Savage River Day-hike

Alaska GuideInterior Hiking

Savage River Day-hike
Rocky landscape over the Savage River in Denali National Park
Duration1/2 Hour – 2 Hours – longer hikes available
LengthRoundtrip to the footbridge is 1.7-miles – Extending beyond is 0.25-5 miles
Difficulty1.7-mile loop – very easy
Short Extension – easy to moderate with loose footing
Mt. Margaret or beyond extension – Moderate to difficult requiring route-finding ability
Hazards and WildlifeStay alert to wildlife – bears, moose, caribou, and sheep frequent the area. If hiking beyond the maintained trail, be cautious with footing as there are steep sections and definitely falling hazards.
LocationDenali National Park
Mile 15 on the Park Road
SeasonWinter conditions Feb-early May
May – September
Road closed October-early February (NPS Road Conditions)

Savage River Trails (red and yellow) Map Disclaimer and information

Savage River Loop and extension in Denali National Park

The Savage River Loop is a 1.7 mile long well-maintained trail in Denali National Park that begins at the Savage River parking lot. It’s a very flat river-walk on a leveled trail. At the end of the trail, a footbridge crosses the river and brings you back to the road. On the west side of the bridge, a little black sign denotes “End of Maintained Trail.” Turn back on the opposite side of the bridge to complete the 1.7-mile loop, or hike past the sign to find some more beautiful scenery (described below).

Caribou beneath rock outcroppings along the Savage River Loop Trail
Scenery near the parking area on the west side of the loop. Caribou on the riverbed.

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In the summer months (late May-early September), this trail is easy to walk. It’s a simple, well-maintained, well-traveled loop that returns to the parking area via the Park Road. There are some smaller interpretive trails down on the gravel bar near the west parking lot (other side of the bridge).

In winter (February – May), this hike can be tricky because of ice. This is especially true on the east side of the loop. I highly recommend putting on Microspikes or a similar traction device in icy spots or you could end up in icy water! I’d bring snowshoes as well, although I’ve rarely had to put them on for this loop. You will need snowshoes or skis if hiking higher up.

Typically, October-February the Park Road is not plowed to mile-15, so you won’t be able to access the trailhead without a 12-mile ski or snowshoe from the Park Headquarters.

Open water on the Savage River in early March
Open water on the Savage River in early March along the loop

Walking beyond the sign at the footbridge brings you to the location in the cover photo in about 0.1 miles. There are a few little meandering steep sections. A narrow part of the valley funnels wind. I’ve been here on an otherwise windless day and it was absolutely howling. Most of the time I’ve hiked this section I’ve been able to lean with my body against the wind.

The hillsides become increasingly rocky and the river more turbulent. And there are fewer people. The hill on the west meanders up Mt. Margaret if you are feeling more adventurous. The path continues along the river for quite a while, but the landscape begins to level out. Although, there are a few small waterfalls along the way. You can hike as far as you are comfortable getting away from civilization. Beyond 1-mile the scenery doesn’t change much.

Dall ram on the flanks of Mt. Margaret, just west of the extension trail | Purchase Print

The end of the trail on this map is where I have started the hike for Mt. Margaret. It is very steep with loose footing and difficult to navigate. There is no real trail here, I typically follow ridgelines and social or animal trails to the ridge. Do not attempt this hike without proper equipment and navigational experience. It is possible to return via Primrose Ridge.

This is a great area to see Dall Sheep. Numerous times I’ve seen caribou in nearer the parking lots in the brush as well.

Map Notes

I have only included the small extension trail to the photo location above because it is already heavily trafficked. This can be the start of the hike up Mt. Margaret as well. Denali National Park encourages off-trail travel to reduce impact in the area, so I don’t want to simply post my GPX tracks as that will encourage travel along the same path. This map will be expanded soon with other developed trails in the area and information on starting my suggested hikes, but within the park boundaries, I probably won’t be mapping much.

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Blog Comments

Trail was closed July 4 and 5th due to bear activity near a moose kill. It was unknown how long the area would be closed. Check with the Park Service before hiking here.

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