Hiking the Triple Lakes Trail in Denali National Park

The Triple Lakes Trail in Denali National Park is a wonderful trail in a park that has very few maintained and developed hiking trails. While hiking off trail in Denali is a treat, this is a great option for those not as comfortable with off trail hiking and those who want to experience Denali without going into the park on the bus (although I highly recommend doing this also).

I stay at nearby Denali Park Village during the summer frequently as a tour director, and this is a fantastic trail to get away from it all when I have a break and have a colleague that wants to hike too. If you’re looking for something shorter or without the elevation gain, try the Oxbow Trail, another go to for me in the area.

The entire trail is 10 miles long and has 1500 feet of elevation gain. The high point is in the middle so if you hike the whole trail one way you will go up and down no matter where you start. Going to Lake 1 (my favorite) from Denali Park Village is about 3.5 miles with 600 feet of elevation gain. Adding Lake 2 adds about a mile round trip from the south trail head, and Lake 3 adds an additonal 2 miles round trip beyond that.

Don’t be put off by the long length of this trail, a shorter hike on either end is absolutely delightful! If you do hike the entire trail you’ll need to get a shuttle to get back to your starting point (described below).

Starting on the south side takes you to a series of beautiful lakes and a ridge and viewpoint above them. Starting on the north side takes you over a couple of creeks on beautiful bridges. Either way makes a great hike, as long as you pay attention to how far or how long you have hiked and turn around.

A dirt trail in berry bushes and forest on a sunny day
The south end of the Triple Lakes Trail heading north on the way to Lake 1

The Triple Lakes Trail is the homeland of the Athabascan People of Interior Alaska.

Parking Pass: None

Dog Friendly: No. Dogs are not allowed on most trails in Denali National Park.

Cell phone coverage: Decent at both ends, dead areas in the middle. My phone has enough service for texts but not data and calls are inconsistent

Restrooms: None currently at the south end of the trail, however there are pit toilets being built that should be operational for the 2024 season in the new parking lot. At the other end of the trail near the Denali National Park Visitor Center, there are lots of restrooms.

Accessibility and Mobility: This is a narrow but well maintained trail through the forest and through some open areas. The trail maintains a grade that never gets to steep except for on the north end for a short distance (possibly a good reason to start on the south end). Going to Lake 1 involves about 600 feet of elevation gain over two miles. There are a few roots here and there. The biggest challenge in 2023 is getting onto the trail from the temporary trailhead on the south side. This is described below but should be solved with the new parking area opens in 2024.

An alpine lake surrounded by forest on a sunny day along the Triple Lakes Trail in Denali National Park
Lake 1 makes a wonderful stopping point for a shorter outing on the Triple Lakes Trail

Where is the Triple Lakes Trail?

The Triple Lakes Trail is located in Denali National Park. The trail goes from Denali Park Village about a 15 minute drive from the main entrance area to the Visitor Center in Denali Park Headquarters. Some hikes do the whole trail, but many enjoy a shorter hike starting at one end.

If you start at the Visitor Center, you’ll find the trail from the visitor center campus (many maps and signs to get you there).

If you start at the south end near Denali Park Village, a new parking area is being built that is expected to open in 2024. The new trailhead is just north of the Nenana River and the Denali Park Village Lodge. Currently, you have to park at Denali Park Village and walk along the highway to reach the trailhead.

When is the best time to hike the Triple Lakes Trail?

This hike is wonderful throughout the summer season – June through mid September. Bugs can be intense in early summer. August is my favorite time for this trail because of the many blueberries along the way. Late season has fewer bugs.

A blueberry bush patch with plenty of ripe berries and green leaves
Blueberries line both sides of the Triple Lakes Trail in August

Bear safety on the Triple Lakes Trail

Bears are present in the area and while I have not seen a bear on the trail, I have had guests on my tour who saw a bear here. I only do this hike with at least one other person and preferably two and I recommend you do not hike it alone either.

If you have bear spray, that’s a good thing to bring, but if you don’t have it, making noise and being in a group is ok. Also, make sure to NEVER run from a bear and follow the park service’s bear safety guidelines.

Trail Description

If you’re doing a one way hike, I recommend starting at the south end and going north to the visitor center, which is how I’ll describe it here. Lake 1 makes a great shorter destination starting on the south end, and the creek bridges make a nice turnaround spot starting at the Visitor Center.

If you are staying at Denali Park Village, you’ll start by going up to the highway and walking across the bridge over the Nenana River. This part is not fun, traffic flies by and it’s not comfortable. Walk single file and keep moving until you reach the other side. If you’re driving, starting in 2024 you’ll be able to skip this part and park in the new parking area.

Once you reach the new parking area (you’ll go this way even if walking from the Village – which seems counterintuitive but trust me on this), find the sign and map for the Oxbow Trail and the Triple Lakes Trail.

A national park service sign showing the Oxbow Trail and The Triple Lakes Trail
This new sign at the new trailhead helps you get going in the right direction

For the Triple Lakes Trail, go to the right at this sign, which takes you down under the highway and up the other side. From there, the trail goes gently up the side of the hill.

In a short distance you will cross the Alaska Railroad train tracks, make sure to use extreme caution and do not walk on the tracks. Listen and look for trains before crossing here.

A hiker in a blue shirt, red backpack and a hat on a gravel trail near a railroad crossing in the forest
A hiker approaching the railroad crossing

On the other side of the tracks, continue gently uphill through berry patches. You’ll get some nice open views of the mountains in this section.

A hiker on a dirt trail walking through the forest with mountains in the background on a sunny day
Don’t miss the views of surrounding mountains along the trail

Lake 1 makes a great turnaround spot for a shorter outing (3.5 miles round trip) and is a beautiful alpine lake with fish jumping and some good lunch sitting logs.

Continuing on, you’ll pass Lakes 2 and 3 before reaching the high point of the trail (make sure to look back for views of the lakes!). From here you will descend towards the Visitor Center and encounter a steep section near the creeks with their photogenic bridges before arriving at the Visitor Center.

Getting back to your starting point at the end of the Triple Lakes Trail

If you are going to hike the entire 10 miles of the Triple Lakes Trail, it is critical that you make a plan for how you’re getting back to your starting point, or to your hotel. The Denali Area does not have taxis or rideshares, so you need to make a plan BEFORE your hike.

If you hike north, you’ll end at the Denali Visitor Center and I think this is the best way to do it. You can get a shuttle to your hotel from there (make sure to book a hotel that offers this).

If you’re driving, you’ll either need two vehicles or a driver to pick you up on the other side, or to arrange for a shuttle back to your car or from your car to the starting point (you need to do this in advance).

Where to stop after the Triple Lakes Hike

If you do the one way hike and end at the Visitor Center, what could be better than pizza? Head to Lynx Creek Pizza for something close. 49th State Brewery in nearby Healy has amazing food and beer if you have a car to get there (it’s about 10 miles away from the visitor center).

If you go to one of the lakes and return to the Trailhead near Denali Park Village, don’t miss the amazing Thai food truck right by the trailhead. It’s bright orange, you can’t miss it next to the Grizzly Bear store.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!