Riley Creek, Denali NP

If you are in the Denali Park area and looking for a great packrafting daytrip, I recommend Riley Creek. JT Lindholm and I ran this on June 10th and had a blast.

Riley Creek can be accessed from several locations, but the easiest access is via the Triple Lakes Trail which starts on the northwest side of the Nenana River bridge in McKinley Village. There is a small turn-out and the trailhead is signed. After a short muddy section, the trail becomes fabulous, reach the first of 3 lakes in approximately 1.5 miles. The trail skirts the south shore of the three lakes, gradually petering out at the west end of the third lake. Continue westward up and over a ridge and descend steeply to Riley Creek. The creek was running clear blue when we put in, but within a mile a tributary from the west added glacial silt, turning the water gray. The boating is continuous Class II-III, with a few drops that bear paying good attention. We encountered no sweepers or other wood in the river, although watch for a rope hanging in the water below a cable crossing approximately 1/4 mile before you go under the railroad bridge. The biggest drops are in the vicinity of the railroad bridge. The total float is approximately 8-10 miles and about 2 to 3 hours of time on the water. The hike takes about 1.5 hours.

Riley Creek can also be accessed from Carlo Saddle by putting on the Nenana near Carlo Creek, floating downstream on the Nenana, then hiking over the saddle to Riley Creek. Word is that the hike is a bit of a thrasher bushwhack.

Water level can be problematic on Riley Creek, and I would suggest checking the flow level at the bridge over Riley Creek near the park entrance before launching this trip.

There is a shuttle van from the Wilderness Access Center back to McKinley Village.
Riley Creek Web.jpg

My husband and I paddled this last weekend and we had a blast. The water was running clear blue with sections of Class 2/3 continuous rapids that were a lot of fun. The trail runs all the way to the Riley Creek campground, so you can hike in from either end.

Ran last Thursday. Nenana @ Healy was 10.3 and I noticed the water was moderately low at the takeout pre-hike, thought it was going to be pretty bony boring higher up, but not to fear. Certainly not death-defying but 90 mintues of splish-splash entertainment. Minimal butt scraping.

Hiked from Riley campground. I probably stayed on Triple Lakes Trail too long, waited until abreast of the first lake before beginning bushwhack. Might be better to start when first get a good view of the lake, then aim for the low pass nearest to the edge of the lake, probably save some time, but the bushwhack from any point isn’t arduous by any stretch of the word relatively speaking.

Not entirely sure, and hard to describe, but if the take-out at the end of the WAC overflow parking lot looks like fun but not too much fun, with a pretty significant bank allowing for easy takeout, that’s about the moderately-low I’m talking about, and probably about the lowest that it can be easily run. I can see it being challenging at higher levels, but it was a nice chill fun run at this level. No wood to speak of. Couple of sharp turns with water trying to move canyon walls, but again no problem at this level. I do not know if the Nenana gage provides a good correspondence, but it probably provides at least a good idea.

Makes for an awesome half day when in area.

My friend Fernando and I left Riley Creek Mercantile on June 14th at about 12:15pm and hiked out the Triple Lakes Trail, which parallels Riley all the way. The first mile or so is low near the river so it is possible to scout out water levels, the drop at the Railroad Bridge and get a sense of how busy this little creek is. The trail then climbs up onto a ridge and the creek mostly disappears from view. We found a nice ridge that was less aldery to drop down at about mile 3.8 of our hike (2:20pm) and a within probably 1/4 mile of the first lake (we didn’t see the lake). It was about 800 m down to the creek.

There are trees across the two channels about 2.5 miles down from our put-in, then another across the river left channel within the next 1/2 mile, if I remember correctly. Easy for us to see, get out and portage the first (could portage either side of creek) and take the right channel for the 2nd one.

Super busy, fun creek to run! Almost non-stop waves and we had pretty good water levels, such that we bumped a few rocks but got only temporarily stuck on a few. One was right before the creek went under the railroad bridge and just before the drop there, so Fernando flipped but was able to get out of the creek before the drop.

We did it this weekend, starting at the McKinley Village side of the Triple Lakes Trail. The relatively obvious cut off that descends westward from the triple lakes trail into the woods to the river is right around the highest point on the ridge past a steep uphill portion of the trail that is high above and well past the third lake. We almost turned around and schwacked our way down thinking we had missed it. I am super glad we didn’t because the cutoff is a really easy descent to the river (maybe 15 minutes). Splashy fun creek.

Just a heads up on Riley Creek! Just above the normal put in down by the third lake, the river has jumped channels and is eroding a new channel through the forest. People who have put in up higher on the creek have had incidents, and in one swim someone swam under 6 strainers! The old put in channel is too low, but if you walk downstream about a quarter mile you will see where the new channel comes in and the river is navigable again. There was one river wide strainer downstream that you have to get out for, but it is easily visible. Once Riley Creek floods again, I would expect more wood from this new channel to flush down and possibly clog other sections. Upstream of the normal put in there are apparently other river wide logs. Just be smart and watch out for wood is all I’m saying.