How to hike the Savage Alpine Trail (+ Savage River Loop Trail) in Denali National Park

Looking to hike the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park? In this guide we’re sharing how to combine them and what to expect!

If we had to pick a favorite developed trail from our time in Denali National Park, it would definitely be the Savage Alpine Trail, plus Savage River Loop Trail. These hikes provided some of the most sweeping views of the park, including our first and only FULL sighting of the majestic Denali!

And the best part? They offer completely different experiences and they are right next to each other, so they are easy to combine into one, diverse hike! 

Check out our video in Denali National Park where we hiked the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop to see our experience!

However, there are a few logistical things to know before hiking these two trails together, including parking and shuttle information, and in this guide we’re sharing how you can hike these trails independently or together, plus what to expect along the way!

Looking for more things to do in Denali National Park? 

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop Stats

Savage Alpine Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

The Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop are two trails located within the first 15 miles of Denali National Park and Preserve in central Alaska. This means that you can access these hikes on your own and with your own vehicle, but you can also use a free shuttle if you prefer!

These two trails can be hiked independently, with their individual stats listed below, or together as a 6.2 mile loop, which we’d highly recommend!

Want to learn more about Denali National Park? Check out our ULTIMATE guide to Denali National Park, where we share all of the important things you need to know, such as the different areas, where you can and cannot drive, where to stay, and the best things to do in Denali!

Savage Alpine Trail

Distance (point to point): 4.1 miles
Elevation: 1,414 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Savage Alpine Trail is a point to point hike, which means that you start and end in different areas. This means that unless you return the same way you came (for 8.2 miles total), you will need a way to get back to your car. But don’t worry, we’ll be sharing exactly how to do this in the next section of this guide!

This trail offered the best views of the park, in our opinion, within the first 15 miles. You spend very little time in the trees and the majority of your time in the alpine tundra, which means that you get views in every direction, including the valley below and tons of mountains. And if you hike on a clear day, you’ll be treated to the BEST view you can get of Denali in the first 15 miles of the park!

The trail itself is a bit steep and can be rocky, but overall isn’t too bad!

Savage River Loop Trail

Distance (loop): 2.1 miles
Elevation: 413 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Savage River Loop Trail is a short and mostly flat hike along the Savage River, making it great for all ages! As you walk along the river, you’ll go into a rocky canyon, with some very unique and rugged rocky walls. At the midpoint of the loop you’ll cross over the river via a wooden bridge and hike back on the other side of the river, which will give you a different perspective as you head back towards the park road!

Which way should you hike?

During our visit we hiked the Savage Alpine Trail, starting at the Mountain Vista Picnic Area, then the Savage River Loop Trail, which gave us the chance to experience epic mountain views in the nice, early morning light and then end with an easier stroll along the river. It’s also a more gradual incline if you start with the Savage Alpine Trail from Mountain Vista!

Getting to the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop Trail

Something that is very important to know before hiking the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop Trail is that they start at different trailheads. Below is information about each trailhead, plus how you can easily get between the two if you have only one car!

Savage Alpine Trailhead

The trailhead for the Savage Alpine Trail is across the park road from the Mountain Vista Picnic Area. This parking lot can fit about 12 cars and has spots for a handful of larger vehicles, like RVs. If you get here too late in the day you might be out of luck for a parking spot, so make sure to arrive early!

Savage River Loop Trailhead

The trailhead for the Savage River Loop can be found at the Savage River Trail parking area, about 2 miles west of the start of the Savage Alpine Trail, right next to the mile 15 checkpoint station. This parking lot has space for about 15-20 vehicles, but can also get busy!

Denali Bus | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Free hiker shuttle

If you don’t want to deal with parking at either trailhead OR if you want to do what we did and combine the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop Trail into one big loop, you can take a  free Savage River hiker shuttle!

The free hiker shuttle leaves from the visitor center every 30 minutes and can take you to both the Mountain Vista Picnic Area and the Savage River Trailhead. During our hike we parked at the Mountain Vista Picnic Area, hiked the Savage Alpine Trail first, then hiked the Savage River Loop Trail, and then took the free shuttle back to our van at Mountain Vista. It was super easy!

Things to know before hiking the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop

While these hikes are both pretty straightforward and easy to follow, as long as snow isn’t present, there are still a few key things to know and consider before hitting the trail. 

Dogs are not allowed

Just like the rest of Denali National Park, dogs are not allowed on either of these trails. If you’re curious what we do with our dog Kona when we explore the national parks, you can read all of our tips and methods in this blog post. For this hike she just napped in our van, since it was cool enough out to leave her for a bit.


There are restrooms at both trailheads! 

For the best experience hike on a clear day

The weather in Alaska can change at the drop of a hat, but if you can hike these trails on a clear, sunny day you’ll have a really good chance of seeing Denali, which takes this hike to the next level!

Start early

If you plan on driving to a trailhead, try to get an early start. As mentioned above, the parking areas are not very big and on a nice sunny day they will fill up fast. 

If you get a late start, you do have the option of taking the free hiker shuttle from the visitor center, so all is not lost. Make sure to look at the schedule online so you can limit how long you will have to wait!

How long does the hike take?

We accidentally forgot to stop our AllTrails recording when taking the shuttle back to our car, so our numbers are a bit off, but our total hike time, including the shuttle, was about 4.5 hours. We’d suggest giving yourself at least 3.5 hours to do the entire loop, but closer to 4 if you want to stop a lot for breaks or photos!

Our experience hiking the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop 

Below is a quick recap of our experience on the trails, plus what you can expect along the way, so you feel prepared to tackle these hikes! To watch our experience, make sure to check out our YouTube video from the park! 

Savage Alpine Trail

Savage Alpine Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, we parked at the Mountain Vista Picnic Area, which is just across the road from the trailhead, so we crossed the street to kick off our hike. The hike starts in a more wooded section, but it’s not overly thick, so we still felt that we could easily see if any bears were lurking.

After a few minutes in the trees, the hike begins to open up as it goes along a stream. Just after this point, about 0.6 miles in, you leave the trees for good and the rest of the hike is exposed.

You’ll immediately start noticing mountain views around you, both straight ahead, as well as behind you. We started this hike just after sunrise, but the sun had yet to rise over all of the peaks, so the morning light added a gorgeous golden glow to the area.

The hike begins to gain more and more elevation and there aren’t many switchbacks at first, which makes it feel a bit steeper. But unlike the hike to the Mount Healy Overlook, where we were in trees for a good portion, we had views during this uphill climb, making it a bit less tedious to hike.

Shortly after reaching this exposed, alpine section, we curved a bit to the left and there it was…DENALI! We had seen Denali from the van on the drive in, so we knew that we’d very likely catch another glimpse on this hike, and seeing the mountain in all of its glory was just unreal!

The view of Denali from this hike is perfect. Although the mountain is still many miles away and is partially covered by other mountains, you really get a good look at the top portion of it, which is stark white from all of the snow. With an iffy weather forecast during our time in Denali, we were so happy that we picked the one clear morning to do this hike so we could become a part of the 30% club! (only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park actually see the mountain)

Once getting to the area of the hike where you can see Denali, you pretty much have views of the mountain for a good chunk of the rest of the hike. The hike continues to gain some elevation as it navigates through a rockier section, with a nice wide open area towards the “top” of the hike, which makes for a good spot for photos, or to just take a break.

Savage Alpine Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

I put “top” of the hike in quotes because as we hiked this trail we thought that we’d be going to the summit of the peak closest to us. But it turns out that you actually turn and head downhill, towards the Savage River, before this peak. We weren’t too mad about skipping this peak, as we were already tired and the views were incredible just from the highest point of the trail.

On the downhill portion of the hike you’ll wind down through a very open area along a ridgeline, which was insanely windy for us. From here you’ll have the same views you have been seeing, but from a slightly different perspective. 

After this ridgeline area, you’ll begin to go down some rocky switchbacks, which do have some more narrow areas, so you’ll want to be a bit more cautious here. As you hike downhill you’ll get some nice views of the Savage River, which is where we headed next!

Savage River Loop Trail

Savage River Loop Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Once getting to the bottom of the Savage Alpine Trail, you’re immediately at the start of the Savage River Loop Trail!

But we almost didn’t get to do the Savage River Loop Trail due to bear activity. When we got off the Savage Alpine Trail we noticed that there was a closed sign for both the Savage Alpine Trail and the Savage River Loop. We were a bit confused, as there were no closures when we started the hike, but after chatting with a ranger she told us that there had been a grizzly lurking near the picnic area by Savage River that morning and they closed both of the trails (on that end) until they were sure that the bear was away from the area.

Savage River Loop Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Thankfully she reopened the trail and we were able to hike the Savage River Loop Trail! This trail is much easier than the Savage Alpine Trail and while it doesn’t have tons of mountain views, minus the ones you can see near the parking area, it offers a completely different type of scenery, with a glacial river and unique rocks.

The trail takes you along the Savage River the entire time, which is a milky gray color from glacial runoff, while also taking you through a rocky canyon. Towards the end of the canyon, the rock formations are so ruggedly beautiful and unlike anything else we saw in Denali National Park.

During our hike, the bridge was closed, so we had to return the same way we came, but we hear it has been fixed and reopened. While you’re only just on the other side of the river when doing this as a loop, it still will offer you a different perspective than just going and returning the same way!

When to hike the Savage Alpine Trail and Savage River Loop

Savage Alpine Trail | Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Denali National Park is technically open year-round, but as you may expect with the park being in Alaska, the park gets a lot of snow (55 inches of snow fell within a 7 day period this past December!) and most of the park is inaccessible for the majority of the year.

So with that said, we’d suggest visiting between May 20 and September 14, which is when the 43 open miles of the park road will be accessible and the buses will be operating (these exact dates may vary, but those are the 2023 dates).

By visiting during this timeframe, you’ll be able to experience mostly snow free trails (there may be some lingering snow), go as deep into the park as currently allowed, camp within the park, and take advantage of park amenities, like the visitor center.

As for the weather in the summer, temperatures can range from the 30s at night and early in the mornings to the 60s-70s during the hottest part of the day. However, one thing to be aware of is that June-August is the rainy season at Denali National Park, so make sure to be prepared for some rain and even the off chance of some snow. 

Another thing to know is that fall in Alaska starts at the end of August, so if you visit towards the beginning of September, you’ll have a good chance of seeing some fall foliage in the park, which looks stunning! But be prepared for a snow storm as well!

We visited around June 17-20, 2022 and had one very sunny day, a couple partly sunny days, and a couple cloudy days with the occasional quick rain storms. We encountered very little snow on trails and the crowds also weren’t that bad either!

What to bring to hike the Savage Alpine Trail & Savage River Loop Trail

Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you when hiking in Denali National Park!

Hiking shoes

The Savage Alpine Trail has some rocky sections, so shoes with good traction will make the hike more enjoyable. Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots, but still great for the trail. 


You’ll want to have lots of water on you for all of your adventures. We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go.


Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. One minute it feels like a cold, windy winter day and the next the clouds part, the sun is beaming, and it feels like summer. Carrying some layers with you helps you be prepared for a day in Alaska. 

Rain Jacket

Similar to above, it can rain or snow any day of the year so having rain gear is recommended. Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears a Columbia rain jacket

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles can really be a big help, especially on the downhill portions of this hike. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!

AllTrails Maps

Cell service is very sparse in the park and we highly suggest downloading the offline AllTrails map for this hike. The trail is pretty straightforward, with not many chances to get confused on where to go, but we always suggest having the AllTrails map downloaded, just in case. 

Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!

We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.

Bear Spray

Denali National Park and Alaska are home to a variety of wildlife, including bears. Specifically, both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.

Although we didn’t see any bears in Denali National Park, you have a good chance of seeing one and carrying bear spray is highly recommended. We always had our bear spray strapped to our hip or chest when we were hiking on trails and even walking along the roadside trail with Kona.

Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar. 

Bug Repellent 

If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Inland Alaska is definitely where they can be the worst and Denali National Park was one of the few areas in Alaska where we noticed mosquitoes. Make sure to bring bug spray with DEET! We also brought a Thermacell for camping and we think it helped some.

Sun Protection

You’ll often be hiking above the treeline, which therefore means having zero to no shade, and even on cloudy days in the park you’ll want to have sun protection. Sunscreen and a hat will be very helpful! 


The vastness of Denali National Park is truly remarkable. You’ll be able to see very long distances, so carrying binoculars is a great way to get a closer look! We have the Bushnell H20 Roof Prism binoculars and we love them!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.


affilliate disclosure

This website contains affiliate links from websites such as,,, and If you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. We only recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!


Never miss an adventure

Sign up to get travel updates, guides, vlogs, and other resources delivered straight to your inbox once a month!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023 Adventures of A+K. All Rights Reserved. Website built with love by Dreamworthy Design. - Stock Photos provided by our partner Depositphotos