With warmer weather on the way for us this week, we’re full-steam ahead into camping mode. Today we’re sharing one of our all-time favorite campgrounds, the Riley Creek Campground in Denali National Park. We’ve shared the common myths people have about camping in Denali before but can’t stress enough how easy and safe it is to camp in Alaska if you’re prepared before you go.
So, what do you need to know about the Riley Creek Campground? Riley Creek is the largest organized campground in Denali National Park. It’s a front country campground that offers amenities for every single type of camper. If you’re looking for a cozy space to set up a tent with kids or need a place for your luxury RV, Riley Creek Campground is your best option in Denali National Park.
Where is Riley Creek Campground located?
Riley Creek Campground is a front country campground in Denali National Park. It’s also the largest campground in Denali with more than 140 campsites. Since most of Denali is undeveloped wilderness, Riley Creek can be found near the main entrance along the Alaska Parks Highway.
To enter the campground, turn into Denali National Park from Mile 237 along Alaska Parks Highway. The campground is roughly a quarter-mile into the park. Watch for signs on your left for Riley Creek Campground.
Riley Creek Campground Address
Mile 0.25, Denali Park Road
Denali Park, AK
What amenities does Riley Creek Campground have?
Riley Creek Campground offers the amenities of a fully-developed campground. However similar to most National Park Service campgrounds, none of the campsites have electricity.
You can expect to have these amenities when you visit the campground:
- Potable water. Vault toilets near each campsite. Flush toilets and coin-operated showers at the camp store.
- Designated tent sites and RV sites. This offers the best access to both types of campers.
- Food storage lockers in each campsite.
- Moderate to good cell-phone reception with areas of excellent coverage near the camp store.
- Free seasonal wi-fi service. We weren’t able to ever hook up to wi-fi, but the cell phone service was good enough to check emails and send a few photos back home.
- Evening ranger programs in the campground.
- Up close encounters with wildlife. We regularly had moose and deer wandering through the campground during our stay.
Riley Creek Campground is also very close to the main Denali bus depot where you depart for day-long and hop-on-hop-off bus tours. When we left on the Kantishna Bus experience we had to be at the bus stop before 6 AM. It was helpful to stay at Riley Creek which is less than 5 minutes from the campground and within walking distance.
How do you make reservations at Riley Creek? Are reservations necessary?
One of the best features of Riley Creek Campground is that it is fully reservable online. When planning an Alaskan vacation, it’s important to make sure you’ve got a good plan for lodging. Reservations are 100% necessary between June and August. Several times during our Denali stay, we watched frustrated rangers try to explain to frustrated tourists that the campground books months ahead.
Near Denali, there aren’t a ton of ‘back-up’ options. Most likely those campgrounds book well-ahead also. The distances between places to stay in Alaska makes ‘improvising’ difficult.
Trust us, it’s not worth the headache. Reserve ahead.
How To Make A Reservation
A third-party concessionaire manages Riley Creek Campground. Reserve sites up to a year ahead of your trip at reservedenali.com
When you book reservations the campground will ask what type of camping equipment you’re planning to bring. The tent sites and RV sites reserve by the size and length of the camping equipment you bring. Make sure you reserve a site that is large enough for your gear.
The National Park Services allows a maximum of 3 tents per site. Each site can have a maximum of 8 people.
While we don’t have specific information about how quickly they book up, there is a small section in the third loop of Riley Creek Campground designated as a walk-in, tent-only camping. These sites can only be booked upon arriving in the park, not in advance. “Walk-in” means you must park in a designated area and walk into the sites, no cars permitted. Expect to have the most ‘remote’ experience in these sites.
Where can I hike near Riley Creek?
At 6 million acres of undeveloped wilderness, Denali is not well known for it’s hiking trails. Most hiking in the park is done off-trail, following ‘Leave No Trace’ principles. If you choose to do some hiking on organized trails there are a few options in the immediate area around Riley Creek Campground and the Denali Visitor’s Center.
Hike from the Riley Creek Campground to the Denali Visitor’s Center where you can depart on a few of the organized trails:
- McKinley Station Trail
- Mount Healy Overlook Trail
- Horseshoe Lake Trail
- Roadside Trail to Denali Dog Kennels
Any secret tips to know?
We spent 4 full days in Denali National Park. It’s a large space and can be overwhelming to plan. Just know that you won’t see everything on your first trip, but it’s worth every minute. Some other tips we have:
- We were told by a park ranger that the moose in the area have learned that the campground provides relative safety from wolves and bears who won’t typically approach the developed areas of the park. We saw multiple moose in the campground, including a cow with two calves. Moose can be extremely aggressive, especially when approached or startled. Stay clear of the wildlife. No selfie is worth it.
- Plan ahead and be sure to make your camping or hotel reservations as early as possible. The summer season is short in Denali. 99% of the visitors come at the same time.
- Bear spray is not needed if you are only going to be riding the buses in the park. It has to be stored underneath in the luggage area anyway. We would not recommend it if you’re staying in Riley Creek Campground.
- Flight-seeing tours are a major controversy in the park right now. Noise pollution in the protected wilderness area was definitely noticeable during our stay both in the front country and along the park road. Consider this carefully if you’re thinking about a mountain tour.