Denali: The Savage River Hikes

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7/24/19  Blackburn Cabins, McCartthy, Alaska

After spending more than twelve hours on a bus, Joan and I were both craving some physical activity.  So for our last day in Denali, we chose a couple of small hikes inside the park.  They were both on established trails, and, altogether, probably only amounted to about three miles.  But it helped stretch some muscles and work off some of the junk food they fed us on the bus!

Joan Heading down the Savage River Loop Trail
Lots of Water Running

The first hike was all the way out at the end of where you can drive your private car.  There is a bridge over the Savage River right at that point and two parking lots on either side of the river.  Two trails head out from the eastern parking lot, one goes up and over a steep ridge and ends up back at the Savage River Campground.  That is a strenuous hike and, after looking at the ridge, we decided against it.  

An Impressive Formaion above the parking lot.

Instead we took the Savage River Loop which is a delightful hike giving a perfect introduction to the Taiga stuff that dominates the landscape here.  The trail goes up one side of the river a little over a mile, crosses a footbridge, and then returns.  Elevation gain is minimal and the most difficult part is traversing a few rocky areas where my footing got a little awkward.  I heartily recommend this hike, even for families with smaller kids.  With the constant rushing-water sound of the river next to you, it is a perfect opportunity to explore the rocks and plants of the valley.  The rock formations on the hillsides appear to be volcanic intrusions that aren’t weathering as fast as the surrounding rock and the present interesting contrasts with the softer green-covered land in-between.  The dykes become even more interesting when you get into the middle of them at the footbridge.  There are wildflowers of green, yellow, blue, pink, and white and Joan and I used this little pamphlet I bought at the bookstore.  (Although we disagreed about a particular purple flower that she thinks was monkshood, but I thought might be something else! – actually, I think she was right, I was just being ornery!). They say you might see bears on that hike, but the only wildlife we saw was a beautiful caribou buck and a whole bunch of ground squirrels.

A beautiful hike.

After that hike, we got back in the pickup and drove down to the campground area where we took a short hike through an area that used to be the official campground for the park back in the twenties and thirties.  It was fun to see pictures of what was there then, and compare them to what is there now.  It is also a perfect place to get a clear idea of what taiga is and the difference between black and white spruce trees!

There’s a reason we have these parks.
More of this Taiga Stuff!

Our stay at Denali was too short – we certainly could have used an extra day – four days is a good length I think.  We had originally planned four days, but when a new opportunity came up – the trip to Anaktuvuk Pass – we cut a day off Denali and readjusted the schedule.  We probably should have cut it from this end of the road trip – Wrangell-St. Elias, but that involved making too many lodging changes.  At any rate, Denali was a gorgeous park, even if we only caught a glimpse of The Mountain.  Just seeing and understanding this new ecology, taiga, is a worth the visit here, but the gorgeous geology just adds to the experience.  (I’ve seen pictures of the taiga in the fall when the tundra moss and lichen turns all the usual shades of fall color – it is yet another exciting experience.)  Even if you aren’t a park collector, you need to visit Denali.