The wind was no problem on this warm, sunny
afternoon through the canyon, my second hike of the day from the Savage
River day use area at Mile 15.5 on the Denali park road.
I described my first hike on the Savage Alpine
Trail in the
last entry. Since I was parked on the
far side of the river from that trailhead I walked back over the
vehicular bridge to the truck, first pausing to take some photos of a
large bull caribou in the riverbed south of the bridge.
I got even better pictures of another handsome male caribou (shown
above) on the “gravel bar” section of the Savage River Canyon AKA Loop Trail, which
was Hike #2 today.
I started out on the west side of the river because that’s where the
truck was parked. A hiker told me about a caribou on the little loop on
the gravel bar but I didn’t see him because of willows. I did see him
coming back an hour later, and forded the shallow river to get a better
view on the east side of the river. I'll show
more pictures of him at the end of this entry.
HIKING THROUGH THE CANYON
Here's a diagram of
the loop trail from an interpretive sign near the parking area:
The two-mile loop trail has about 500 feet elevation gain and it is
relatively smooth, compared to other single-track trails in the park.
The trail goes out a mile on either side of the river, which is much more
narrow through the canyon than it is at the road, and crosses on a footbridge.
That's the basic loop trail that
most people follow, or they just go out and back on one side of the
river to avoid having to cross on the bridge on the park road
-- or ford the river.
I'm more curious than
"most people" so when I came to the footbridge and saw a rough trail
(below arrow, next picture) winding up a slope I couldn't see over . . .
. . . you can
probably guess what I did, despite the sign that said "End of Maintained
Trail." (I keep finding those signs at Denali!)
Hey, the park
encourages people to explore off-trail so that's what I did.
I got more distance and elevation gain by going outbound 6/10ths of a mile
past the bridge on a very rough trail that climbed higher above the
I came back the same way -- on the west side of the river -- and returned
most of the way to the far side parking area before getting on the
Savage Bar Trail (the little loop on the gravel bar in the diagram
above) and crossing to the other side of the river to get better views of Caribou #2.
I ended up with 3.4 miles in this hike.
OUTBOUND ALONG THE RIVER
I'll present the
remainder of the photos in chronological order out and back so you'll
have more of a virtual tour of the trail.
From either the east
or west trailhead the riverbed narrows from quite wide at the
parking areas to quite narrow within about half a mile.
View of river near bridge, looking at the day
use parking area on the east side; note how
quickly the river narrows in the background. It's
even more narrow farther into the canyon.
Healy Ridge forms the canyon walls on the east
(above, where I hiked earlier this morning)
and Mt. Margaret rises over 2,000 feet on the west
(elev. 5,059 feet at the summit).
This trail makes a loop around the gravel bar where
a caribou was feeding. Across the river,
which you can't see here, are Savage Rock and one
spiny ridges I hiked this morning.
Beyond the gravel bar the river narrows considerably to just a few feet
wide. It is still fairly shallow and a beautiful blue color from glacial silt.
Like most streams the park road crosses, the headwaters of the
Savage River are farther south in the Alaska Range.
You can see the trail
on the other side of the river most of the way to the footbridge. Even though the river
is flowing downstream it is so narrow it looks more like a
creek than a river -- kinda counter-intuitive, because it's still
pretty shallow, too. I wonder how much water flows through here when
the winter snows melt. The trails are so close to the water in some
places, they probably flood. Some parts have been relocated higher.
In the next photo you can see that the two trails are now quite close
together. They also become a little more rough. I'm walking on a
newly-rerouted section of trail that had originally been closer to the
It's easiest to walk out and back on one side
of the river so you don't have to cross the vehicular bridge at the road
(like I did twice in my first hike today) or ford the
river (like I did twice at the end of this hike). Both of those options were
Near the area where the river narrows
and the trails are closer together a group of more than a dozen workers
were relocating the east trail higher above the stream:
Above and below: crews work on the trail as
other visitors hike through
Parts of the trail on my side have already been located higher.
As I walked deeper into the canyon the rock walls and formations were closer to the
trail -- and more interesting:
Hint to the adventurous: the rocks are even more
interesting past the footbridge.
I waited until a group of eight
oncoming Japanese hikers passed me before taking photos of the
footbridge at the end of the loop:
& BACK ON THE UN-MAINTAINED CANYON TRAIL
As mentioned earlier, I was curious what the canyon looked like beyond
the rise past the footbridge. There is an obvious but significantly
rougher trail that continues through the canyon, rising to about 100 feet
above the river at the point where I turned around:
View of river looking northbound into canyon;
un-maintained trail goes up slope on left.
First view of canyon beyond the footbridge
The rough trail undulated on the
west side of the river on the flank of Mt. Margaret, gradually rising
through grassy meadows and rocky areas:
Photos continued on the
next page (including
several pictures of the caribou close up) . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil