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"Autumn in Denali offers the chance to photograph Alaska's greatest park cloaked as   
comparatively few see it. During any season, the park offers some of the most striking vistas   
found in Alaska, but at no other time is the vast tundra more colorful than in early fall."
~ from the home page of a photo tour website
[I can't vouch for this company but the professional photos are stunning and I like the introduction on the homepage re: how gorgeous Denali National Park is in autumn.]


This was a quieter, more relaxed day for us after all the energy we exerted yesterday. We both slept very well for almost ten hours last night.

It was warmer this morning, with about one-third of the sky blue when we got up. By 10 AM it was mostly overcast and a little windy. It remained cloudy all day and evening, with temps reaching about 58 F. at the campground. Most of the snow that fell earlier this week has melted, although we could still see some snow on the peaks at about the 5,000-foot level:


If we'd known it was going to be nicer outside in the morning than in the afternoon we would have gone cycling and hiking at Savage River then instead of doing more inside things between breakfast and lunch.

The photos in this entry are from our 15-mile drive out to Savage River and my hike up to Savage Rock and along the river in the canyon between Mt. Margaret and the west end of Healy Ridge.

We did get out to walk Cody for a mile in the campground this morning. He got to meet the other campground host, Jim, and his Labrador retriever, appropriately named Blackie. Blackie rides around the campground in the golf cart when Host Jim is checking vacant sites, etc.


Above and below: Views of colorful foliage near the beginning 
of the Savage Canyon loop trail along the river

Iíve already mentioned that many of the RVs in the campgrounds at Denali are rental Class C motorhomes of various lengths. Folks with Class As, 5th-wheels, and travel trailers Ė and non-Alaska tags Ė are in the minority here. (So are folks with dogs.)  This time Iím guessing at least three-fourths of the campers are rental units, more than earlier in August.

Last evening we realized some of the folks in truck campers are also renting them. There were three truck campers in our loop alone that had ďLetís Go!Ē tags on the front. We didnít realize those could be rented, too.

Iím a little surprised how many children are still around. Alaska kids are already back in school. Some other U.S. states resume classes after Labor Day. I donít know about schools in other countries; many of the visitors to the park at this time of year are foreigners because the price of airline tickets is lower now.


After lunch we got motivated to drive out to Savage River to ride our bikes and hike.

Jim considered riding the free shuttle again to Savage River and just riding his bike back 15 miles to the campground from there. I thought that might be fun, too, then had second thoughts because of the wind from the south Ė that would be a crosswind most of the way and Iím still a little tired from yesterdayís adventures.

Jim loves his rides on the park road, describing them as the most fun he's had all summer. I still havenít been on the roads on my bike here Ė but the hiking trails are some of my favorites this summer, too, so I came up with a tentative plan to incorporate both activities.

Still paving over the 200+ sections of the park road that were torn up for new culverts

I suggested taking the truck to Savage River so I could do a ride-hike combo. Jim had a good idea how I could do that.

Because the red colors on the hillsides west of the river are so gorgeous right now he suggested that we could ride our bikes up to Primrose Overlook 2Ĺ miles beyond the river/ranger station (where visitors canít drive their vehicles), look for Denali to the west (probably under clouds today), take more pictures to the east, and ride back down to the river.

Then I could put my bike in the truck and go on a hike at the river while Jim continued riding his bike back to the camper. That would give him 20 miles today.

Approaching the Savage River; Mt. Margaret in background

When we got out there the wind was even stronger than at the campground. The river is wide open to the south of the bridge and like a wind tunnel north in the canyon, where the loop trail is located.

That's not so bad for hiking but neither one of us was inclined to ride our bike out there.

Jim took a nap in the truck and watched traffic in the rest area and the bridge across the river while I hiked about 2Ĺ miles from two trailheads leading out from the parking area.

Here's a photo from the other side of the river that I took at the end of my loop hike:

Jim's parked in one of those vehicles.

You can see Savage Rock just above the parking area, what I call Savage Ridge (begins at the pointed peak in the center above Savage Rock), and the west end of Healy Ridge (background left). The canyon loop trail along the river is out of sight to the left.


First I followed the trail up the rocky slope of the mountain east of the river above the main parking lot. (There's another parking area on the other side of the river.)

It's about a quarter mile ascent to the first rock formation, which is called Savage Rock:



I did a long hike up into the alpine bowl above Savage Rock several weeks ago when some of the leaves were just starting to turn color. The trail continues for over a mile past Savage Rock. Then it's easy to just wander around the tundra.

This summer workers are building new trail there that will connect to the Savage River Campground about three miles east of the river.

Today this slope looked so beautiful from the road that I wanted to get right up into some of the colorful leaves. I took the next three pictures part way up the trail:

View to the southeast

View west to the bridge and SW end of Mt. Margaret's ridge

Same direction, from a little higher up

I took the next three photos near the "landing" at the top of the rock formation and on my descent:

View north from the "landing" down to the river canyon loop;
I was about 200 feet above it when I took that picture.

The whole valley to the left of the road (south) is a burgundy red color.

You can see where those bright orange, red, and burgundy colors
in the valleys and on the mountainsides come from.

This trail is rocky and moderately steep. One or two trekking poles are helpful if you're over 50. <wink>


Next I hiked the more level two-mile loop on either side of the river. I started on the east side ("You Are Here" on map below), hiked a mile into the canyon, crossed the footbridge, returned on the west side, and crossed back over to the main parking area on the long vehicle bridge across the Savage River.

This map of the loop is from a sign at the rest area:

There were some other folks out on the trail but not as many as when I did the loop and farther down the canyon two weeks ago.

View west toward Mt. Margaret where I also hiked a couple weeks ago

I noticed even more color change at the elevation of the river -- about 2,780 feet. The terrain was mostly green when I hiked this loop previously and much more red and orange today.

The next three photos are also near the beginning of the loop trail on the east side of the river:

Last time I hiked on this trail there was a handsome male caribou on the
gravel bar to the left. I didn't see any wildlife today, unfortunately.

Above and below:  looking back south to Savage Rock

The broad riverbed quickly narrows after the gravel bar. You could jump across it in some places.

Even though the stream is going downhill slightly, gathering both momentum and more water from the mountainsides, it looks more like a creek than a river after about a third of a mile:

The stream bed narrows to just a few feet here. Note the new trail to the left
and the old trail very close to the creek, er, river.

At this time of year there is minimal water in the river. When the winter snows are at peak melt the riverbed is probably full (it obviously has been at some time in the past) and the more narrow part of the channel overflows.

Apparently it flooded earlier this year and damaged and/or destroyed parts of the trail loop. About half of the trail has been relocated a little higher above the river this summer.

The same crew of about a dozen young men and women that I saw earlier in the month continue to work on this project:

The new parts of the trail appear smoother but muddier than the old ones. The crew has not only cut out the trail and relocated the tundra soil/plants to the old parts of the trail, they have also done a lot of erosion control with ditches and rocks.

The next photo shows the bridge across the river as it approaches a more narrow part of the canyon:

Today I turned left over the bridge and came back the other side of the stream. The last time I followed the "up" arrow along a more gnarly trail through the canyon, gradually gaining elevation until I was at least a hundred feet above the water.

Someday I'd like to go farther into the next valley where the Savage River drains -- and/or up Mt. Margaret's slope from this area to her long ridge that parallels the river.

Continued on the next page because I have more colorful fall photos to show you from this hike . . . with captions but minimal other verbiage.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil