Along with seeing the mighty mountain itself, the thing I was most excited about when visiting Denali National Park was the hiking. I mean, hiking in Alaska is just epic.
Although most of Denali National Park is trail-less wilderness, there are a few trails near the entrance area and at different points along the park road. Most are quite short – between 0.3 and 2 miles – but there are also a couple of longer ones.
There was one hike in particular that stood out for me: the Mount Healy Overlook trail.
Located near the entrance area, the Mount Healy Overlook trail is one of the longest trails on offer in the park at 5.4 miles return. It offers dramatic views over the Nenana Valley, and the surrounding mountains and ridges. It also gains 1700 feet of elevation in only 2.5 miles.
It sounded like my kind of hike.
I was lucky during my time in Denali National Park that I found different people from the hostel to hike with each day. I am generally quite content to hike by myself but with Denali being home to so many animals that could tear me apart on a whim, I was more than happy to have someone to join me. Safety in numbers and all that.
I met Veronika the evening before the hike when she was checking into the hostel. At only 18 years old and so far from her home in Germany, I was blown away by her courage. I certainly wasn’t brave enough to travel by myself at that age.
We both wanted to do a hike the next day so we decided to do the Mount Healy Overlook trail together.
Hiking the Mount Healy Overlook Trail
After catching the shuttle into the park we walked the forested bike trail from the Wilderness Access Centre, which added another mile onto our hike. From there we took the Taiga Trail until it joined the Mount Healy Overlook trail.
The trail started off with a gentle incline, leading us slowly upward through a forest of spruce, aspen and alder trees. It quickly got steeper but it wasn’t as steep as I had imagined.
A wild raspberry bush was growing off the path along the way – my favourite and perhaps one of the most elusive of the wild berries. I filled my pockets then soon after, my mouth.
Gradually the trail rose above the thick forest and we started seeing views of dark green mountains. The windy turquoise of the Nenana river flowed below us, with the small town of Canyon nestled in the river valley.
The last stretch to the Mount Healy overlook was steep and exposed. Sharp switchbacks and dusty earth heralded our arrival into another eco-system: alpine tundra.
The heat had risen as the day progressed and we stopped to rehydrate and eat our lunch on jutting rocks with spectacular views. We could now see 360 degrees and over to the lofty mountain ranges of the park. A rocky ridge line led to the summit of Mount Healy with rock outcrops punctuating it along the way.
We decided to keep going, it was too beautiful to ignore.
Hiking through patches of wildflowers and over jagged rock staircases, we continued on. Low bushes carpeted the ground on either side of the path, bursting with hundreds of wild blueberries ripe for the picking.
Curious ground squirrels poked their heads out of their burrows to find out who was passing by. They called to each other in high pitched chirps, their whole bodies convulsing with the effort.
After hiking a further mile from the overlook, we reached Healy Ridge at 4217 feet above sea level.
The scenery was even starker and moon-like. There was a large boulder that we took turns to clamber up onto for photos.
Others continued another mile to the precarious summit of Mount Healy, a steep fortress that looked impenetrable. And dangerous.
We had come far enough.
Have you been hiking in Alaska? Have you done the Mount Healy Overlook trail?
The Nitty Gritty
Getting there: Drive or catch the free shuttle to the Denali Visitor Centre then take the Taiga Trail to approx. mile 0.3 where the Mount Healy Overlook Trail begins. Or walk the extra mile each way from the Wilderness Access Centre along the Bike Path.
Length: 5.4 miles/8.7 km return to Mount Healy Overlook or 7.4miles/12 km return when hiking further to Healy Ridge.
Elevation Gain: 1700 feet/520 metres
Difficulty: I would rate it Intermediate/Difficult if you aren’t an avid hiker.