The Mount Healy Overlook Trail is a great introduction to hiking in Denali National Park.
Mount Healy Overlook Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated shows the whole park, but overall it’s best to get the old-fashioned quad maps from the Backcountry Center.
PERMITS: no permit needed, but there’s a $15 park entrance fee.
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: 4.5 miles round trip
ELEVATION: trailhead 1,800ft – overlook 3,500ft – difference 1,700ft. The true summit of Mount Healy is about 5,650ft, an additional 2,000+ gain from the overlook.
ACCESS: paved roads to the trailhead
DIRECTIONS: You can park at the Denali National Park Visitor Center, or take one of the courtesy shuttles from the local hotels. The Mount Healy Overlook Trail is accessible from the Visitor Center via a short 0.3 mile walk up the Taiga Trail. There’s also a few parking spaces at the Taiga trailhead, about a mile beyond the entrance where the road crosses the train tracks.
ROUTE: well maintained trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
As opposed to other hikes in the National Park, this is a developed front-country trail.
Note that the developed trail ends long before reaching the actual summit of Mount Healy. It’s possible to continue to the mountain’s peak, but be careful up there! The summit is an additional 2 miles beyond the overlook.
This is a strenuous trail with steep switchbacks, and it’s often windy above treeline.
The hike takes about 3-5 hours, round trip.
On a clear day you can reportedly see Denali (Mount McKinley) from the summit, but a clear view of the mountain is very rare.
Here’s a map that shows the network of short trails at the entrance to the park. You can right-click on it to see a larger version.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I first arrived in Healy, Alaska in early May. We had a long week of orientation programs with our new company for the season, at Princess Wilderness Lodge.
Everybody had been really itching to get out and do something by the time our first day off came around, and a mega-group hike of the Mount Healy Overlook Trail was organized.
The Mount Healy Trail is one of the simplest, most accessible day hikes available in Denali National Park. It was a great warm-up to begin getting familiar with the area.
The trailhead is located within a short walk of the Visitor Center via the Taiga Trail. The entrance area shuttle buses weren’t operating yet – it was still early in the season (May 8th) – so we took a longer approach from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.
This is the view looking north from the footbridge over the Nenana River. This river forms the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge can be seen on the right side of the image, with the red roofs.
Here’s another take on the developed area, from further within the park via our approach on the Jonesville Trail. The “Glitter Gulch” strip of restaurants and shops on the east side of the George Parks Highway is most prominent, along with a couple of the red roofs of Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge across the road.
The Grande Denali Lodge is isolated up the hillside – I’m unsure if this is true, but I was told that the foundations of this hotel are air-conditioned to prevent the building’s warmth from thawing the underground permafrost and causing the structure to slide down the hill!
Most of the lower Healy Overlook Trail is an unexciting walk among the trees. This stunted spruce forest, reminiscent of what’s found at higher elevations in New England (Or Minnesota and upper Michigan) is called the “taiga.”
The views get better as the wide trail gradually twists back and forth up the meandering switchbacks.
A whole lot of my new coworkers came out for this hike and it was a great time for making friends and meeting new people.
The signed overlook is the traditional turnaround point for this hike. It’s possible to continue beyond the maintained trail along the ridges that lead up to the summit of Mount Healy itself, but we didn’t go beyond this point for our first hike.
The snowiest, most dramatic mountain ranges looked far-off and muddled – there was a haze in the air that made it all appear so distant.
I don’t know if was simply the weird angle of the sun from being so far north for the first time, but the lighting often seemed tinted and surreal.
We hiked well into the evening under broad daylight. Tonight’s sunset was about 11pm.