Healy Overlook Trail

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Alaska GuideInterior Hiking

Popular ForDay hiking
SeasonLate February – September
TypeOut-and-back
DifficultyEasy to Moderate (Steep sections and rocky)
Length4.7 miles
Elevation Gain1800 ft (549 m)
Estimated Time3-4 hours
LocationDenali National Park & Preserve (Park Road)
Main Visitor Center

Overview

The Healy Overlook Trail is the most extensive trail in the park entrance area. I rate this hike as easy because it is a well-maintained, easy-to-follow, and relatively short hike at less than 5 miles. However, please note that it is steep in sections and gains nearly 1800 feet in elevation over 2.35 miles.

Looking over Denali Village from the Healy Overlook Trail
The view over Denali Village from the Healy Overlook Trail

The Good

Although short, the Healy Overlook Trail affords gorgeous vistas of the mountains near the park entrance. It’s a very fun trail to run if you are into trail running (STEEP!). It’s also a fun snowshoe or hike in winter. The road is almost always open to the trailhead, and the weather typically starts getting a little nicer in February. It’s possible to continue on to the Mt. Healy summit, another 1.5 miles. Use caution though, this trail is very steep, rocky, with sheer cliffs on either side at times. I do not recommend continuing unless you are a very experienced hiker (guide coming this summer). In winter there are occasionally Ranger-led snowshoe walks on the entrance area trails.

The Bad (It’s not that bad)

However, starting at the main Visitor Center campus at the National Park entrance, it tends to be very crowded in the summer. But, if you are looking for a relaxing hike to get away June-August, this is not the trail. Every few minutes I have to step aside to let oncoming traffic through, most are not hikers and have no idea about trail etiquette. In the same way, I frequently get stuck behind slow hikers and families and have to speak up to get them to step aside to let me by. I’ve ducked out of the way when I saw a guy rounding a switchback had his bear spray drawn and finger on the trigger (there were no bears around)! During those peak months, the earlier or later in the day you leave the better. A 5 am start may give you the trail to yourself!

Snowy scene with rocks and trees in denali national park
Near the top of the trail in winter

This proximity to the visitor center and high traffic makes it a good trail for beginners. It would be hard to get lost, and there’s often plenty of people that could help you out if there is a problem. Last time I did this hike I had 4G reception the whole way. I hope I didn’t talk anyone out of this hike, It really is fun and pretty!

The rocky Healy Overlook viewed through the forest near the start of the trail.
View of Healy Overlook from near the visitor center

Healy Overlook Trail Description

The easiest place to park for hiking the Healy Overlook Trail is the main Visitor Center just past the roundabout on the Park Road. Starting on the Taiga Trail, follow the signs that say “Healy Overlook Trail”. The trail winds through a boreal forest with some gorgeous stunted aspen and spruce trees. The forests here are absolutely spectacular in late August and early September when the foliage changes. A large footbridge takes you across a stream and the trail starts to steepen.

About 1.25 miles in there are a couple of benches on the left side of the trail. This resting spot provides one of the first nice views of the valley. If you are new to hiking, this is a good spot to gauge if you want to continue the hike. The trail gets quite a bit steeper with many switchbacks and the terrain gets rockier. If you’ve had a tough time to get here, you might want to turn around. Otherwise, you are at about the half-way point and have done about 1/3 of the climbing.

Into the Alpine

The switchbacks eventually lead you out of the trees and into the rocky alpine zone. There are often gorgeous flowers and berries up here. While I’m used to seeing grizzlies in Denali, this is the only place in the park I have seen a black bear. Although bears aren’t frequently spotted along this trail it’s still good to be prepared, they are here! Make sure you know how to avoid encounters and know what to do in the event of an encounter. You will most likely encounter arctic ground squirrels, please don’t feed them.

A few more switchbacks take you to the top of a large outcropping. Watch your footing if you wander around, there are definitely a few places you don’t want to slip. A National Park sign marks the end of the trail, but an obvious trail continues toward Mt. Healy. This becomes a much more hazardous and steep trail, I do not recommend it if you are new to hiking. The trail eventually disappears and you are left to navigate on your own. (I’ll be posting a guide to Mt. Healy and Bison Gulch as soon as I finish mapping this summer). The return route is the same way you came.

A trail through alpine tundra toward the snow-covered Mt. Healy in Denali National Park
The trail beyond the Healy Overlook
A black bear crossing the trail in autumn

The Trail in Winter

Hiker on a snowy trail in the mountains of the Alaska Range in Denali National Park
kicking steps in the windblown and icy snow

This trail gets a fair amount of travel at the lower reaches in winter and is frequently packed enough to hike in just boots. However, as you climb the packed trail often peters out or becomes incredibly windblown. It’s a good idea to have snowshoes or skis with skins on you if your destination is the top of the overlook, and almost definitely for Mt. Healy. The overlook trail is certainly not prone to avalanches, but it’s not impossible either. Always stay aware of snow conditions! You may need a bit more navigation skill, as the trail is not always obvious under the snow.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve recently hiked the Healy Overlook Trail, feel free to leave current trail conditions in the comments. Please make sure to include the date!

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