Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park, Alaska
The Savage River Loop Trail is a flat, relatively easy trail – and my favorite spot (that I’ve encountered so far) in amazing Denali National Park.
The trail starts at the parking lot – and dropoff point for the Savage River Shuttle bus – and parallels the river for about a mile until it crosses the river on a wooden bridge, then heads back to the starting point on the opposite side. A simple trail, but it is beautiful. You’re never far from the river, which starts as a wide, briaded river at the beginning, then narrows into a well-defined channel further along the trail. Looking around, you’ll see mostly treeless terrain that juts up into rocky hills. Purple lupines and pink fireweed line the trail during the summer.
Lots of birds frequent this area, and you’re almost guaranteed to see small wildlife, mostly squirrels. You may even get lucky and spy a moose or a Dall sheep.
When I asked a local what trail I should try first in the Chena River State Recreation Area, her response was immediate: Angel Rocks Trail.
The trail begins with a wide graded path meandering along the amazing Chena River for about 3/4 of a mile. Then the trail climbs a steep 800 feet over the next mile to a granite rock formation, the Angel Rocks. Keep an eye out for a spur trail just past the one mile from the trailhead for a spot to fill up with crystal clear, cold, drinkable water.
After reaching the top at around 1800 feet above sea level, you’ll have great views of the surrounding wilderness. At the top, you have three choices. Go back the way you came or continue on the Angel Rocks loop back to the original trailhead (the downgrade is very steep in places), which is shown in my map and is about 3.5 miles in total distance. Your third option is to continue another 6.5 miles to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, which has a natural hot springs lake and a few dining options. Best to have a second car waiting for you there unless you want to relax and then reverse the same route back to the original trailhead.
This is not a public trail and can only be accessed when staying on a property through Airbnb. Your accommodations will be an incredible yurt run by a local dog musher.
The trail starts at the back of her property and is an easy and straightforward 1.5 miles of flat path through a birch forest. It loops through the woods and ends back at the driveway of the property.
I was there in early July when a mosquito net hat was as necessary as pants. The trail, according to the property owner, was “a little damp.”
Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost town in the United States, and the spit that extends into the Arctic Ocean north of town is the northernmost point in the country (that point is on private land so most can only get to within a mile).
Barrow is a fascinating town and is unlike most others in the U.S. Due to the harsh climate, its streets are dirt, and the weather ranges from cold in the summer to frigid in the winter. While I was there in July, the high topped out at 38 degrees.
The buildings are utilitarian in design and most are on stilts to prevent foundation damage that would occur if they were embedded in permafrost. Most homes and buildings have indoor plumbing, but a few still do not. Ask a local about the town’s honey buckets.
The people are friendly, and the town’s few restaurants are surprisingly good (albeit VERY expensive). I stayed at the King Eider Inn, just a few steps from the airport exit. It’s a comfortable but basic hotel with fine wood furnishings, a sauna, Wifi and a helpful staff. And like everything else in Barrow, it’s quite expensive.
Note: Some of the photos shown are not on the route mapped. All are in and around Barrow, however. To get the best tour, I recommend calling Mike Shultz at (907) 852-3972. He’s lived in Barrow for over 40 years and knows the town well. He offered to pick me up 10 minutes after I called and spent three hours driving and walking me around the town. He’s an affable guy who loves to share his local knowledge with visitors.