Girdwood enjoys its status as Alaska’s only true resort town. Just 45 minutes south of Anchorage, Girdwood is home to the luxurious Alyeska Resort, fun and entertaining festivals, and countless options for year-round outdoor adventure in gorgeous mountain surroundings.
Originally named Glacier City, Girdwood began as a supply camp for gold miners at the turn of the century. After the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake dropped the coast along nearby Turnagain Arm 10 feet, the town relocated 2.5 miles up the valley to its present location.
Today Girdwood is a full-service community of about 2,000 that attracts skiers in the winter, hikers in the summer, and artists year-round. Alaskans and visitors alike are drawn to its fine restaurants, wide range of accommodations, and local color.
Things to do
One of Girdwood’s quintessential experiences is to ride the tram at Alyeska Resort to the top of Mount Alyeska. The 60-passenger tram provides a scenic ride to the 2,300-foot level, where a bar, deli, fine dining restaurant, and museum overlook dramatic views of Turnagain Arm and seven glaciers nestled in the surrounding peaks. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders ride the tram to access ski terrain. In the summer, hikers can explore the mountain above the tram and then hike down the North Face Trail or take the tram back down the mountain. Or, for an adrenaline rush, local outfitters lead paragliding trips down the mountain.
Girdwood is an outdoor recreation paradise, with a wide range of hiking and biking trails that explore the area’s temperate rainforest and gorgeous mountains. The trailhead for the popular Winner Creek Trail sits right near Alyeska Resort and leads 3 miles through lush forest to the picturesque Winner Creek Gorge. The most impressive trek in the area is the Crow Pass Trail, a stunning alpine hike that features gold-mining relics, a waterfall, an alpine lake, a glacier, and sometimes Dall sheep and black bears on the slopes above. The truly adventurous can complete the full Crow Pass Trail, which extends 23 miles from Girdwood to Eagle River, a popular route for overnight backpacking trips.
Mountain bikers get access to the downhill terrain that skiers enjoy in the winter on Mount Alyeska. There is an extensive network of downhill mountain bike trails that are accessible by chair lift. Beginner to advanced singletrack trails also meander through the forested hills of the town’s Nordic ski loop in the summer. If road biking is more your thing, you can cruise along the Bird to Gird Trail, a paved multi-use trail that travels 12 miles along the scenic Turnagain Arm from Girdwood the small community of Bird. A couple of outfitters offer mountain bike and fat bike rentals year-round.
Scattered in the Chugach National Forest that surrounds Girdwood are a number Forest Service cabins that can be reserved in advance. One of the most popular is the Crow Pass Cabin that can be reached on foot via the Crow Pass Trail from Girdwood.
Tour companies in Girdwood offer guided glacier hiking adventures for those who want to get up close and personal with a glacier. Outfitters will get you set up with all the gear you’ll need to safely explore the ice and fly you up to a glacier on a helicopter to trek with an experienced guide. Another great way to experience nearby glaciers is on a rafting trip, where you can paddle around icebergs in a lake at the glacier’s terminus and then enjoy a scenic float down a river. Tour companies lead raft trips for all skill levels in the area’s rivers and creeks, from family-friendly floats to thrilling whitewater adventures.
Girdwood is the top destination for downhill skiing and snowboarding in Alaska. Alyeska Resort is the only ski resort in the state, offering one of the longest ski seasons of any mountain in the country. There’s terrain for all experience levels on the resort’s 1,600 skiable acres accessible by 7 chair lifts. The mountain opens for skiing in November or early December, with skiers and snowboarders still enjoying the downhill runs through April or May.
Miles of multi-use trails and Nordic ski trails are groomed in the winter for cross country skiing and fat biking. Moose Meadows and the 5K Nordic Loop are great spots to get some exercise while taking in the wintery splendor of Girdwood’s forests and mountain views.
The annual Girdwood Forest Fair is a popular summer festival held the first weekend of July. The event features crafts and artwork by the abundance of artists who live in the area as well as food, games, local music, and dancing. If you visit in the spring, the annual Spring Carnival provides fun for all, including the entertaining Slush Cup, where skiers dress up in costume and try to gain enough downhill speed to jump over an icy pond. The Blueberry Festival happens every August, coinciding with the abundance of wild blueberries that can be foraged in the Girdwood area in the fall, featuring blueberry-centric food and drinks, contests, and booths.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway, just 12 miles south of Girdwood. Injured and orphaned animals are rescued and rehabilitated and are given permanent homes at the center. See bears, wolves, moose, caribou, bison, foxes, and many other species, and join in on one of the daily educational programs or animal encounter tours.
Girdwood was named for James Girdwood, who staked the first claim on Crow Creek in 1896. Two years later, the Crow Creek Mine was the most productive of all the Turnagain Arm gold strikes. Visitors can join a guided tour to see some original buildings and sluices at this working mine, and then try their luck on-site with a gold panning demonstration and gear rentals to pan in Crow Creek.
A popular way to see the stunning glaciers and alpine scenery that surrounds Girdwood is with a helicopter flightseeing tour. Tours begin at the Girdwood Airstrip and often include a helicopter landing on a glacier.
In summer, visitors to Girdwood can enjoy dog sled rides in town or on nearby glaciers. Glacier tours begin with a spectacular helicopter flight through the Chugach Mountains to a remote glacier high-camp where guests meet the mushers and their dogs, and then embark on a dog sled ride across the glacier’s ice and snow. If you’d rather stay on the ground, summer dog sled tours are available at a local Iditarod musher’s kennel, where you’ll meet the dogs and ride in a wheeled dog sled cart on private backcountry trails.
Staying & Eating in Girdwood
There’s no shortage of places to stay and great food to eat in Girdwood. The quintessential lodging option is Alyeska Resort, a 300-room mountain resort located at the base of Mount Alyeska. The hotel features multiple restaurants, a spa, gear rentals, the Alyeska Tram, and close access to the area’s summer and winter activities. Girdwood also is home to a wide variety of B&Bs, vacation rentals, an inn, a hostel, and a tent-only campground.
After a day of adventure you’ll be ready for a good meal, and Girdwood does not disappoint. You’ll find a variety of restaurant options, from mountaintop fine dining to sushi to casual pizza joints and a funky coffee shop. The local brewery serves microbrews and kombucha, usually with a food truck parked next door.
Getting to Girdwood
Girdwood is located on the Seward Highway, a scenic 45 minute drive south from Anchorage. If you don’t have a car, Girdwood is also accessible by motorcoach, shuttle service, and the Alaska Railroad.