Tramway car rising over a mountain and sea background
Photo Credit: ATIA, Matt Hage

7 Things to Do in Girdwood

7 Things to Do in Girdwood

Just 45 minutes south of Anchorage, Girdwood is a true resort town. Ski down the longest-continuous double black diamond ski run in North America, go glacier trekking, or use the town as a jumping-off point for multi-day excursions into the rugged backcountry.

1. Go on an Adventure

Girdwood does not lack in the adventure department. Start with a flightseeing tour to take in all the stunning alpine scenery and glaciers surrounding Girdwood from above. Get up close to a glacier by booking a helicopter glacier trekking tour complete with a hike across the ice with an experienced guide.

While visiting the area’s glaciers, learn how to mush with the professionals and their dogs. Even in the summer, visitors can take a dog sled ride across the alpine snowfield or try a hand at leading the team.

Back on solid ground, downhill ski at Alyeska Resort, rent a fat-tire bike, or strap on cross-country skis and hit the Nordic trails. In the summer, explore those same trails from the seat of a mountain bike. Other tours that take off from town include multi-day glacier camping excursions, scenic river floats at Spencer and Portage glaciers, kayaking, and more.

Skiing in Moose Meadows in Girdwood
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage

2. Enjoy a Fair or Festival

Celebrate everything that makes Girdwood special at the city’s fairs and festivals. Girdwood Forest Fair is a favorite for visitors and locals alike. During the first week in July, the town comes alive with artists, hand-crafted items, food, and music from across the state. View and purchase local art, experience some of the best of Alaskan musicians, and spend the weekend surrounded by good people.

For some springtime fun, celebrate the end of the ski season at Alyeska Resort’s Spring Carnival. The weekend in April has a lot of fun events for spectators and participants, such as the Dummy Downhill (build a dummy and send it down the mountain on skis) and the XTRATUF Tug o’ War. But the biggest draw every year is Slush Cup. Spectators gather up the side of Mount Alyeska to watch as 50 skiers in costume take turns skiing down the mountain to try to make it across the 90-foot slush pond at the bottom.

Slush Cup in Girdwood
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage

3. Pan for Gold

Become a prospector for a day and see who can strike gold. Girdwood got its name from a gold miner named James Girdwood, who staked the first claim on Crow Creek in 1896. Two years later, that claim had turned into the most productive of all the Turnagain Arm gold strikes. Some of the original buildings and sluices at the working mine still stand for visitors to see, but the real fun is learning to pan for gold and then taking those skills to the area creeks.

Those who want to try gold panning can go to Crow Creek Mine to learn everything they need to know. Gold panners will receive pans, buckets and even a glass vial to store the treasured gold they find. Take a guided Prospector Tour of the mine and then rent the equipment that you’ll need to find a gold nugget in the creeks and streams.

4. Go for a Hike

From paved trails with views of Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains to winding trails through the temperate rainforest to hidden waterfalls, these hikes won’t disappoint. For a mild trail, check out the Girdwood to Indian Bike Path. The paved multi-use trail is easy to walk and bike, and travelers have amazing vistas of Turnagain Arm the whole way.

Another mild trail to explore is the Winner Creek Trail. This popular trail winds through the temperate rainforest with several boardwalk sections to a bridge over Winner Creek Gorge, featuring views of the beautiful blue waters of Winner Creek rushing through the gorge below. Hikers can continue on for views of Glacier Creek. A hand tram used to transport hikers across Glacier Creek, but the hand tram is currently closed. Winner Creek Trail is a great place to pick blueberries during blueberry season, usually in late August/early September.

Visitors who love hikes with impressive views should try the short Virgin Creek Trail, which ends at the 15-foot-high Virgin Falls. The ease of this trail, combined with its amazing waterfall views, makes it a favorite spot for local photographers.

Those who are up for a challenge should try the 2.2-mile ascent up 2,000 vertical feet of the north face of Mount Alyeska that departs from Alyeska Resort (and be rewarded with dining options at the top and even a tram ride down) or the Crow Pass Trail, a stunning, 26-mile, point-to-point alpine hike that end in Eagle River and can take two or more days to complete.

Hiking Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Michael DeYoung

5. Explore Portage Glacier

Take the short trip to Portage for hiking trails, glacier views, and plenty of history and wildlife. Although the glacier is no longer viewable without a short boat ride, Portage Glacier’s highway-accessible location still makes it a popular destination.

On the way to the glacier, check out one of the many trails and campgrounds on the road. The Trail of Blue Ice, named for all the glaciers that can be seen from it, is an easy walk or bike. On the Williwaw Nature Trail, keep an eye out for spawning salmon in the stream. The nearby Byron Glacier trail is another easy trail that gives travelers access to glacier views in the area.

Learn the history of the glacier and surrounding area at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Then hop on a short cruise to the face of the glacier.

Portage Glacier
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Michael DeYoung

6. Go Skiing

Alyeska Resort is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts all year long, but it’s also a place for fine dining and relaxation. Visitors who love to ski or spend a day at the spa (or both) will enjoy a stay. Alyeska averages 669 inches of snowfall a year. The mountain has been called “steep and deep,” but don’t worry, beginners—there are plenty of trails that don’t require expert-level skills. During the summer, Mount Alyeska opens to mountain bikers and hikers.

Visitors can take a scenic tram ride up to the 2,300-foot level of the mountain to reach stunning views of the surrounding mountains and of Turnagain Arm. At the top, visitors have multiple dining options to choose from, and each comes with its own distinct views. In the summer, stroll the alpine trails before boarding the tram to descend to the hotel, or in the winter, head downhill on skis or a snowboard.

Skiing at Alyeska Resort
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage

7. Check Out Wildlife

As visitors make their way along Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway, they’ll witness sightings of Dall sheep, beluga whales, and bald eagles. In Girdwood, black bears and moose are also spotted, but visitors who want a guaranteed wildlife viewing should head to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

AWCC is where injured and rescued animals go to heal or to live if they are not able to return to the wild. There, they are well taken care of by the friendly and helpful staff. Visitors can travel through the center on foot or even stay inside their car and still see every part of the park. Keep an eye out for moose, bears, wolves, bison, and more. Check the schedule for programs like the Walk on the Wild Side tour, Bear Encounter, and Moose Encounter.

Bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Chris McLennan

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