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Savage River Loop Trail: Hiking Denali National Park

Are you hunting for an adventurous hiking spot in Denali National Park? The Savage River Loop Trail is an excellent all-around option. From the park’s entrance, it’s only 15 miles down Denali Park Road to Savage River. While you can drive up yourself, there’s also the free shuttle available, the Savage River Shuttle.

We made the most out of our Denali National Park itinerary since this hiking trail was about as far as we could go with our rental car. You can also make the most of your trip and drive to this location. But bear in mind parking is extremely limited, and you must first stop by the visitor center to pay for a backpacking permit – but it’s quick and easy.

The Savage River Loop is one of the more well-known hiking trails in Denali, but don’t forget that the park has many guided hiking tours, too. The two-mile Savage River Loop is considered moderate difficulty, while the shorter Mountain Vista Trail and Savage Cabin Loop trails are considered easy.

However, if you’re feeling up for a bigger challenge, the Savage Alpine Trail is considered strenuous, with a 1,500-foot elevation gain and a four-mile one-way trip.

About the Savage River Loop Trail

Savage River Trail Denali
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The National Park Service beautifully maintains the Savage River hike in Denali National Park. This is not the most leisurely trek, as the NPS describes it as having moderate difficulty. You’ll climb some rocky steps here and there, but the views will take your breath away. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies and the sun is out, get ready for even better sights.

Traveling up the trail may get a little breezy, so don’t forget your windbreaker or jacket and something to cover up your head. Check out our Denali National Park packing list to ensure you have all your outdoor gear before the adventure.

Although the terrain of this trail is mainly dry and rocky, it’s certainly worth the effort for the incredible riverside sights you’ll see. When you reach its highest point, there’s a magnificent view of the river, the road beside it, and the connecting bridge, the Savage Canyon Trail Footbridge. Exploring nature has never been so relaxing and enjoyable.

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What to Bring While Hiking in Denali National Park

Savage River Loop Trail
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you plan a trip to Denali National Park, bring your game face because Alaska is no joke. It would be best if you came packed with a wealth of layers and waterproof gear to stay warm and dry despite the temperamental weather. Stock up on quality outdoor apparel from Patagonia before heading out – it will help prepare you for your outdoor Alaskan adventure.

While exploring the stunning landscape in Denali, it’s a good idea to come equipped with a GPS tool and a compass to ensure you don’t get lost in case you find yourself in a cell phone dead zone. Plus, packing bug spray is an absolute must—it’ll help keep those pesky mosquitoes away so you can fully soak up this incredible experience.

To ensure you’re rock-solid safe in case an accident or sickness comes your way, investing in travel insurance from SafetyWing or VisitorsCoverage is the way to go. Plan, but keep your safety on the top of the list – that way, your trip to Denali can be stress-free.

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Camping Along the Savage River Trails

Savage River in Denali National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you plan a camping getaway to the Savage River area, don’t forget that camping is only allowed at the Savage River Campground with a reservation. But if you want to explore the backcountry, then grab a backpacking permit and sleep under the stars. Remember: the Savage River Campground is open in the summer only (May 20 to mid-September).

The National Park Service is not the only vendor for camping reservations; you can also make reservations and book tours through Doyon/Aramark. The camping reservations are up for grabs starting December 1 of the year before – so you can start planning well in advance.

Ensure you have all the right tools for hiking, camping overnight, and exploration. Look no further than REI for trustworthy, top-notch camping and hiking equipment. They have a vast collection of great goodies to make your camping outing amazing.

Getting to the Savage River Area

Driving in Denali National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Getting to the Savage River trailhead can be tricky, as the Savage River area is located near the end of the paved and publicly accessible portion of the Denali Park Road. But there are a few options for getting there.

The Savage River Shuttle is a terrific option to get to the Savage River area. As mentioned above, this free bus service runs from May 20 to mid-September, making it easy for people who don’t own a car or want to help reduce their impact on the park. Best of all, no need to stress about parking, as spaces are limited at the Savage River Trail parking lot.

If you do have your vehicle, though, you can take the 15-mile scenic drive from the park’s entrance to Savage River yourself. Plenty of rental options are available for you to explore. There are also dedicated local operators as well.

Savage River Loop Trail Guide

Rocky Trail Terrain on the Savage River Loop Trail
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Savage River Loop Trail is a 1.7-mile trail that meanders down the river, over a footbridge, and back, with the fantastic scenery of Denali National Park all around.

Many recommend hiking the Savage River Loop before venturing into the park’s other trails, like the aforementioned more strenuous Savage Alpine Trail. The simplicity, open space, and lack of meaningful elevation gain make it an ideal route.

Full Trail Details

  • Distance (round-trip): 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers)
  • Difficulty: Easy to Advanced
  • Elevation Gain: Negligible

Once you’re ready to hit the trail, you can start by heading north on either side of the Savage River – it doesn’t matter which direction you go since your views will be equally beautiful. But most people prefer to go counter-clockwise since that is closest to the parking area on the east side of the river.

The Savage River Loop Trail is a crowd favorite and offers fantastic views of the Savage River, Toklat River, and Tokositna Glacier. Plus – on top of all that gorgeousness – you might even glimpse some beautiful bears in their native environment.

Plus, hiking off-trail is generally allowed in this area, so explore away! Still, stay extra careful when hiking – the rocky terrain can sometimes prove tough to find steady footing.

As you head down the trail, it might get tricky here and there but don’t worry. The path is well taken care of, so there is no need to fret. Simply follow the meandering river and enjoy the stunning views along the way with Mount Margaret in the distance.

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Animals & Wildlife on Savage River Trail

We’ve heard that bear encounters can happen on this trail. Unfortunately, or should I say, fortunately, we’ve had no such encounter. Along the way, you can see other animals like moose, caribou, and prairie dogs. Look at this little guy that we came across on the trail.

Prairie Dog in Denali National Park

Although, since this is a popular trail, such close animal sightings are somewhat rare. At about halfway, the trail crosses the Savage Canyon Trail Footbridge and loops back on the other side to the original starting point.

If you like, you can cross the bridge and see some amazing views from the other side as well. Some people stick to one side of the river and turn around at the footbridge, while others cross to explore the other side.

Savage River Loop Trail Map

Check out these different routes near the Savage River in Denali.

Savage River Trail Map Denali

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are there any safety precautions when hiking the Savage River Loop Trail?

Yes, getting ready to hit the Savage River Loop Trail in Denali and potentially other nearby trails and areas requires adequate preparation. Ensure you have your bear spray and some nice, waterproof walking shoes. And don’t forget to look into the weather forecast first – nothing worse than hiking with unexpected rain or wind on top of that already challenging adventure.

Is there any wildlife to look out for on the Savage River Loop Trail?

Yes, there is a wide variety of wildlife in the area, including bears, marmots, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep.

Are there any restrooms or other facilities along the Savage River Loop Trail?

You can find all the facilities you need at the Savage River Campground and the Savage River Loop Trailhead. The parking lot area at the beginning of the trail has public restrooms.

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