Girdwood enjoys its status as Alaska’s only true resort town. Just 30 minutes south of Anchorage, Girdwood is home to the luxurious Alyeska Resort, dozens of fun and entertaining festivals throughout the year and countless options for outdoor adventure in the gorgeous 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 1,800 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
Girdwood’s quintessential experience 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 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 then head downhill. In the summer, hikers enjoy an easy stroll through the alpine world or ride the tram back to the bottom.
Another, much different tram is also worth checking out. The trailhead for Winner Creek Gorge Trail sits right near the hotel and leads 5.5 miles through lush forest at Winner Creek Gorge and a fun little hand-operated tram across to the other side. The most impressive trek in the area is the Crow Pass Trail, a stunning alpine hike that features gold-mining relics, a glacier and alpine lake and usually Dall sheep on the slopes above. Other popular outdoor activities include mountain biking on the slopes of Mount Alyeska, rock climbing, rafting, paragliding and sled dog trips – even during the summer – on the surrounding glaciers.
Girdwood also hosts the annual Girdwood Forest Fair, a popular summer festival held the first weekend of July. This event features crafts and artwork by the abundance of artists who live in the area as well as food, games, homegrown music and dancing. If you visit in the spring the annual Spring Carnival and Slush Cup provides fun and entertainment for all as well.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit wildlife center located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway where injured and rescued animals are on display. Stay in your vehicle as you swing through the center to see everything wild from a bear to a moose.
Girdwood Center for Visual Arts
The Girdwood Center for Visual Arts serves as an artisan cooperative during the summer and is filled with the work of those locals inspired, no doubt, by the stunning scenery that surrounds Girdwood.
Outfitters in Girdwood offer guided adventures to those who want to get up close and personal with a glacier. Glacier trekking includes the equipment visitors need to hike across ice and the guides to show them how. The truly adventurous sign up for a midnight-sun glacier trek that begins at 8pm.
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 still see some original buildings and sluices at this working mine and even learn how to pan for gold and then strike it on their own in area creeks.
A popular way to see the stunning alpine scenery and glaciers that surrounds Girdwood is with a helicopter flightseeing tour. The tours begin at the Girdwood Airstrip and often include a helicopter landing on a glacier.
The downhill terrain that skiers enjoy in the winter at Mount Alyeska is turned over to mountain bikers in the summer. At Alyeska Resort there is an extensive network of mountain bike trails, with some bikers using the chair lifts to reach some runs, as well as mountain bike rentals.
Thanks to the Alyeska Tramway, Girdwood attracts a fair number of paragliders who glide back down the mountain. Outfitters offer training and gliders to would-be paragliders.
Mount Alyeska offers one of the longest ski seasons of any mountain in the country. Serviced by three chair lifts and a tramway, the mountain often opens up for skiing in November with skiers and snowboarders still enjoying the downhill runs through the end of May.
It may be summer but visitors to Girdwood can still enjoy a sled dog adventure. Tours begin with a spectacular helicopter flight through the Chugach Mountains to a remote glacier high-camp where they meet the mushers and their dogs. The adventure continues with guests riding in the sled across the alpine snowfield or even driving the dog sled themselves.
US Forest Service Cabins
Scattered in the Chugach National Forest
that surrounds Girdwood are a number U.S. 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.