3 Short Hikes Near Savage River in Denali National Park

I awoke from our last night in Denali National Park’s Savage River Campground to the smell of fresh coffee. How could this be? Ladona was asleep beside me in the tent. Ah…a gift from our neighboring campers from Oregon. After many rainy mornings with no hot fire for coffee she was kind enough to “share the wealth” of the dry kitchen in her RV. It was a great start to our day exploring the hikes near Savage River in Denali. These short and easy hikes are the perfect way to spend 1/2 day in the park.

#1 – Savage River Loop Trail

We packed up and broke camp early and headed to the farthest point into Denali that is open for car traffic; mile marker 15 Savage River. When we started our hike along the Savage River Loop Trail it was pristine, no one was around. The 2 mile trail following the river bank was beautiful! We were feeling like true explorers! Although we spent lots of time scanning the mountains and distant valley for animals with our scope, we didn’t see any wildlife. After enjoying a snack at the end of the trail, we headed back.

Caribou in Denlai National Park
Can you find the 2 Caribou hiding in the tall brush?

By the time we arrived back at the trailhead we were disappointed to find far more people on the trail. As we drove to our next stop, we saw two huge caribou in a nearby field!  

#2 – Savage Cabin

We then took a short hike to a place called Savage Cabin, accessible from a pull off along the Denali Park Road around mile 13. This cabin is still used by modern rangers to patrol the park in the winter by dogsled. In summer, it is an easy loop hike with interpretive signage along the trail sharing the story of early rangers and their dog sled teams.

They had driven nails through the window shutters because the Bears had learned to break into the cabin at this weak point. As we walked we happened to look down and in the middle of the trail was fresh bear scat. Needless to say the loud conversation and time we spent gazing into the deep bush increased dramatically. I answered Ladona’s “let’s talk about talking” questions with a little stronger voice!#3 – Mountain Vista Trail

We then had a peaceful picnic lunch on the Mountain Vista Trail. This less than a mile long loop take you through one of the original camp areas. It once housed the earliest guests to the park back in 1917, about 24 canvas sided cabins, barns, a community mess hall and a view of Mt. McKinley! We walked the quick loop trail and found it historically informative.

A little side adventure occurred when Ladona had us trailing some caribou tracks through the brush hoping to see their maker. No such luck, the caribou was long gone.

How to Get to the Hikes Near Savage River in Denali

The best way is to take the Free Savage River Shuttle Bus which regularly departs from the Denali Visitor Center and the Wilderness Access Center. The shuttle bus is a great way to see the scenery and wildlife along the first 15 miles of Denali Park Road. You can also drive to Savage River. That is the last point where cars are allowed to drive, after that it you are limited to shuttles.

We completed these 3 short, easy, hikes near Savage River in Denali National Park at a very casual pace. The day was only half over leaving plenty of time for more exploration. After our previous day on the shuttle deeper in the park it was really nice to slow down for a few hours and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the history of the park.

If you are headed to Denali National Park, don’t forget to pin this article to your travel board for future reference! If you have enjoyed these hikes please share in the comments below. We love to hear about your experiences. 

 Tips for Hikes Near Savage River in Denali National Park

Here’s a link to a map of Denali Park Road.
Denali National Park encourages you to go off trail and explore the wilderness. So feel free to wander away from these paths and explore.

  • Grizzly and Black bears thrive here. Don’t even think about heading out without bear spray.
  • The best repellent to bears is to make people noises as you hike, such as talking, singing, etc.
  • Even a short hike should include a lightweight rain jacket when in Denali NP. The weather changes on a dime and it almost always rains some portion of the day.
  • If you are not camping in the park, the shuttle is definitely the way to go. There are so many wildlife watching opportunities that you might miss if you are focused on driving.

Check out this book written by the campground host at Savage River Campground. Their first bear experience in Denali was handled exactly like we would have: He stops for pictures and she heads for the camper! I think you’ll get a few chuckles out of this book as well as learning so much about this beautiful area in Denali National Park

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