Denali National Park has only a handful of maintained trails. Triple Lakes is one of the best of them.
Triple Lakes Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated shows the whole park, but overall it’s best to get the old-fashioned quad maps from the Backcountry Center.
PERMITS: no permit needed, but there’s a $15 park entrance fee.
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: 9.3 miles one-way
ELEVATION: south end 1,850ft – north end 1,650ft – high point 2,840ft
ACCESS: paved roads to the trailhead
DIRECTIONS: There’s a number of short trails in Denali’s entrance area that access the north end of Triple Lakes (see map below). The south end is located on the west side of Highway 3, north of the Nenana River Bridge (Crabbe’s Crossing), near mile marker 231.
SHUTTLE: The Denali Park Village provides a free shuttle between its lodge (near the south trailhead) and the Park Visitor Center throughout the summer season. It’s technically for guests only, but the drivers don’t seem to mind giving you a lift (especially if you tip :))
ROUTE: well maintained trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
Of all the designated trails in the entrance area, Triple Lakes is my favorite.
It also happens to be the longest trail in Denali National Park. A one-way hike generally takes about 5 or 6 hours, plus transportation.
Tucked away in a quiet valley that skirts the edge of its namesake lakes, there’s a good opportunity to see some wildlife like moose, beavers, bears, or even a lynx! The trail climbs to the crest of a ridge that provides excellent views of vast, snowy mountains.
As if that wasn’t enough, the path is moderately graded, and seasonal transportation creates the option of doing a one-way, 9.3-mile day hike that’s simple and rewarding.
A full day hike typically begins at the Denali Park Village Lodge, 7 miles south of the park entrance on the George Pikes Highway. Be careful crossing the highway bridge over the Nenana River. The trailhead is on the west side of the road, north of the bridge, where there’s some pullouts for vehicle parking.
You can also do a short out-and-back from either end of the trail.
Triple Lakes is located in Unit 1 of the Denali backcountry. It’s the simplest option for a quick overnight trip, but a permit is required. Good campsites are available near the lakes and along the crest of the ridge, but look out for the wind up there!
The first map shows the entirety of the Triple Lakes Trail. The second one shows all of the trails in the entrance area of Denali National Park, assisting you in connecting to the north end of Triple Lakes. You can right-click on these to view larger versions.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I day hiked Triple Lakes on May 24, 2014, and again on September 8, 2014 to enjoy the fall colors. The first handful of photos is from May, but the majority of them showcase the spectacular foliage.
After a busy couple of weeks of getting settled, working for the man, and gearing up for the season, we had an opportunity to go for another group-day-hike on May 24th. This time the destination was the Triple Lakes Trail, another one of the few maintained trails inside Denali National Park.
This is the view south, down the Nenana River. This clearing is located within the first quarter-mile of the trail, when you start from the south end. The same clearing is shown below, as seen on September 8th.
As if the terrain wasn’t varied enough, the hike culminated in a walk along Riley Creek, spanned by a fun suspension bridge.
The trail ends here, underneath this railroad bridge over Riley Creek (pictured below). At this point you can continue underneath the bridge to the campground, or take a fork up to the left that leads to the Visitor Center.
There’s a whole network of intersecting footpaths in this area, so stay alert to be sure you’re going in the right direction… not like me and my friends at the end of our second hike in the Park! 🙂
We returned to the trail on September 8 to take in the fall colors, coming away with some of my prettiest photos of the season. We repeated the trip as a one-way day hike, from south to north.