Busing Denali National Park is a good way to sample the park in a single day. But to truly enjoy the wonder that is this stunning national park, one must slow the pace a bit and get out from behind dusty window panes.
For our second full day in Denali, we wanted to get our hiking boots dirty. We knew we couldn’t venture beyond Savage River without a bus pass, but after the previous day, the last thing any of us wanted to do was sit on a bus again. It would take too long for us to get back to the heart of the park on a slow-moving bus, and we just didn’t think it was worth it.
So we drove as far as we could on our own, parking just shy of the end of the pavement at the Savage River Campground. We started with a quick jaunt south to check out the river before doubling back to cross the main road and begin our ascent on the Savage Alpine Trail.
Spanning just over 4 miles one-way, this hike finally got us out into the Alaskan wilderness (sort of… I mean, it was still a well-established trail with a road just down the hill….). The climb was reasonable – challenging enough to get the heart rate going and build up a bit of heat, but not so much as to be killing ourselves.
And between the trees, we were gifted with more misty vistas. I just love the eerie beauty of mist; it can make any scene simply magical. I also had to keep looking behind us, for the view to the south was just as breathtaking.
As we rose, the views only got better. We felt on top of the world in that majestic place!
As we crested the final ridge, we stopped to marvel at the amazing world around us. We took in the fresh air, the unadulterated scent of nature enveloping us, and smiled at the soft crunch of gravel under our feet. There was so much to gaze upon, every sense heightened without distraction.
The temperature was perfect, and I felt utterly alive. I live for these types of hikes; this feeling of utter freedom is rare and addictive.
One of our group remarked, “I don’t know if you believe in God, but I definitely feel closer to Him up here.” I responded that I’m not a religious person, but I’m certainly a spiritual person. It’s difficult to not feel profoundly connected and content in a place like that.
Alas, we couldn’t stay there indefinitely, so we continued, curious ground squirrels at our heels. We could have turned back at that point to go back the way we came, but we opted to complete the loop.
It was all downhill from there – literally!
We navigated the switchbacks and played a bit on the rocks. We took pictures of flowers and panoramas of the distant ridge with the Savage River cutting a line to the horizon.
When we finally reached the parking lot at the river, we were a little tired but rejuvenated. We now had a choice: hike the nearly two miles back to the car along the road, or catch a shuttle bus back to the campground. We weren’t too fond of the idea of hiking along a road, so we opted for the latter.
But – if we were going to ride anyway, we thought we might as well hike those two miles elsewhere, namely, along the Savage River Trail.
This was a gentle waterside trail that stretched about a mile down the river, crossed a footbridge, then returned up the other side. Though our feet were a little sore by this point, this was more of a stroll than a hike. In fact, when we reached the bridge and saw the trail continue on the other side, we crossed and explored some more.
Over the hill, we discovered more wildflowers and a glacier. The trail spidered off into the distance, but we decided we had had enough. We returned to the bridge and continued back toward the parking lot to await a shuttle.
The next green bus that passed had room for us, so we hopped on, where we were greeted by another monotone driver. Two miles aren’t that long, but when that time was filled with a detailed lecture on the consequences of driving too fast in the park (with important points repeated several times), we found we quickly missed Omar.
Our time more-or-less concluded in Denali, we returned to Healy for another round of those wicked blue margaritas before calling it a night and preparing for our train ride back to Anchorage the next day.
I would have liked to hike more, and in hindsight, we should have gotten off the bus at Eielson and perhaps did some hiking that day as well. We’ll just have a lot waiting for our return!
Stay tuned next week for more Alaskan adventures!
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