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"Mount Healy joins Flattop Peak in Anchorage and Mt. Alyeska in Girdwood   
among the state's best walk-up mountains. They're easy to hike, do not 
require much gear or technical skill, and quickly introduce you to the
spectrum of color and context that Alaska's landscape offers."
~ from an article by Eric Adams on the Alaska Dispatch website dated May 17, 2012
I can tell the author of that article is a younger, stronger hiker than most of folks the park service expects to climb the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail.

Why? Because the Denali website, interpretive signs, and written information all describe this trail as "strenuous," requiring three to four hours to hike 4.5 miles roundtrip. Does that sound like Eric's description?

Trail description from an interpretive sign at the main Denali visitor center

My perspective as a fit, athletic 63-year-old female hiker with bad knees is that it is a trail of overall "moderate" difficulty. I saw about three dozen people on this trail today. They represented a wide variety of ages (under 10 to over 70, I'd guess) and all of them looked relatively fit.

This trail is not flat and it's not all smooth, although some of it is. There are some roots and rocks, sometimes in great abundance as illustrated in this segment about two thirds of the way up the trail:

I remember only once place on the maintained trail where the grade is a bit steep (the park's website says 25%) but it is a relatively short section. It has some big rock steps, too.

The elevation gain is about 1,700 feet in a little over two miles to the overlook where the maintained trail ends and the real fun begins -- the rolling trail along the ridge that's not counted in the official distance. I thought the ridge was easier to hike than the last mile to the overlook and the panoramic views are among the best I've had in any tundra, anywhere.

Looking down to the overlook, where some hikers are enjoying the view to the south;
the Nenana River snakes away to the left, the George Parks Hwy. through the center.

This map section from another page on the park website shows topo lines along the Healy trail. The darker lines appear to be 100-foot intervals, the lighter ones 20 feet:

That page is also an interesting historical read.

The narrative compares the physical and mental challenges of climbing to the overlook to the challenges facing the park's past creation and current management to ensure that the scenery and wildlife are preserved for many generations to come.


I spent a little over six hours hiking 11 miles today and had a great time! I talked to lots of the other hikers and spent time enjoying the panoramic views and taking picture. I just wish I could have shared the experience with Jim and Cody. Jim's bum knee prevents him from hiking this far and Cody isn't allowed on the trails at Denali.

The Mt. Healy Overlook Trail to the ridge was my main goal. I added about three miles on the ridge (total out and back) because it, well, beckoned me to follow it!

Literally and figuratively "above and beyond" the overlook trail:
  the ridge leading to Mt. Healy (the high peak in the distance)

When I got back down to the trailhead I had enough time left to also hike the shorter Horseshoe Lake Trail, which I'll describe in the next entry.

This entry will be three pages long. I took 363 photos on just the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail and the section of the Taiga Trail I hiked to reach the former. I edited those down to 296 pictures. It took some restraint to limit the pictures I selected for the website to about 90. The first two pages feature the trail and scenic views from it. The third page will focus on natural botanical and geological details -- interesting flowers, alpine plants, mushrooms, rock formations and individual rocks, and a little critter in the tundra.

Here's another map section that shows my route today. It's from an interpretive panel and can also be found on the park's website:

The trails I used are highlighted in yellow. The dotted Mt. Healy Overlook Trail line stops at the overlook. I kept going another mile and a half along the ridge (arrow).

I hiked from our site in the Riley Creek Campground (elevation about 1,664 feet) on the bike path to the trailhead along the railroad tracks for the Taiga Trail:

Bike path

Taiga Trail begins left of arrow, Horseshoe Lake trailhead to right of tracks

Here is a description of the Taiga Trail from an interpretive panel (it's also on the park website):

The Taiga (pronounced TY-guh) Trail connected me to the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail in about one-third mile. I took the next pictures along this pretty trail through the boreal forest AKA "taiga:"




Intersection of Taiga and Mt. Healy Overlook trails

From the intersection of the Taiga and Mt. Healy Overlook Trails it was about two miles up to the overlook at about 3,500 feet, a gain of about 1,836 feet from our camper. (If you start from the trailhead at the railroad tracks the gain is about 1,700 feet.) This is the official end of the maintained Overlook trail.

I gained another 660 feet of elevation, topping out at 4,157 feet, in a mile and a half along the ridge before turning around and descending to the trailhead.

At the end of that portion of my hike I crossed the railroad tracks and went out and back on the Horseshoe Lake Trail before returning to the campground on the bike path.


The lower Overlook Trail continued gradually up through beautiful boreal forest terrain full of spruce, aspens, and shrubs that thinned out and got increasingly shorter as I climbed higher:


As I climbed higher and got out of the forest I could see more and more of the valley to the west and south (the national park, Alaska Range, and George Parks Hwy.) and east (Nenana Canyon and the Talkeetna Range):

Just starting to see the valley to the south (national park and beyond)

Nenana Canyon to left, park entrance (including our campground) to the right

Park headquarters highlighted in center

Close-up of park HQ buildings several miles back the park road (not the visitor center)

I got above timberline at about 2,500 feet elevation.

The next 1,000 feet of gain to the overlook afforded even better views to the east, west, and south as the trail switch-backed through rocks and sub-alpine plants. The trail was alternately smooth and rocky, and became more narrow at higher elevations:






First view of what I call Healy Ridge; I haven't found any other name for it.

Almost there!

The overlook area has several levels, all of which afford panoramic views:


Looking down at two levels of the overlook; Nenana River to left, Parks Hwy. in center

A river runs through it:  Nenana Canyon AKA "Glitter Gulch"

Keep going up to the sign on this knob that indicates you've reached the overlook.

The sign says "Mt. Healy Overlook. End of maintained trail."

So I'm standing on that knoll, looking all around me.

Most people stop here and are perfectly satisfied with the beauty of the place and the difficulty of the trail they've already climbed to stay a few minutes, take pictures, perhaps eat a snack, and then turn around and wind their way back down to the trailhead, successfully completing a 4.5-mile hike.

People who know me can vouch that I'm not like most other people. <grin>  I'm trained for more distance than that and I have a craving for adventure. Nothing satisfies me more than exploring terrain that is new to me, especially above treeline. What I saw was a golden opportunity for more fun and even more panoramic views higher up.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that the trail continues up the ridge, and it doesn't look gnarly at all:

I would have continued up that ridge even if I hadn't seen any other hikers up there. I had the time to do some more exploration and that's just how I'm wired.

However, another hiker just happened to be coming down to the overlook sign. He told me the “un-maintained” trail was even better than the official Mt. Healy Overlook Trail, so I continued on another mile and a half before turning around.

He was right – that trail undulating along the ridge into the distance was in far better shape than the last mile of the "maintained" Overlook Trail! On my way down I encouraged several other people to continue on along the ridge if they had the time, energy, and water.

Let's go see it now. Continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil