Tips and Special Features
This is one of the few areas in the park with easy trail access and is the only backcountry unit with established campsites. These are primitive campsites with no outhouse or garbage cans, so you are required to follow the normal Denali rules for waste disposal in the backcountry. This unit is a good option for large groups because it has a limit of 12 people per night and the trailhead is accessible by personal vehicle rather than the bus system. You are likely to run into day hikers on the popular Triple Lakes Trail, especially on weekends. If you camp in the lake basin you may be within sight and sound of other campers. Wildflowers are abundant in early summer and blueberries are plentiful in the fall.
The southern trailhead is at a small pullout on the west side of the George Parks Highway at Mile 231.3, just north of the Nenana River bridge (“Crabbe’s Crossing”). The northern end of the trail crosses Riley Creek and connects with the McKinley Station Trail near the Denali Visitor Center (DVC). The Riley Creek bridge will be completed by autumn 2010.
Common Routes or Hiking Corridors
Most backcountry users hike on the Triple Lakes Trail and use campsites which are accessible from it. It is about 2.5 miles to the western-most lake (the 3rd lake) from the highway trailhead, along a moderate trail. The established campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from the Backcountry Information Center. They are located along the shores of the 2nd and 3rd lakes. Your Backcountry Permit will not entitle you to a specific site, so be prepared to look at both lakes for camping options. The northern portion of this trail climbs from the third lake up to a broad ridge. The trail follows this ridge north to the entrance area of the Park Road and the Denali Visitor Center. The trail from the third lake to the visitor center is approximately 9 miles. Most of the trail is in taiga forest with periodic views of the surrounding valleys.
You can begin extended trips from the Triple Lakes area by following the drainage northwest of the 3rd lake, which leads to Riley Creek. Traveling north (downstream) along Riley Creek from this point is not recommended in mid-summer because there are a number of cliffs you must navigate around and Riley Creek can be very difficult to cross. Riley Creek is typically more crossable as you go south (upstream) on its brushy gravel bar and into Unit 2. From the headwaters of Riley Creek you can follow passes that lead to the Windy Creek (Unit 16), Savage River (Unit 4), or Sanctuary River (Unit 5) drainages.
The broad alpine ridge system in the southern part of Unit 1 can be reached by ascending the western hillsides of the Triple Lakes basin that lead to amazing views of the Yanert Valley. This can be a good overnight trip, or the beginning of a longer adventure into Unit 2.
Additional Notes and Hazards
You must camp at least 100 feet from the lakes. A bridge across Riley Creek on the northern end of the Triple Lakes Trail is scheduled to be completed by autumn 2010. Call for current details.