Ice, ice, baby: Exploring Girdwood's trails, slopes, and glaciers

November 20, 2015                 4m read time
Nicole Wiegand


Shred some powder at Alyeska, take a helicopter to Colony Glacier, or go kayaking on Prince William Sound. The tiny resort town of Girdwood has epic adventures for every season.

Girdwood is a small town that’s big on outdoor adventure. The Alyeska Resort draws thousands of visitors each year for skiing and snowboarding, but insiders know there’s plenty to do beyond the slopes in “Glacier City.” Go flightseeing over the glaciers in a helicopter or hit the rapids on Twenty Mile River. Need to warm up after a day of hiking or ice climbing? The town’s apres-ski scene is sure to help you refuel for your next adventure. We’ve gathered the best winter and summer activities in the Girdwood area.

1. Scale a glacier

Snowmobile tour to Spencer Glacier in Alaska Lee LeFever

Snowmobile tour to Spencer Glacier in Alaska

Lee LeFever

 

Don’t miss the chance to ice climb in the comfort of summer. Ascending Path offers guided climbing trips where you can scale either Byron or Raven Glaciers. You don’t need any climbing experience to tackle this 10-hour trip, and all your tools and safety gear are included in the tour. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the incredible views! For a truly epic adventure, try the Spencer Glacier Tour, which combines a railroad trip, sea kayaking, and ice climbing in one awesome trip.

2. Find thrills on the downhills

Mountain biking at Alyeska Resort Alyeska Resort

Mountain biking at Alyeska Resort

Alyeska Resort

 

If you’re looking for the ultimate adrenaline rush, turn your attention to Alyeska Resort, where Alaska’s only lift-accessed downhill bike park is waiting to be tackled. With trails available for bikers of all skill levels, you’re bound to find some terrain that suits your threshold for thrills. Fly down a hill as the gorgeous Alaskan scenery rushes past you! Before you know it, you’ll be hooked on the trails that downhill bikers call “the brown powder.”

3. Iceberg dodge while sea kayaking

Kayaker in the Southwest Prince William Sound in Alaska Alaska Sea Kayakers

Kayaker in the Southwest Prince William Sound in Alaska

Alaska Sea Kayakers

 

Prince William Sound is a half-hour drive from Girdwood and an ideal spot for sea kayaking. Try Alaska Sea Kayakers single-day and multi-day guided trips. The most popular tour takes kayakers to the Kittiwake rookery, where you can spot the black-legged sea bird in its natural habitat. New to sea kayaking? Master the basics with an all-gear-included introductory class before you set out for the sound.

4. Soak up a bird’s-eye view of Alaska

Helicopter in Skagway, Alaska Tony Hisgett

Helicopter in Skagway, Alaska

Tony Hisgett

 

In Alaska, flying is a way of life. Nearly one in forty residents has a pilot’s license. The best way to see the glaciers is from above, so head over to the Alpine Air Alaska hangar off Mt. Hood Road for a flightseeing tour. You’ll hop in a helicopter for a 30-minute tour of the Chugach Mountains. You can also choose a 60 or 90-minute option that includes a glacier landing. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the ancient glaciers in all their glory.

5. Hit the slopes at Alyeska

Ski slopes at Alyska Amanda Mortimer

Ski slopes at Alyska

Amanda Mortimer

 

Located in Chugach State Park, Alyeska Resort is known for being “steep and deep.” Its tree-lined groomed runs are perfect for beginners, and intermediates will love the resort’s long runs and wide open bowls. If you’re up for a challenge, try the North Face, the longest continuous double-black diamond run in North America. Looking for a little freestyling action? Snowboarders of all levels can defy the laws of gravity at Alyeska’s two terrain parks.

6. Fly and float

Rat on the Portage River in Alaksa Chugach Adventures

Rat on the Portage River in Alaksa

Chugach Adventures

 

If rafting alone doesn’t provide the adrenaline fix you need, why not add a helicopter to the mix? The heli-raft tour offered by Chugach Adventures will have you peering down at the remote Chugach Mountains from a Robinson M44 helicopter. You’ll touch down amid the icebergs on Twenty Mile Lake. After that, get ready for a private 12-mile rafting adventure on Twenty Mile River. Keep your eyes out for bears, bald eagles, and moose as you make your way down the river.

7. Be Yeti-like in the backcountry

Man snowshoeing in the snow with a backpack vetal1983

Man snowshoeing in the snow with a backpack

vetal1983

 

Travel back in time with snowshoes instead of a DeLorean. A Gold Mine Snowshoe Tour by Alaska Backcountry Access will take you back to the old frontier days. You’ll take the Iditarod National Historic Trail to a secret destination buried in the Chugach Mountains. Once you arrive, you’ll learn the basics of gold panning and strap on snowshoes to discover frozen waterfalls and snow-filled canyons. Take your adventure to the next level with snowsheering, a mash-up of snowshoeing and canyoneering that will have you rappelling hundreds of feet down to explore the depths of the canyon.

8. Indulge in the apres-ski scene

Chair Five Restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska Chairfive.com

Chair Five Restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska

Chairfive.com

 

After a day on the slopes or in the backcountry, it’s time to warm up and refuel. Check out the Double Musky Inn, a local favorite with roadhouse décor and a Cajun-centric menu. Pro tip: Try the Double Musky’s legendary steak. An amazing tequila and single-malt scotch selection keeps the party going at Chair 5, but the restaurant is worth visiting just for the gourmet burgers, including elk.

9. Tackle the Crow Pass Trail

Group of hikers at Crow Pass Trail in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska Visit Anchorage PR

Group of hikers at Crow Pass Trail in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska

Visit Anchorage PR

 

The Crow Pass includes a portion of the original Iditarod Trail, and it’s considered one of the best hikes in all of Alaska. Locate the trailhead at the end of Crow Creek Road near Girdwood, and set off on the 21-mile trail. Most people need two days to do the whole thing. If you’d prefer to get just a taste of the trail, stick to the first 4 miles. You’ll pass waterfalls, berries, wildflowers, and abandoned mines, and you might meet up with a marmot or mountain goat. Keep in mind: Crow Pass isn’t recommended in the winter due to avalanches. The hike is best experienced from July through September.

10. Race upriver on a jet boat

Satisfy your need for speed with a jet-boating adventure on Carmen Lake. Try a 3.5-hour jet boat-only trip, or choose the eight-hour option that includes lake kayaking and a beachside barbecue. Just being out on the boat is an experience, but you’ll also get a chance to soak up some classic Alaskan scenery: mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers are all around you. Keep your eyes out for moose, eagles and salmon, and be sure to take a nature walk ashore while you’re at the lake.

Nicole Wiegand

Nicole Wiegand is a native New Yorker who writes about everything from travel to technology. She loves exploring the city, hiking with her family, knitting, and cooking.

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