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A piece of the Anchorage municipality, Girdwood feels completely different. The Chugach Mountains, among the best natural spaces in this part of Alaska, surround Girdwood in the valley below. There’s a small, mountain town vibe. You feel a deep connection to Girdwood almost as soon as you arrive.

It’s a year-round playground. The outdoors is a huge part of Alaska—and a huge part of what makes Girdwood great. In summer, you have hiking and climbing; in winter, you have the state’s largest ski resort, Alyeska Resort, and prime backcountry skiing.

Girdwood is an easy day trip with incredible views along the way. The drive south out of Anchorage and along Turnagain Arm alone is worth the time. There’s wildlife—Dall sheep, beluga whales, eagles. The waters of the arm are flanked by snow-capped peaks. A tidal bore, a big tide-driven wave, rolls down the arm when conditions are right. People even surf bore tide for miles.

Once in Girdwood, you understand why some still call it “Glacier City.” Half a dozen alpine glaciers flowing down from the mountains are more than a pretty backdrop: Sightseeing flights, ice climbing and trekking tours, even summer dogsled trips take advantage of Chugach Mountains glaciers. No matter when you visit, expect adventures in a tranquil setting and plenty of friendly, small-town charm.

And expect hidden treasures. Crow Creek Mine started in 1896. Though the boom days are long gone, the mine still produces. It’s a great place to try panning for gold, and a beautiful locale regardless if you strike it rich. Forest Fair, a big summer arts and music festival, begins the first Friday of July and takes over town for a week of handmade goods, live music and a legendary beer garden. Seeking trails? Winner Creek, Virgin Creek Falls and Crow Pass—three of the best area hikes—start in Girdwood.

Find a helicopter sightseeing flight at the small Girdwood airport. Alpine Air, flying to Lake George, Colony and Knik glaciers in the Chugach backcountry, lands on the glaciers; it also takes guests to a summer dogsledding camp atop Punchbowl Glacier. Jack Sprat, The Bake Shop and Seven Glaciers are a few great Girdwood restaurants.

Despite being a part of Anchorage, Girdwood has special differences. It’s in a completely different biome and is the northernmost edge of a temperate rainforest stretching up the West Coast of Canada and the Alaska Panhandle. Girdwood also gets more snow in winter, averaging 600 inches—a big plus for the best place for skiing in Alaska.

Girdwood, a little older than Anchorage, has a separate history. Girdwood got its start as a gold mining site in the late 1800s. It’s also along the Historic Iditarod Trail. Before the famous sled dog race, the Iditarod trail was a much longer route from Seward into Western Alaska, used by Alaska Natives and travelers on foot, dogsled and horseback. The trail is still in use, particularly the portion near Girdwood.

Travel between Anchorage and Girdwood is easy, with several shuttle companies connecting the locations. Alaska Railroad stops there in the summer, and self-driving a rental vehicle is an option.

Itinerary, Anyone?

Pondering Girdwood? Going south of Anchorage, most every day trip Salmon Berry Tours offers visits the town. Here are some highlights.

Turnagain Turn Tour takes visitors to Mt. Alyeska for stunning Alaska wilderness panoramas. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is home to bears, a musk ox herd, a wood bison herd once thought to be extinct, moose, elk, caribou and more. Lunch takes place at a Girdwood eatery, where visitors experience local culture.

Girdwood Sampler, a half-day excursion down scenic Turnagain Arm, offers a guided adventure in Girdwood. Visitors could enjoy a helicopter flight tour with glacier landing, helicopter glacier dog sledding, a tour of Crow Creek Mine, a jet boat tour, canyoneering or a 6x6 mountain safari.

Glacier Turn Tour is the spectacular Turnagain Arm tour. Mt. Alyeska and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center are again featured, as is lunch at the base of the Chugach mountains. Visitors will get up close with Portage Glacier on a one-hour cruise across Portage Lake.

Whittier to Anchorage Transfer and Tour begins with a ride through the 2.5 mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest one-way train and vehicle tunnel in North America, 50 miles southeast of Anchorage near Portage Glacier. This tour lunches in Girdwood before an aerial tram ride up North American’s longest double black diamond ski slope.

Learn more at www.salmonberrytours.com.

Edited by Amy L Charles.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Geils.