Denali is organized to preserve the wilderness, so they spread the population of hikers out so that few if any trails develop.  This is great for the variety of choices, as you can go anywhere you wish (except a few defined closed areas to protect the animals; inquire at the park).  However, it tosses the casual day hiker into a quandary when it comes to choosing where to go unless they are experienced at reading maps and lucky to make good guesses.  Even the best of explorers come across unexpected surprises in uncharted territory. Keep in mind that the streams are fed glacial and what was an easy ford or crossing in the morning may have much higher water later in the day when you return.

You can start your day hike at random or you can casually step off the bus and walk up the slope to the top of a ridge for great views.  If you want to choose the best alternative to fit your taste and ability, then stop in the Backcountry Permit building near the Visitor’s Center.  They have complete topographic maps of the park and people who know the areas.  While their prime purpose is to serve the multi-day backpackers in the park, they do not hold back information from day hikers.

For the casual hiker, here are a few ideas of where to go and how long a hike may be.  Again, overnight hikes require a Back Country Permit.  Day hikes do not. Plan on having no trail to follow and you will enjoy more of a true wilderness experience, hiking over tundra and between bushes as you choose. In the 1970's the grandfather of one of the current guides to McKinley was published. They even had rough topo maps to show the general route.

Here are some of the locations mentioned in this old guide, located in Miles along the Park Road measured from the Park entrance:

Savage River Campground, Jenny Creek , following the creek upstream from road crossing to road crossing, 4 miles.

Upper Savage River , mile 14.5; also

Lower Savage River , a developed trail, in part

Primrose Ridge, mile 17. Head up hill and along the ridge.

Teklanika Campground, head up the river to the bridge, 4 miles

Calico Creek, mile 33.6, various options along the creeks.

Igloo Mountain - head up the mountain on existing trails and animal trails. Long scree fields to cross. Grayling in the clear creek, and dinosaur fossil tracks in the vicinity

Below Polychrome Cliffs loop, mile 42.7, 5 miles or whatever you choose along the river beds.

Polychrome Loop , mile 45.3 on the park road, 6 miles.

Or wander the ridge tops and creek beds in the same area as far as you wish

East Branch Toklat River - riverbed mile 52.4 as far as you can

Upper & Lower directions

Bergh Lake , western fork Stony Creek mile59.8

Stony Hill Overlook mile 61.2

Sunrise Glacier Loop mile 65.2 20 miles

Sunset Glacier 10 miles

Eielson Visitor Ridge (developed climbing trail due to heavy foot traffic)

Anderson Pass Traverse, mile 65.2 26 miles

Moose Creek Trail mile74 9 miles

Mc Gonagall Pass mile 885, 45 miles round trip


It is interesting that simply naming a feature or giving it some protected status substantially increases traffic to it. This is what happened in Misty Fjords Park in SE Alaska - and the neighboring, less advertised fjords are neglected by most tourists - except those looking for much less trafficked wilderness. You can apply the same idea here and invent your own route and experience, avoid other tourists, and have a true wilderness experience during your day hike.