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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 hiking is one of the best ways to experience it.

Because Denali National Park is so huge – 6 million acres to be precise – and to preserve the park’s natural beauty, there are only 35 miles of hiking trails. You can always go hiking off-trail, but you don’t need to load your rucksack with camping gear and head off for days on end to experience the beauty of Denali. These trails showcase the best bits. And if you’re worried about being on the ‘beaten path’, don’t be. Denali remains practically untouched and is wild and rugged as ever.

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 alpine lakes along the way. You might not be that far from civilization, but it feels like you’re the only soul in Alaska.

There’s a steep climb of 1,000 feet, but your muscles will be rewarded with stunning views of Denali and the endless Alaska Range followed by a downhill stroll along the river. This trail is at its best in the summer and autumn when colourful wildflowers and golden colours take over. 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 tundra. You’ll gradually ascend above the tree line where you’ll have amazing views of Denali and the surrounding wilderness. Wildflowers add a colour pop to the trail in the summer and you might be able to forage for fresh edible berries. Make sure you keep an eye out for bears and moose on the way up. The trail ends at Lake 1787 but you could loop onto K’esugi Ridge to continue the 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 in the water building dams and lodges (beavers are a fancy bunch whose lodges include several underwater entrances and above-water living quarters – for the river views, obviously). The lake is also a prime spot for moose in the summer to cool down. You’ll also have 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 (the first half mile is wheelchair accessible)
  • Trailhead: Savage River parking area 

Savagely beautiful? We think so. This loop trail might be short on distance, but it’s not short on natural beauty as you follow the Savage River downstream. It offers some brilliant wildlife spotting opportunities and if you’re lucky you’ll spot bears, ground squirrels, caribou, Dall sheep and marmots. The Savage Loop trail is great if you’re stretched for time or looking for an easy walk with 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 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. There are free ranger-led walks here in the summer if you want to learn more about the local 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. Starting on the Taiga Trail, you’ll walk through spruce forests which then open up to become tundra. The last section is steep and quite the climb, but it’s worth pushing through as you’ll be treated to what seems like endless forest vistas. On a clear day, you might see Denali peeking out of the clouds. The trail officially ends at a rocky outcropping, but you’re welcome to go beyond this point if you have a permit and want to continue the hike.

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 

This was once the trail early explorers followed to get to Denali. Following in their footsteps, 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 to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere – on a clear day, it’s so pristine you might need to pinch yourself 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 want to get at least one strenuous hike in, the Savage Alpine Trail is a great contender. It’s not super long, but you’ll climb 1,500 feet in elevation quite quickly. Dall sheep live in this area 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. 


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