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Best Hikes in Denali National Park: All 20 Trails Ranked by a Local

Clouds form over the peak of Denali.

Denali is known for being one of the largest national parks in the country. It’s also known for its vast wilderness. Because of its wild nature, there are only 35 miles of hiking trails in Denali National Park. Theoretically, you could do them all in one visit!

I’ve had the pleasure of hiking each trail multiple times. Here’s a complete list of Denali National Park hikes, ranked from best to… still really great. There’s no such thing as a bad trail in Denali! Keep reading for the best hikes in Denali National Park.

This page may contain affiliate links. Last updated on July 23, 2021.

Logistics of Visiting Denali National Park

A green bus stops on the Denali Park Road to watch a caribou in the tundra

NPS Photo

How to Get There: You can reach Denali by car, bus, or train. Fairbanks and Anchorage are the two largest cities in Alaska and the best transportation hubs. From Denali, Fairbanks is about 2 hours while Anchorage is about 5 hours. Each city has its own international airport, rental car facilities, bus stations, and railroad depot. Once you have your mode of transportation secured, there is only one road into the park.

Entrance Fee: It costs $10/person to enter Denali National Park. This fee is valid for 7 days. If you reserve a campsite or purchase a bus ticket, this fee is included.

Bus Travel: Private vehicles may only travel along the first 15 miles of Denali’s Park Road. This is the paved section. Beyond this point (Savage River), you’ll need to travel on one of the park buses. You can purchase tickets here or once you arrive at the Denali Bus Depot.

About Hiking in Denali National Park

A female hiker stands in the Denali backcountry.

Be prepared for wildlife encounters. Moose and bears frequent the trails in Denali National Park. Always carry bear spray and be sure to read about bear safety before you go. Remember to never run away from bears or any other predators. If you see a moose, especially one with calves, you should run to safety. The same goes for other non-predatory species.

Off-trail hiking is encouraged. If there is a trail you’re following, you should stick to it. Don’t venture off-trail if there is a trail you should be on. However, if you’re in the wilderness and there are no trails to be found, you can explore as you wish. Try to lessen your impact by avoiding hiking in a single-file line.

What to Pack for Hiking Denali

For more recommendations, read about my favorite outdoor gear and the best daypacks for women. For your trip to Alaska, here’s what to wear.

The 10 Hiking Essentials

Every hiker should always carry the ten essentials with them. These include:

A collection of the ten essential items for hiking: shelter, water, food, matches, tools, a light, insulating layers, navigation, sun protection, and first-aid

  1. Navigation systems: map, compass, and/or GPS
  2. Sun protection: sunscreen and/or ballcap
  3. Insulating layers: synthetic or down jacket, rain jacket, hat, gloves, and leggings
  4. Illumination (flashlight or headlamp)
  5. First-aid kit
  6. Something to light a fire: lighter, waterproof matches, and/or fire starter
  7. Repair kits and tools: pocket knife, duct tape, screwdriver, and/or scissors
  8. Emergency shelter: tent, bivy, tarp, and/or space blanket
  9. Nutrition: food for both meals and snacks
  10. Hydration: water bottle, water treatment (LifeStraw or SteriPen), and water

Frequently Asked Questions About Denali Trails

Which trails have views of Denali? Mount Healy Overlook, Mountain Vista, Savage Alpine, Thorofare Ridge, Gorge Creek, Tundra Loop, and McKinley Bar. Views of Denali are completely dependent on the weather during your trip and are not guaranteed. Remember, only 30% of visitors ever catch a glimpse of the mountain.

Which trails are best for wildlife? This changes daily as the wildlife do what they’d like to do. There is no correct answer.

I only have a few hours. Which trail should I do? Savage River Loop, Horseshoe Lake, or Rock Creek.

Best Hikes in Denali National Park

An image of Denali at sunset with Wonder Lake in front. The text on the image is encouraging you to download a checklist of every trail in Denali by signing up for e-mail notifications.

1. Savage Alpine Trail

The Savage Alpine Trail is my personal favorite, and easily one of the best trails in Denali National Park.

On a clear day, you have sweeping views of the Alaska Range (including Denali itself) once you’re high enough on the trail. There’s a lot of elevation gain, but it’s worth every step.

Even if it’s not a crystal clear day, you’ll experience two types of habitat: boreal forest and tundra. There’s even some rock scrambling possible if you venture away from the trail. Occasionally, you’ll see wildlife along the trail including Arctic ground squirrels and Dall sheep. Bears also frequent the area, so make sure you’re prepared by studying my post on bear safety.

I recommend beginning from the Savage River area to get most of your strenuous climbing out of the way first. This is also best if, like me, you dislike very steep downhill hikes due to the impact on your knees.

Park your vehicle at Mountain Vista around the time the free shuttle arrives, then take that to Savage River. That way you are hiking back to your car and don’t need to worry about bus schedules as you hike. Mountain Vista usually has more parking available as well.

A hiker on top of stairs along the Savage Alpine Trail, one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 4 mi / 6.4 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft / 457 m

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back (or utilize the bus system)

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: East Savage River parking area or Mountain Vista parking area

Note: This trail is NOT a loop and you will end 2 miles from where you started. Plan accordingly by using Denali’s free Savage River Shuttle.

2. Thorofare Ridge Trail

This is quite possibly the most difficult trail, but it’s also one of the best hikes in Denali National Park. It requires a steep climb for the duration of your hike, entirely uphill one way and downhill the other.

However, on a clear day, it also offers the most spectacular view of Denali itself. Once the maintained trail ends, you can also continue hiking to explore the ridgeline further. Park Rangers lead hikes on the Thorofare Ridge Trail daily, usually in the afternoon. Inquire at the Eielson Visitor Center.

A group of hikers follow a park ranger up the Thorofare Ridge Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 1 mi / 1.6 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft / 305 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Eielson Visitor Center

3. Horseshoe Lake Trail

Horseshoe Lake Trail is one of the best trails hikes in Denali National Park. You get a wide variety of habitat, have a decent chance of spotting wildlife, and there are great views.

You’ll start by hiking along the railroad bed before descending a steep hill. Then, you’ll make a loop that includes Horseshoe Lake and the Nenana River.

Moose can occasionally be seen in the lake along with beavers and muskrat. Even if you don’t see wildlife, you’ll certainly see evidence of them with squirrel middens, beaver felled trees, and a large beaver dam along the trail.

On your way back, you’ll have to climb up the same hill you descended at the beginning, which is the only difficult portion of the trail.

Overlooking Horseshoe Lake from an overlook along the Horseshoe Lake Trail, one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Kent Miller

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3.2 mi / 5.1 km roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 250 ft / 76 m

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Type of Trail: Loop

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center or Railroad Crossing (beginning at the railroad takes about 1 mile away from the distance)

4. Savage River Loop

Of all of the easy trails in Denali, Savage River is the best. It provides the best scenery and amazing tranquility, which is why it’s also one of the best hikes in Denali National Park overall.

You’ll follow the Savage River through a canyon and cross a footbridge over the river to return to the Park Road. Each parking area at Savage River has a trailhead for this loop.

Beyond the footbridge, the trail is unmaintained but does continue if you’re up for an adventure. Bears and moose are occasionally seen here, so use caution. Do not approach, feed, or taunt wildlife.

Two hikers on the Savage River Loop one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Easy

Distance: 2 mi / 3.2 km roundtrip

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Loop

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Savage River Parking Area (East or West)

5. Triple Lakes Trail

Triple Lakes is the longest trail in Denali National Park.

If you begin at the Denali Visitor Center, you’ll have steep switchbacks to climb. Therefore, I recommend beginning on the southern side. There is a shuttle you can take here from the Denali Visitor Center – you an inquire with park rangers inside for information.

If you do begin on the south end, I would personally rate the trail as only moderately difficult. The most challenging element is the length of the trail and getting back to the start once you’ve finished.

If you’re up for it, the trail provides astounding views and is best in the fall. It’s also a great way to escape the crowds that focus on either end of the trail but rarely hike it in full.

Overlooking three lakes below stunning fall foliage from an overlook on the Triple Lakes Trail, one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 9.5 mi / 15.3 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft / 305 m

Estimated Time: 3-5 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

Trailhead Location: Southern entrance sign near the Nenana River bridge or Denali Visitor Center

6. Mountain Vista Trail

Many people who know Denali National Park well will probably disagree with me on where Mountain Vista appears on this list. However, I love the Mountain Vista Trail, especially in winter. It provides great views of Denali without too much effort. If you have limited time and you’re hoping to see the mountain, this is one of the best hikes in Denali National Park for you.

Furthermore, you can access the Savage River and potentially see small mammals. There are great wildflowers blooming throughout the summer as well.

Lastly, signs along the trail provide information about Savage Camp and the first visitors to the park as tourism began to thrive here. It’s a very interesting history and provides a glimpse into Denali’s continued popularity in Alaska and the United States.

This trail is accessible.

Haze and snow blanket Denali, visible from the Mountain Vista Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.6 mi / 1 km roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 50 ft / 15 m

Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Type of Trail: Loop

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Mountain Vista Parking Area

7. Mount Healy Overlook Trail

Of all the strenuous trails in Denali, Mount Healy is my least favorite. The view from the top is spectacular, but getting up there is quite the challenge.

The real reason, however, that I don’t favor this trail is because the views on the way up aren’t great. You’ll have a great reward once you’ve completed the hike, but along the way, you’ll see a lot of spruce trees.

If it’s a clear day, it’s worth it, but I’d personally still prefer to hike Savage Alpine instead. It’s shorter, the views are great for the entirety of the trail, and there is less elevation gain. Regardless, this is still one of the best hikes in Denali National Park.

A hiker at the top of the Mount Healy Overlook Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 2.7 mi / 4.3 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 1,700 ft / 518 m

Estimated Time: 4-5 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center (start on the Taiga Trail)

8. Rock Creek Trail

One of the best things about Denali’s trail system is the ability to create loops. The Rock Creek, Roadside, Taiga, and Meadowview trails are perfect for this.

On its own, Rock Creek is still a great trail. When the trees clear, it provides some great views of the surrounding foothills. Walk the trail in the fall for even more scenic vistas.

If you’re planning on attending the Sled Dog Demonstration at the Kennels, walking this trail is a great way to avoid taking the free shuttle. You can walk between the Kennels and the Denali Visitor Center along Rock Creek Trail for great views and a peaceful walk.

Expect to climb at either end of the trail, have easy walking throughout the middle, then descend at the very end no matter which way you choose.

Looking up toward to sky to see yellow leaves on aspen trees on the Rock Creek Trail, one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.4 mi / 3.8 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 400 ft / 122 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center or Park Headquarters/Kennels

9. McKinley Bar Trail

It took me years to hike this trail. It seemed that every time I had tried, something got in the way (once it was a huge snowstorm at the beginning of June!). Finally, I hiked this trail for the first time in 2019, and it’s one of the best hikes in Denali National Park.

It’s a nice trail that goes through the spruce forest and boggy terrain leading to the McKinley River. Once there, you can walk along the side of the river. Here, you can see great views of Denali.

The trail has little shade, so it can be quite hot on warm days. It can also be very buggy, so bring your bug spray with you.

A thin wooden boardwalk forms a trail through spruce trees on the McKinley Bar Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.4 mi / 3.9 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 486 ft / 782 m

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Near the beginning of the road to Wonder Lake Campground

10. Gorge Creek Trail

The Gorge Creek Trail is one of my favorites on hot days.

You’ll descend from the Eielson Visitor Center to Gorge Creek via switchbacks on a hillside. The views of Denali and the Alaska Range are amazing throughout this walk. Once you’re at the bottom, you can place your feet in the creek for immediate relief (if it’s not too cold!).

It’s also a great trail for blueberry picking in July/August. It’s a pretty steep climb back up to the Eielson Visitor Center – trekking poles are recommended.

A woman looks toward the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, while hiking the Gorge Creek TrailDifficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 2.4 mi / 3.9 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 549 ft / 884 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Eielson Visitor Center

11. McKinley Station Trail

Park Rangers lead hikes on the McKinley Station Trail every morning from the Denali Visitor Center. It’s also one of the best hikes in Denali National Park if you have a short amount of time.

I always recommend walking the McKinley Station Trail to Hines Creek, then walking about 1/2-mile on the Triple Lakes Trail to reach the suspension bridge over Riley Creek (pictured below).

Walking the full trail to Riley Creek Campground provides lovely views of the creeks flowing through the boreal forest. The free Riley Creek Shuttle will bring you back to the Denali Visitor Center from the campground if you don’t wish to walk back.

The map below includes two connectors trails, Morino and Spruce Forest (detailed later on in this post). McKinley Station Trail is entirely accessible.

A suspension bridge over Riley Creek on Triple Lakes, one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Moderate

Distance: 1.6 mi / 2.6 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 100 ft / 30 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center or Riley Creek Campground

12. Tundra Loop

The Tundra Loop is a short trail you can walk from the Eielson Visitor Center. It’s the perfect length if you have a long bus ride and want to stretch your legs but stay with the same bus, making it one of the best hikes in Denali National Park.

Throughout the summer, beautiful wildflowers will grow beside the trail. You’re also likely to see Arctic ground squirrels (or evidence of them) as you hike.

Furthermore, Park Rangers lead guided hikes along this route daily. Inquire with rangers at the Eielson Visitor Center for more information.

This trail is accessible.

A trail through the Tundra known as the Tundra Loop one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.3 mi / 0.5 km roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 52 ft / 16 m

Estimated Time: 15 minutes

Type of Trail: Loop

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Eielson Visitor Center

13. Meadowview Connector

There are four connector trails in Denali, and honestly, I dislike them all with this one exception.

If you visit Denali in the fall, you have to hike this trail. It provides one of the best views with some of the best fall colors, as you can see in the photo.

You can use this connector to make a great loop with the Rock Creek and Roadside Trails. For a shorter option, it also connects the Rock Creek and Roadside Trails with the Taiga Trail.

The walk up the trail can be steep, but the view is worth it.

A view over mountains and fall foliage on the Meadowview Connector one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Moderate

Distance: 0.3 mi / 0.5 km one-way

Elevation Gain:

Estimated Time: 15-30 minutes

Type of Trail: Out and back

Trailhead Location: Rock Creek Trail or Roadside Trail

14. Oxbow Loop

This trail is sort of a secret. You won’t find it on any of the trail maps park rangers provide. But it does exist, and it’s one of the best hikes in Denali National Park. If you’re hoping for a quiet experience while visiting the park, aim to hike this trail.

You’ll walk through the spruce forest to a natural oxbow bend in the Nenana River. If you’d like, you can even climb rocks like my friends Jessica and Claire below.

Two hikers on a rock in the Nenana River along the Oxbow Loop one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.5 mi / 2.4 km one-way

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Loop

Trailhead Location: Southern park entrance sign near the Nenana River bridge

15. Roadside Trail/Bike Path

Technically these are two different trails, but the only difference between the two is one is paved. They connect with one another seamlessly, which is why I’ve grouped them together here.

The Roadside Trail runs from the Park Headquarters area and continues along the road to the Denali Visitor Center. From there, you can take the paved Bike Path to the entrance of the park at the Parks Highway intersection and even farther to the Glitter Gulch/Canyon shopping area if you wish.

As per the name, the Bike Path is the only trail in Denali that allows bicycles. The Bike Path and Roadside Trails are also the only trails dogs are allowed on – just make sure they are on a leash.

A vole sits in a cluster of moss along the Roadside Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

ROADSIDE TRAIL

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 1.8 mi / 2.9 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 350 ft / 106 m

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center or Park Headquarters/Kennels

Note: Dogs are allowed on the Roadside Trail.

Green alder leaves on trees along the Bike Path one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

BIKE PATH

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.7 mi / 2.7 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 150 ft / 45 m

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Type of Trail: Out and back

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center, Park Entrance, or Glitter Gulch

Note: Dogs and bicycles are allowed on the Bike Path. This trail is accessible.

16. Taiga Trail

The Taiga Trail is another connector that provides access to many other popular trails. Beginning from the Denali Visitor Center, you can take the Taiga Trail to access the Roadside, Rock Creek, Mount Healy Overlook, and Horseshoe Lake Trails.

It’s a nice trail to walk if you’re interested in the boreal forest ecosystem.

A path through spruce trees on the Taiga Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Claire Abendroth

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 mi / 1.5 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 75 ft / 23 m

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center or Railroad Crossing

Note: The All Trails map shows the Taiga Trail forming a loop with the Bike Path.

 

17. Savage Cabin Loop

This trail is almost entirely unnecessary unless you’re on one of the Denali Natural History bus tours.  These include a stop at the Savage Cabin where an interpreter provides some history before you walk the short trail with your bus driver.

Otherwise, it’s a short, easy, accessible trail with little to see other than some pretty wildflowers. There are a few signs to tell you about the history of the area if you aren’t on one of the tours.

Purple flowers grow along the Savage Cabin Loop, one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.8 mi / 1.3 km one-way

Elevation Gain: 50 ft / 15 m

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Savage Cabin Parking Area

18. Spruce Forest Loop Connector

The Spruce Forest Loop is a small trail that connects with the McKinley Station Trail. You can use this to make your walk along McKinley Station shorter.

This trail is accessible.

A Northern Hawk Owl on top of a spruce tree on the Spruce Forest Loop one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.2 mi / 0.3 km one-way

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Estimated Time: 15-30 minutes

Type of Trail: Loop (with McKinley Station)

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center/McKinley Station Trailhead

Note: For a map of the trail, see the McKinley Station Trail above. This trail is accessible.

19. Morino Loop Connector

The Morino Connector Trail is a small trail that connects with the McKinley Station Trail. You can use this to make your walk along McKinley Station shorter.

This trail is accessible.

A gravel path through a forest of spruce trees on the Morino Loop one of the best hikes in Denali National ParkDifficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.2 mi / 0.3 km one-way

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Estimated Time: 15-30 minutes

Type of Trail: Loop (with McKinley Station Trail)

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Denali Visitor Center/McKinley Station Trailhead

20. Jonesville Connector

The Jonesville Connector is another one of the most useful connector trails in the park. If you’re walking between Denali National Park and the shopping area known as Glitter Gulch, this trail shortens your walk.

It’s somewhat scenic, but the real reason to hike this trail is to shorten your walk.

A hiker on the Jonesville Trail one of the best hikes in Denali National Park

NPS/Emily Mesner

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.3 mi / 0.5 km one-way

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Estimated Time: 15-30 minutes

Type of Trail: Out and back

MapAll Trails map

Trailhead Location: Park Entrance/Riley Creek Campground

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever been to Denali? What do you think the best hikes in Denali National Park are? What’s your favorite part about hiking Denali?

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As a Denali local, I've hiked each trail multiple times. This is the definitive list of the best hikes in Denali National Park. Grab your free checklist here! | Best Hikes in Denali National Park | Hiking Denali | Denali Hikes | Trails in Denali | #denali #nationalparks #alaska #denalinationalpark As a Denali local, I've hiked each trail multiple times. This is the definitive list of the best hikes in Denali National Park. Grab your free checklist here! | Best Hikes in Denali National Park | Hiking Denali | Denali Hikes | Trails in Denali | #denali #nationalparks #alaska #denalinationalpark As a Denali local, I've hiked each trail multiple times. This is the definitive list of the best hikes in Denali National Park. Grab your free checklist here! | Best Hikes in Denali National Park | Hiking Denali | Denali Hikes | Trails in Denali | #denali #nationalparks #alaska #denalinationalpark

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