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The Best Hiking And Backpacking Trips In Denali National Park

Here in Alaska, we have some of the best hiking and nature adventures in the world! 

And when you are visiting Alaska, Denali National Park is usually at the top of the list for outdoor lovers. There is so much to love! Whether you are there to take in the majestic peak of Denali, run into a moose, bear, or caribou, or just revel in some of the most astounding wilderness in the state, Denali National Park is right to be on everyone’s bucket list.

Denali National Park is about the size of Vermont, with only one single 92-mile road that extends through the park. Visitors and adventure seekers flock to Denali National Park each year for wildlife viewing, playing around and learning about sled dogs, and of course –  hiking and backpacking in Denali National Park’s beautiful backcountry.

In Denali National Park, there is a variety of trails for all skill and interest levels. Explore historic ruins, take in views of the countless lakes, and wander through forests and tundra.

To help you out, we have rounded up some of the best hiking and backpacking trips to take the next time you want to get out and explore Denali: 

Know Before You Go

If you are planning on spending an overnight trip in the backcountry, you will need a permit. These are free and issued in person at the Backcountry Information Center.

There are also no official backpacking trails in Denali! That is correct –  the established trails won’t lead you deep into the backcountry. 

If you are planning on going off-trail, it is pretty easy to find your way. There is plenty of wide open terrain, and since the buses will pick you up and drop you off wherever you would like, all you need to know is how to get back to the road and avoid disadvantageous wildlife meetings.

Learn more about your trip and how to safely prepare at the Denali National Park Visitor Center.

How to Prepare for Your Denali Trip

Before you arrive at Denali National Park, it is important to do a little prep work!

Make sure to pack plenty of bug spray and bear spray, as well as sunscreen for long days outdoors. You will also want a pair of sturdy hiking boots to cover all terrains from mud to gravel. Bring plenty of water and food, and clothing to help with weather changes. You will find it can go from 90 degrees to 45 degrees and rain in the blink of an eye.

Denali National Park is a wilderness country, so be sure to check in and let someone know where you are going. Accidents can happen, and the more people that know your plans, and know when you are supposed to arrive back, the better.

If you are planning an overnight trip, you will want to make sure to bring all your camping essentials, such as water filters, warm and dry clothing, and emergency gear. 

1.) Mount Healy Overlook Trail

The Mount Healy Overlook Trail is a 6.9 mile, out and back trail in Denali National Park.  

This trail is on the more strenuous side, coming in at 2,483 ft of elevation gain, but it ends with beautiful views at the top! Plan on spending at least 4.5 hours climbing this fantastic trail.

This hike is popular all year long, so plan on running into other visitors on the trail. To find the trail, start at the Visitor Center, and take the 0.3-mile walk through the Taiga Trail to reach the Mount Healy Overlook trail. 

Denali National Park does charge a $15.00 individual entrance fee to enter and enjoy the park. Kids 15 and under are free, and you can also choose to purchase an annual pass if you frequent the area.

2.) The Savage Alpine Trail

The Savage Alpine Trail is a strenuous 4-mile one-way hike deep in the park. This is usually ranked as a hiker’s top favorite trail, even though it is definitely a strenuous hike! 

The Savage Alpine Trail connects the Savage River Area with the Savage River Campground. Explore the Boreal Forest and tundra along the way, and keep your eyes peeled for potential bear sightings.  

To get there, head to mile 15 of Denali Park Road, as far as you are able to drive in the park. You can also take the Savage River Shuttle to get back to your starting point if you left your car there, which is handy.

This trail is only best to do when it snows, which can be as early as October. And make sure you check in before you head out because the trail periodically closes when there are bear sightings.

3.) Savage River Loop

Despite the name, Savage River Loop is a relatively easy trail with beautiful scenery. 

2.1 miles round trip, the Savage River loop takes most hikers about an hour to complete, give or take. This is a nice easy hike for the beginner hiker, and you follow Savage River through a 2 million-year-old valley.

Follow the well-maintained trail just over 400 feet in elevation gain, and marvel at the mountains that rise up beside you. You will loop at a lovely wooden bridge. There are spur trails that climb up the mountains at the bridge that you can follow, or you can head on back.

This trail is popular, so plan to hike with others. There is also plenty of wildlife nearby, so stay alert.

There is a free Savage River Shuttle that takes you from the entrance to the Savage River entrance.

4.) Horseshoe Lake Trail 

Horseshoe Lake Trail is about 2 miles long round-trip. If you enter the trail at the trailhead at Mile 1 of Denali Park, you will reach a few great milestones. 

First, a bench overlooking the lake. Then you will head down to lake level before choosing one of two paths that lead around the lake. 

You will only climb around 393 feet total in elevation gain, which makes this trail a winner for beginner hikers.

At the north end, you will head out of the forest and alongside the Nenana River. This easy hike will only take you about an hour, and it can get you out of the sun if you are out on a hot day.

5.) Taiga Trail 

The Taiga Trail is an easy 1.6-mile loop trail that you can access right from the Denali Visitor Center. 

It also connects several trails nearby, so if you are looking for a warmup before a longer or more strenuous trail, this is a great place to begin.

Even though this can be a popular trail, if you hit it early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you may still find some solitude.

There aren’t any great trail markers along the way, so be sure to study the map at the Visitor Center before you head out.

6.) Mount Thorofare Ridge Loop Trail 

A little less than 2 miles one way (about 1.8 miles), the Mount Thorofare Ridge Loop Trail is very steep. There is about a 1,000-foot elevation gain that most hikers can complete in about an hour.

The entire trail is 4.1 miles long, and hikers should plan on taking 3 hours to complete. You will be climbing a total of 2,666 feet of elevation along the way.

Keep your camera ready, because wildlife is usually spotted along the way, including caribou, bear, and moose.

This is a challenging route that is recommended for experienced hikers, as you will come across loose rock and steep sections.

7.) Tundra Loop Trail

One of the shortest hikes in Denali National Park, the Tundra Loop is a short 0.3-mile loop that takes only about 15 minutes to complete. 

Just an easy meandering trail, there is barely 50 feet of elevation gain, but it does still offer some spectacular views. Get the kids to stretch their legs on this one, because it is a trail that the whole family will love.

Use this as a warm-up before a longer hike, or take a short sojourn to see some wildflowers.  

8.) McKinley Station Trail 

Looking for historic building remains, the railroad trestle, and Riley Creek? McKinley Station Trail is the one for you. 

The trail is a 2.9-mile loop with a 100-foot elevation gain. It takes the average hiker just over an hour to complete this trail.

Time it right, and you may even see the Alaska Railroad crossing the trestle above you on your hike. Veer off for a minute on the Triple Lakes Trail and you will even get the chance to see a stunning suspension bridge.

Park rangers offer guided hikes of the McKinley Station trail every morning beginning at the Denali Visitor Center as well.

9.) Oxbow Loop Trail

A great starter trail for beginners, Oxbow Loop Trail is only about 1.5 miles round trip. Follow the Nenana River from a higher elevation for great views as you wind in and out of the forest! You will finish by heading down to the water’s edge. 

Find the trailhead on the east side of Highway 3 about 7 miles south of the park entrance. This one is sometimes omitted from maps and guidebooks, but it does exist.

If you are a rafter, you will probably find yourself using the Oxbow Loop Trail for walk-in access to a gravel bar on the Nenana River, which is perfect for putting your raft in.

10.) Triple Lakes Trail

Triple Lakes is the longest-maintained trail in Denali National Park! At 9.5 miles one way, this trail will take approximately 9 hours to complete.

The trail has 3,690 feet of elevation, but there are plenty of switchbacks along the way, making it easier to complete.

Along your trek, catch great views of Riley Creek and of course, the three Triple Lakes. The trail is well maintained and easy to travel, and the views make the distance worth it.

Access this trail from the north near the Denali Visitor Center or the south end near mile 231 on Highway 3. You can also access the Triple Lakes Trail from the Highway 3 trailhead.

11.) Mountain Vista Trail

Short and sweet, the Mountain Vista Trail is a great option if you have limited time to spend in Denali National Park. 

At just 75 feet of elevation gain, this relatively flat trail is easy for all skill levels and it will astonish you with the stunning views. And there are plenty of interesting historical photos to see and enjoy along the way.

This loop is about 0.7 miles from start to finish and takes only about 30 minutes to complete. If you have been driving while, this is a great trail to get you out of the car and soak in the beauty around you.

You can access the trail by entering through the Mountain Vista parking area.

12.) Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Sugarloaf is an 8-mile round-trip trail. You will gain an elevation of 3,000 feet just one way, so be prepared for some incredible views!

This trail is a favorite of both locals and employees, though it does technically fall outside of the Denali limits. You will be hiking the ridge above the commercial area just outside Denali National Park.

Be prepared to take in epic sunsets, million dollars views, and miles of beauty in every direction. Hiking this one in autumn, you will be greeted with a sea of red and gold. 

This hike is a challenging hike, however, as you will be hiking over plenty of loose rocks and scree. If you enjoy a difficult trail with big rewards, this is the hike for you!

You can find the entrance in the parking lot behind the Grande Denali Lodge.

Hiking enthusiasts will find no shortage of trails in Alaska. The state is filled with breathtaking beauty, many of which can be accessed from spectacular hiking trails.

But there is not usually a good spot to spend the night nearby. So why not travel by RV to explore more destinations? Here are some of our favorite campgrounds for RVs across the state!

Photo of author

Megan McDonald

After living over 14 years in Alaska, Megan McDonald can confidently state that there’s not much of the state on the road system that she hasn’t visited. From the Brooks Range to McCarthy, Homer, and everywhere in between, every nook and cranny of Alaska is her always her new favorite place. As President and co-founder of Alaska-based boutique media agency HuMu Media, she spends her work time writing, photographing, and traveling, and her off time writing, photographing, and traveling. They say do what you love, and she is lucky enough to do so! You can follow her travels on Instagram at @theitinerantginger

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