Hiking Alaska: Denali National Park

Hiking Alaska: Denali National Park

Justin & I tried to balance our time while working Denali National Park in Alaska a little better than we did in Wyoming. The long daylight hours really made for no excuses, because we could actually work and still fit in a hike, even if it were at 10pm!

Denali National Park is a unique park and I feel a little perspective is in order before I launch into our hiking beta. There is a single 92-mile road that divides 6 million acres of untamed land. The everyday visitor can only drive 15 miles into the park in a private vehicle. Only park shuttle or park tour buses can drive beyond mile 15 (and for the record, taking a tour bus into the park is A+++++).

For hiking, those first 15 miles of the park road offer a handful “front country” trails, and we managed to hike nearly all of them, adding up to 30+ miles. The rest of Denali is mostly a trail-less park, meaning you apply for a backcountry permit and can just step foot (carefully) into the wilderness with your map & compass to explore. We do have one backpacking trip planned, but it will get its own post when it happens next week.

Savage River Loop

Mileage: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal

*This is a favorite and must-do. You can either take a free shuttle out to the trailhead at mile 15 from the visitor center, or drive your private vehicle to the trailhead (again, this is the furthest you can drive on the road). It is an easy loop, so quite popular. However, our 10pm hiking time made it so our group of 6 were the only ones out on the trail!


Getting to be dusk around the finish of our hike at 11:30pm. 

Triple Lakes Trail

Mileage: 10 miles

Elevation Gain: 1404 feet

*This is an end-to-end hike. We started at the Visitor Center and walked toward Denali Village (outside the park) because that’s where we were staying & it was easier to coordinate the free shuttle. But walking the direction we walked means you have almost all the elevation gain. Still not too strenuous overall, and any of the 3 lakes make for a nice lunch spot.

Horseshoe Lake Loop

Mileage: 4.5 miles

Elevation: 287 feet

*This is a beautiful lake where you’ll often see moose (we didn’t though). You hike down to the lake, so there’s some great views of it. Then you get up and personal with the lake. It’s just outside the park in “Glitter Gulch,” where all the hotels are.

Savage Alpine Trail

Mileage: 5.1 miles (because we added the side trip to Savage Cabin)

Elevation Gain: 1,788 feet

*Another favorite, but one of the harder ones. We parked at the Mountain Vista lot and took the free shuttle to drop us off at Savage River parking, then walked back to our car. This trail reaches 4,110 feet, so you can have some really terrific views. It was rainy & foggy the day we went, and the views were STILL spectacular.


Mt. Healy Overlook

Mileage: 5.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1609 feet

*We planned to go all the way to the summit, but we were rained out and off the mountain. So we opted just to the overlook. (The summit would be another 3 miles roundtrip beyond). Much of the hike is in tree cover, until the last mile or so. Then you have nearly 360-degree views of the whole park and valley. My pictures don’t do it justice because the weather just kept deteriorating!

The summit trail will have to await better weather. 

Oxbow Loop

Mileage: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal, if any

*This trailhead is right across from the south end of the Triple Lakes Trailhead and in Denali Village (where we were staying most of our time). It follows Nenana River in a “U” from above. Beautiful forest and river views.

Mountain Vista Loop

Mileage: .8 miles

Elevation Gain: Minimal, if any

*This trailhead is around mile marker 12 in the park. It’s the first opportunity to see Denali and the other snow-capped mountains (if they are out; we’ve only seen Denali 4 times in our 24 days here, which is actually quite lucky).

Our work is taking us south of Denali National Park these next 2 weeks. I am sad. I love it here!!! As I said, we are planning to come back up for a backpacking trip next week, so at least there’s that to look forward to. But fingers crossed the rain will stop! I’m no stranger to backpacking in the rain, but it’s definitely not as fun!

2 responses to “Hiking Alaska: Denali National Park”

  1. Clara says:

    Your photos bring back great memories of our time in Denali! Thank you.

  2. Misti says:

    Yep, next trip is Alaska!

    Hiking at 11pm?? Crazy and cool!

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