Girdwood, Alaska, is a mountain resort town located surprisingly close to Anchorage. It’s a favorite getaway for locals and visitors because of its breathtaking scenery, a luxury hotel and mountain resort, and outdoor activities like skiing, hiking and biking. Only 40 miles south of Anchorage on the scenic Seward highway, a visit to Girdwood is a quick escape from the city into the postcard-perfect mountains that visitors to Alaska envision. Here you’ll find a blend of epic natural scenery, luxury, and outdoor activities, with a uniquely Alaskan ski town character.
Where to stay
The most well-known choice is Alyeska Resort
, the all-season luxury resort at the base of Mount Alyeska
in Girdwood. It is a draw for mountain sport activities with great comfort and amenities. The resort is a year-round destination featuring luxurious rooms right at the base of the ski hill. After a day of downhill skiing, hiking, or mountain biking there’s a lot to enjoy at the resort. Sample the fine dining restaurants, ride the tram to the top of the mountain, swim in the saltwater pool or spend hours relaxing in their lavish new outdoor Nordic spa.
If you prefer rustic charm in place of luxury, consider one of these beautiful privately owned cabins, Inns, or B&Bs. Alyeska Hideaway Log Cabins and Carriage House are both nestled in a peaceful, forested neighborhood near a creek. If you prefer to be within a short walk to restaurants and shops, try Ski Inn or Bud & Carol’s B&B. There are also plenty of great vacation home rental options in Girdwood for all tastes and budgets through VRBO and Vacasa.
Things to do in Girdwood:
- Hit the mountain! In winter, from late November to early April, spend the day riding the lifts at Alyeska Resort for world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding. Girdwood’s average annual snowfall is 213” at the base, 530 mid-mountain, and 656” at the summit, with a long regular ski season that lasts from Thanksgiving to Easter. If nordic skiing is your preference, check out the many wonderful groomed cross-country skiing trails that meander through the valley. In summer this area is a biker and hiker’s paradise, so grab a trail map and explore the many beautiful, well-marked trails that take you through mossy forests, up high peaks, and to rushing creeks, and even pick berries in late summer. The resort has expertly built mountain bike trails offer lift-accessed downhill mountain biking and can outfit visitors with top-of-the-line rental bikes and gear.
- Visit Crow Creek Gold Mine Summer visitors can try gold panning and enjoy the beauty of this preserved, historic mining camp from 1896 with original buildings, artifacts and lovely gardens. It’s no wonder Crow Creek Mine is a popular site for weddings.
- Take a short walk to Virgin Creek Falls (summer) – This may be the shortest walk to the most beautiful waterfall you’ll ever take, but it does have some steep sections, roots and near fast-moving water so tread carefully. In just half a mile, you’ll walk through temperate rainforest and velvety, green moss-covered trees and rocks to a stunning waterfall. It makes for beautiful photos – but be wise and stay a safe distance from the water and keep your children with you. This starts in a Girdwood neighborhood so park with courtesy before starting on the trail.
- Take a longer hike on Winner Creek Trail (summer) – This may be the most popular hiking trail in Girdwood for it’s breathtaking scenery. It requires a little bit of fitness but is an easy hike for families. From Alyeska Resort, you’ll walk a few miles out following Lower Winner Creek Trail to a small footbridge over a stunning river gorge. The rushing water flowing over giant boulders is a photo spot worth the effort to get there. This trail used to lead to a hand tram that crosses a large creek, but the tram is no longer in operation, so be prepared to turn around and come back the same way you started.
- Explore Glaciers: Originally named “Glacier City” in the 1890’s for the giant glaciers nestled above the surrounding mountains, it’s no surprise that Girdwood is the perfect starting point for exploring glaciers by helicopter. Alpine Air Alaska offers year-round flightseeing tours, glacier landings, and summer dogsledding on nearby Punchbowl Glacier. Viewing glaciers from the air and landing on the giant blue ice is the ultimate way to experience glaciers in Alaska, but if you’re looking for more ways to see the ice, you can add a guided adventure tour by raft, kayak, snowmachine or even ice climb with experienced Alaskan guides.
- Relax at the Nordic Spa: The newly built Alyeska Nordic Spa is an extraordinary experience in any weather. You’ll want to spend hours relaxing in this luxuriously designed indoor-outdoor retreat. It features hot and cold hydrotherapy pools, dry and steam saunas, an exfoliation spa, and a spa cafe, all surrounded by forest.
- Take the Tram to the top of Mt Alyeska: A trip to Girdwood isn’t complete without a ride on the aerial tram straight to the top of Mount Alyeska. From here the views of the Turnigan Arm and surrounding mountains are spectacular. At the top of the tram you’ll find the Alyeska Roundhouse Museum as well as the resort’s award-winning Seven Glaciers Restaurant where you can enjoy elegant drinks with a view and a truly memorable fine dining experience – reservations required.
- Dine out: Girdwood restaurant options are diverse, flavorful, and charming. Fine dining options include: Jack Sprat a local favorite for brunch and dinner that has a beautiful mountain chalet aesthetic and caters to all dietary preferences. Spoonline Bistro serves creative and delicious dinner and brunch options that will keep you going back. For a quick lunch with great burgers and pizza, try Chair 5 and every day is a good day for soup or cinnamon rolls and coffee at The Bake Shop.
Getting to Girdwood: prepare for an epic scenic drive.
A trip to Girdwood starts with a scenic drive along the Turnigan Arm on the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway and one of the most beautiful drives in Alaska. The view is so stunning you may want to allow some extra time to stop and take in the sights.
How to get here:
Driving is the easiest way to get from Anchorage to Girdwood. The views along the Seward Highway make it one of the most scenic drives in the country, so you may want to give yourself some extra time to enjoy the view. Need a ride from Anchorage? Leave the driving to us – add a round trip shuttle from Girdwood to your tour when you book.
Need a car? Here’s what we recommend:
- Rent a car from any major car rental agency at the Anchorage airport or other locations around town.
- Book a car on turo.com, it’s just like renting a car, just from a private party, like a VRBO for vehicles.
Other ways to get from Anchorage to Girdwood:
- Hire a private driver who will drop you off in Girdwood, or will stay with you during your tour and return you to Anchorage. We recommend Evan B: 907-229-9363 or call us and we’ll provide some other options for you. We do not recommend using taxis or Uber or Lyft from Anchorage to Girdwood, because you run the risk of getting stuck in Girdwood since our small town does not have taxi service or Uber or Lyft drivers who can take you back to Anchorage. We recommend a private driver because they will stay with you in Girdwood or return for you at your specified time to take you back to Anchorage.
- Take the Turnigan Arm Shuttle turnagainshuttle.com/visit-girdwood/ The Turnagain Arm Shuttle will drop you off and pick you up at Girdwood’s Glacier Valley Transit pick-up point. This is where you can catch the town’s free shuttle service to get around town during your visit glaciervalleytransit.com. If you’ve booked a tour with us, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get here before your tour and coordinate pickup in Girdwood with an Alpine Air driver.
- Ride the Train alaskarailroad.com/travel-planning/destinations/girdwood Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic and Glacier Discovery trains travel from Anchorage to Girdwood from May through September. Make sure to have us help you coordinate your train arrival time with your helicopter tour time so we can pick you up at the train depot before your flight.
What’s to see on the Turnigan Arm?
As you begin your drive south from Anchorage along the stunningly scenic Seward Highway, you’ll follow the dramatic shoreline of the Turnigan Arm on your right, with towering snow-capped peaks of the Chugach mountains rising above to your left. Stay alert because this drive has some awesome sightseeing opportunities for views, wildlife and a chance to see a unique bore tide.
The Turnigan Arm is a narrow branch of the Cook Inlet coming from the Gulf of Alaska. It’s known for remarkably large tides of up to 40 feet (12 meters) which are the largest tides in the United States. Each day the tide transforms the arm; in the morning you’ll be looking at deep water as far as you can see, then by afternoon the tide recedes to reveal empty mudflats of glacial silt. You might see surfers riding on the long, low wave of the Turnigan Arm bore tide as it comes in. In late summer and fall, it’s common to see beluga whales surfacing for air as they feed on salmon in the brackish water, so close to shore you can easily spot them without binoculars. Look up to the cliffs on your left, you might see Dall Sheep traversing the cliffs as they feed. There are several turn-off points along the drive where you can park and enjoy the view and look for wildlife, the best is Beluga Point, just 20-minutes south of Anchorage by car. You’ll see why this is stretch of road is part of a route National Geographic named one of its “Drives of a Lifetime”.