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8 incredible hikes in Denali National Park

written by Intrepid Travel August 20, 2021
The Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park

Denali National Park is one (very) big playground for nature lovers and adventure seekers. It’s overwhelmingly vast, and fiercely beautiful. 

Because Denali National Park is so darn huge (and to preserve the park’s natural beauty) there are only 35 miles of hiking trails – unless you decide to hike off-trail into the wilderness, of course. But you don’t have to load your rucksack with camping gear and head off for days on end to experience the true spirit and beauty of these lands. The trails allow you to explore the best bits. And if you’re worried about being on the ‘beaten path’, don’t be – Denali remains practically untouched and as wild and rugged as ever.  

Here are some of the must-do hiking trails that should be on your list (in no particular order):

  1. Triple Lakes Trail
  2. Curry Ridge Trail
  3. Horseshoe Lake Trail
  4. Savage River Loop Trail
  5. Tundra Loop Trail
  6. Mount Healy Overlook Trail
  7. McKinley Bar Trail
  8. Savage Alpine Trail

1. Triple Lakes Trail

  • Difficulty: Strenuous 
  • Distance: 9.5 miles (one way)
  • Duration: 4-5 hours (one way)
  • Elevation: 1,000 feet
  • Hike type: Out and back 
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: Denali Visitor Center or the southern entrance sign near Nenana River bridge 

If you’re looking for some solitude, this is the hike for you. The entire trail is like one big meditation. You’ll walk through dense boreal forests (snow forests made up mostly of pines, larches and spruces) and encounter three hidden pristine alpine lakes along the way. You might not be that far from civilization, but it’ll feel like you’re the only soul in Alaska. There’s a steep climb of 1,000 feet, but your tired muscles will be rewarded with stunning views of Denali and the endless Alaska Range followed by a much appreciated downhill stroll along the river. This trail is at its best in the summer and fall when colorful wildflowers and golden colors take over. You have a pretty high chance of seeing moose and maybe bears. Unless you’re up for walking 18 miles in one day (kudos to you if you are), you can take the shuttle from the Denali Visitor Center which cuts the distance in half. 

2. Curry Ridge Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 6.5 miles 
  • Duration: 2-4 hours 
  • Elevation: 1024 feet 
  • Hike type: Out and back 
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: K’esugi Ken Campground

The Curry Ridge Trail (formerly known as K’esugi Ken) is your golden ticket to discover the rolling Alaskan tundra. You’ll gradually ascend above the tree line where you’ll have the best seats in the house to enjoy panoramic views of Denali, alpine lakes and the surrounding wilderness. Take your time and don’t worry about stopping to take a gazillion photos, we know how it is! Wildflowers add a color pop to the trail in the summer and if it’s the right season you can forage for fresh edible berries, yum. You might even spot bears and moose on your way up. The trail ends at Lake 1787 but you could continue onto K’esugi Ridge for another adventure. 

3. Horseshoe Lake Trail

A beaver dam in the Horseshoe Bend Lake
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Distance: 2 miles 
  • Duration: 2-3 hours 
  • Elevation: 250 feet (descent)
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: Denali Visitor Center or Railroad Crossing

Horseshoe Lake is amazing for spotting wildlife and is particularly popular with Denali’s beaver residents. You might see whole families of them out in the water building their dams and lodges (that’s right, beavers are a fancy bunch who build lodges with various underwater entrances and above-water living quarters – for the river views, obvs). It’s also a prime summer spot for moose who like to chill in the lake to cool down. Aside from wildlife, the trail takes you around the entire lake and is surrounded by lush trees and pretty views of the Nenana River.

4. Savage River Loop Trail

The Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles 
  • Duration: 1-2 hours 
  • Elevation: Mostly flat 
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes (first half mile is wheelchair accessible)
  • Trailhead: Savage River parking area 

Savagely beautiful? We think so. This loop trail might be one of the quickest, but there’s plenty of natural beauty to look at as you follow the Savage River downstream. It feels wildly different from the trails near the Visitor Center with some brilliant wildlife spotting opportunities. You might be lucky to spot bears, ground squirrels, caribou, Dall sheep and marmots. This is a great trail if you’re stretched for time or you’re looking for an easy trail to take the kids. 

5. Tundra Loop Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Distance: 0.3 miles 
  • Duration: 20 mins 
  • Elevation: 52 feet 
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: Eielson Visitor Center 

This short stroll is the perfect loop to stretch your legs before beginning the drive to your next destination. The beauty of this area is that you really don’t have to go far to experience the dramatic views of Denali and the rugged wilderness. There are free ranger-led walks on this trail in the summer if you want to learn more about the wildlife and ecosystems. 

6. Mount Healy Overlook Trail

The view from the Mount Healy Overlook in Denali National Park
  • Difficulty: Strenuous 
  • Distance: 2.7 miles (one way)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours (one way)
  • Elevation: 1,700 feet gain
  • Hike type: Out and back
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: Denali Visitor Center 

Mount Healy is one of Denali’s most iconic trails and offers uh-mazing views of Nenana Valley and the park entrance area. Starting on the Taiga Trail, you’ll walk through spruce forests which then open up to become tundra. The last section of the trail is steep and quite the climb. It’s definitely worth pushing through, as you’ll be treated to what seems like endless forest vistas. On a clear day you might just be able to see Denali peeking out of the clouds. The trail officially ends at a rocky outcropping, but you’re allowed to go beyond this point if the wilderness is calling (it can be dangerous so make sure you’re clued up and prepared). 

7. McKinley Bar Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate  
  • Distance: 2.4 miles (one way)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours 
  • Elevation: 486 feet 
  • Hike type: Out and back
  • Wheelchair accessible: No
  • Trailhead: Near the start of the road to Wonder Lake Campground 

Back in the day, this was the trail the pioneers followed to get to Denali. These days, it’s better used as a way to appreciate the Great One from afar. You’ll pass through alpine creeks, the revered Wonder Lake and dense spruce and pine forests before emerging at McKinley River. It’s worth stopping at Wonder Lake for a wander and a ponder – it’s so pristine that you might need to pinch your arm to remind yourself it’s actually real.

8. Savage Alpine Trail

A Dall sheep in Denali National Park
  • Difficulty: Strenuous 
  • Distance: 4 miles (one way)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours 
  • Elevation: 1,500 feet 
  • Hike type: Out and back (or jump on the shuttle bus to return)
  • Wheelchair accessible: 
  • Trailhead: East Savage River parking area or Mountain Vista parking area

If you’re pushed for time and you want to get at least one strenuous hike in, the Savage Alpine Trail should probably be it. It’s not super long, but you’ll climb 1,500 feet in elevation quite quickly. Dall sheep are one of the local residents here and you might see them roaming, grazing or looking very unphased about the majestic Denali emerging every so often through the clouds.

Wheelchair accessible areas and trails in Denali National Park

  • Denali Visitor Center 
  • Eielson Visitor Center
  • All campground amphitheatres 
  • Riley Creek campground and some walking trails 
  • Savage River Loop Trail (first half mile)
  • Mountain Vista Loop Trail 
  • McKinley Station Trail

Visit the National Park Service’s website for more information on accessibility. 

CHECK OUT THESE HIKES FOR YOURSELF ON ONE OF OUR DENALI NATIONAL PARK TOURS

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