Denali's Triple Lakes Trail
This is Alaska: a remote trail across rolling hills carpeted with a profusion of colorful wildflowers, views of snowcapped Denali that I’ll remember for a lifetime, moose sloshing through shallow lakes, and Dall sheep miraculously scampering across steep mountain slopes.
On the edge of the 6-millionacre Denali National Park and Preserve, Triple Lakes Trail is the ideal entry into the wonders of this pristine reserve. And it’s a good workout, starting with an ascent of about 400 feet that can be challenging but isn’t overly arduous. The climb is worthwhile — when I emerge from the forest, I can see an expansive view of the Nenana River, the glacially carved Yanert Valley, and the seemingly endless Alaska Range.
It’s spectacular just to be out in this crisp, clean atmosphere — there’s a silvery sharpness to the air, a clarity found only in the high North. It may be 80 miles (as the golden eagle flies) to Denali, the 20,310-foot-high muscular mountain in the heart of the park. But on this clear and sunny day it looks so close I feel I can reach out and touch it.
Considered one of Denali National Park’s best day hikes, Triple Lakes Trail, one of the few maintained walkways in the park, begins near a bridge that crosses the mighty Nenana River. What makes the trail so special is its easy access to the backcountry — within minutes of walking, I’m in a vast area of untouched natural beauty.
Just about every hike here offers wildlife sightings: I see a huge golden eagle soaring high overhead and an inquisitive ptarmigan (the Alaska state bird) partway into its shift from a white winter coat to its tan summer plumage. Some hikers even see grizzly bears, so bear spray is a good accessory. I make plenty of noise as I hike, singing Bob Dylan songs, as bears typically steer clear of people if they hear them coming. I feel quite confident that my nasal, off-key voice will send any grizzly running away at top speed.
The trail soon reaches the first of the Triple Lakes. I stop to have some salmon jerky to refuel for the hike through white-barked birch and quaking aspen trees over gradual rolling hills to the second and third cobalt-colored lakes, which are surrounded by tall grasses and towering spruce trees.
I visit Denali in late spring and so miss out on blueberry season, which peaks in August. Those who go then can fortify themselves with the same fruit the bears enjoy and feel a closer connection to this unspoiled ecosystem. It’s possible to continue on after the third lake, but I turn around to retrace my steps, which makes for a satisfying trek of about four miles, roundtrip.
Though I’ve seen just a sliver of the park, the Triple Lakes hike has made a deep impression. I’ll long remember the metallic scent of the brisk winds, the excitement of seeing a lakeside beaver, and, ultimately, the gratitude I feel that this immense, untamed space still flourishes on its own terms.