Denali Hiking Tips—For Geezers
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide for hiking in Denali National Park but rather a few tips for Seniors (the author is happy to be a geezer) who would like to experience hiking or walking in the park’s front country. Although there are plenty of park hiking guides, very few offer insights for older people. For details about each trail mentioned here, see the park newspaper, The Alpenglow.
TRIPLE LAKES TRAIL. At 9.5 miles, this is the longest developed trail in the park. The trail passes through spruce forest and stands of aspen. Open areas allow brilliant views of the Nenana River valley and of the three small lakes that give the trail its name. Although hikers often see grouse, or beaver activity at the lakes, this trail does not offer prime wildlife viewing. Grizzles may be seen anywhere in the park but I wouldn’t consider this a high-density zone. (Take the standard, advised precaution.) This is not a terribly strenuous hike but may challenge older, unconditioned hikers.
This trail is NOT a loop. You can begin at either end of the trail, either from the Visitor Center or Mile 231.5, Parks Highway, at McKinley Village. To complete the trail, and avoid backtracking, a highway shuttle is needed for return to the starting point. (Shuttles are easy to arrange.)
The prime question for geezers: where to begin? The answer: depends on your knees. If you have cranky or stiff knees, begin at the Visitor Center. From there, the first hour or so of the hike is mostly uphill, with switchbacks, but from the summit, a long, gentle downslope. If you begin at Mile 231.5, you face a long but rather easy incline but the final portion of the hike down to Riley Creek may challenge balky knees.
ROCK CREEK-ROADSIDE TRAIL LOOP. This loop can be as long as five miles or less than half that length. (See Alpenglow for details.) A relatively moderate route through forest on a gravel improved surface. Not a great trail for wildlife viewing but be alert for moose, especially in calving season, and both black bears and grizzlies. Common sense is to talk, or otherwise make nose, while hiking in areas of limited visibility.
This, my favorite loop hike for daily exercise, is not at all challenging even for old, achy knees. Begin at the Visitor Center and follow the Taiga Trail to the Rock Creek Trail to its eventual junction with the Roadside Trail, then continue on the Roadside Trail back to the Visitor Center, in all about five miles round trip. For a much shorter loop, take the Meadow View Trail, a cut-off that connects the two longer trails. Spectacular colors in autumn.
SAVAGE ALPINE TRAIL. Four miles one way, elevation gain 1500 feet. Park service considers the hike “strenuous.” (No, the trail is not “Savage” but takes its name from the nearby Savage River which is named for a pioneer.) This improved trail is accessible at both ends by a scheduled, free shuttle. This is a good trail for wildlife viewing. Moose, caribou, sheep, and grizzlies, are often seen from this trail, and, uncommonly, wolf, lynx, or golden eagle. (Be sure to make noise when traversing brush areas.) The views from the alpine are spectacular and worth the work. It can be very windy and cold in the alpine so carry extra layers. You can start the hike from Savage River parking area (Mile 14.7 Park Road) or from the Mountain Vista Trail head (Mile 12.8 Park Road.) The free shuttle will take you back to your vehicle or to the Visitor Center.
The key question for seniors: where to begin? Savage River or Mountain Vista? The trail from Savage River rises precipitously with steep inclines and switchbacks, posing a real challenge to older people who are out of condition, or with heart conditions. Once on top however, the downslope to Mountain Vista is relatively mild. The trail from Mountain Vista passes through spruce forest and willow thickets to the alpine, rising almost 1500 feet from the trailhead. This direction is not that difficult or hard on old knees but BE WARNED the downhill from the top into Savage River can inflame even the best of knees, especially so if you are carrying any weight. For those with questionable knees, the first choice is to begin from Savage River. One last concern, regardless of age, if you suffer from acrophobia (fear of heights) the Savage River end of the trial may test you. Just last summer I met a person on the trail almost paralyzed with fear of the view down. (It is NOT a perilous trail, or akin to rock climbing, in my view anyway, but it definitely affected that hiker.) The hike is definitely worth the effort but can be challenging for geezers. Happy to say I am one geezer who enjoys it.
Day Hike Resources: http://go.usa.gov/j2xj