at least a quarter-mile away from our position on the bus.
In Denali the buses are happy to stop for you to view the wildlife. The driver may even turn off the engine, in part to allow photographers to get a steady shot. The above image of the bear isn’t exactly an excellent photo – I used the 140mm zoom on my Nikon D5300 and digitally cropped the bear from a much larger frame.
Our group heads up the trail. The path goes a mile upstream on this side of the canyon, crosses a bridge, and then goes back down the other side to the parking area.
It’s possible to continue beyond the bridge, off-trail down the canyon.
Instead, our group hiked up a slope at the end of the trail, creating our own sort of private overlook. There we sat and played around for awhile before returning to the road.
That’s ice in one of the tributaries of the canyon.
The park road can be seen in the distant part of this image, as well as most of the length of the Savage River Trail. The Alaska Range lies in the far distance, to the south.
Eventually we came down from the hill and called it a day.