A few miles beyond Denali National Park  headquarters the road climbs out of the boreal forest, levels off, and travels due west through a good example of taiga. The ridgeline to the north (right) of the road is known as the Outer Range, foothills of the massive Alaska Range to the south (left). The Outer Range is much older, of different geological origins, and much more rounded and eroded than the jagged Alaska Range.
The first view of the mountain comes up at Mile 9; look southwest. The day has to be nearly perfectly clear to see Mt. McKinley from here: You’re at around 2,400 feet, and the mountain is at 20,000 feet, which leaves nearly an 18-grand spread over 70-odd miles of potential cloud cover. That’s a lot of potential.
Next you pass the Savage River Campground , then wind down to the river valley and cross the bridge that marks the end of road access for those in private vehicles. The “Checkpoint Charlie” kiosk at Mile 15 has a park employee to turn back private vehicles; they’re prohibited beyond this point.
From the bridge, look upriver (left) and notice the broad, U-shaped, glacial valley with large gravel deposits forming braids or channels, then look right to compare the V-shaped valley obviously cut by running water. The Savage Glacier petered out right where the bridge is now around 15,000 years ago during the last ice age.
Here you also kiss the pavement good-bye, then start climbing Primrose Ridge, which offers excellent hiking, especially in June–early July when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Turn around and look back at the Savage Bridge; the stark rock outcropping just up from it has a distinct resemblance to an Indian’s facial bone structure, which is how the Savage got its politically incorrect name. Just up the road is a pullout—if the mountain’s out, the driver should stop for the clear shot.