15 Best Things to Do in Girdwood, AK

Girdwood, AK
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There are many exciting sights to see and plenty of things to do in Girdwood that will make a trip to Alaska truly memorable.

Girdwood is just 36 miles or a 45-minute drive east of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest metropolis, where most visitors of the state arrive.

Its awesome natural setting and proximity to Anchorage helped shape Girdwood as the only full-fledged resort town in Alaska.

Formerly called Glacier City, Girdwood nestles amid a lush forest on the flanks of the towering peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range.

This natural setting evokes outdoor adventures for visitors and also recalls how Girdwood was founded.

It started around the 1890s as a supply camp for gold miners who staked claims along creeks that feed the Turnagain Arm waterway south of present-day Girdwood.

Aptly enough, this resort town was renamed after Colonel James Girdwood, who staked the first four gold claims in one of these creeks.

Girdwood’s claims are now immortalized in the local landmark Crow Creek Historic Gold Mine.

Surely, a visit to this historic landmark is a fitting item on the things to in Girdwood that can lead to more, as we can see on this list.

Pan for Gold at the Historic Crow Creek Mine

Rusted wheels and metals at Crow Creek Mine
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Take the family for recreational gold panning at the historic Crow Creek Mine that remains operational under husband-and-wife miners Nate and Kate Williamson.

This gold-mining camp was established in 1896 and where Colonel Girdwood staked the first four gold claims in Crow Creek.

Families visiting this mine can enjoy recreational gold panning, feel the delight of working a pan for gold nuggets, and even learn how to run a creek-side sluice box.

Old rusted tools hanging on a shack at Crow Creek Mine
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They can also hike the trails meandering around the Crow Creek Mine’s 400 acres that offers so much to see.

Within the mine’s expanse are buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, as well as vintage mining tools and machines like old hydraulic water devices.

The visitors of Crow Creek Mine can likewise immerse themselves in its beautiful flowerbeds on the backdrop of picturesque coastal mountains.

Access to all these is notably easy and convenient, as you can take the free shuttle of the Glacier Valley Transit to and from the historic Crow Creek Mine.

Colorful flowers at Crow Creek Mine
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Explore the Historic Iditarod Trail

The upper section of the legendary Iditarod Trail can be explored via Winner Creek Trailhead.

This access point is only 3 miles up along Crow Creek Road that leads to the Historic Crow Creek Mine.

Hikers can also switch to the forest from the multiple pullouts of the road to search for the Iditarod Trail.

The Iditarod National Historic Trail is a product of the Gold Rush Era of Alaska, developed to connect communities and miners.

In more recent times, the trail became iconic for its grueling 998-mile dog sled Iditarod Race from Anchorage to Nome.

Time your visit to Girdwood on the first weekend of March for a chance to witness this amazing, highly competitive race of sled dog mushers.

Go Skiing on Mount Alyeska

Cable cars at Mount Alyeska
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Girdwood takes pride in being home to Mount Alyeska, which has earned the reputation as the top Alaskan destination for skiers.

The mountain’s 1,610 skiable acres are conveniently accessible to skiers via the Alyeska Resort on Arlberg Avenue in Girdwood.

Skiers can pick from Mount Alyeska’s 76 named runs and trails which get 650 inches average annual snowfall of at the top.

Aerial view of Mount Alyeska
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Skiing novices will enjoy their initiation on the slopes at the Fun Field and Magic Carpet ski lift of Alyeska Resort.

Advanced skiers, on the other hand, will feel the exhilaration of tackling the North Face of Mount Alyeska.

Here, they’ll face a double black diamond run considered the longest continuous ski route in North America.

Twilight sunset at Mount Alyeska
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Dine at Jack Sprat

This restaurant is located on Olympic Mountain Loop and endears itself to diners with its casual ambiance and healthy glow.

Jack Sprat immediately impresses with its large, Bavarian-style diners’ booths and open-kitchen layout.

The restaurant’s prime spot is its front room featuring a two-story glass solarium offering scenic views of Mount Alyeska.

During summer, Jack Sprat patrons can enjoy outdoor dining at the restaurant’s deck providing superb mountain views.

This restaurant also maintains a seasonal beer garden that, on special occasions, hosts live music and social events.

At Jack Sprat, you can fill your dinner plates with local fresh-catch specials, like halibut, rockfish, salmon, or spot prawns.

For yet another menu pick, consider the Korean dish Bibimbap with rice, bean sprouts, kimchi, pork, and a fried egg.

Enjoy a Stay at the Alyeska Resort

Body of water near the Alyeska resort building.
boyter9, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether it’s an Alaska visit in the summer, winter, spring, or fall, you’d be on the right footing with a stay at the Alyeska Resort.

This expansive resort is widely considered a premier year-round destination in Alaska.

Established in 1959, Alyeska Resort offers more besides its 300 hotel guest rooms and dining facilities.

The resort’s amenities include an aerial tram with a capacity of 60 passengers who can marvel at the wondrous views of the Chugach mountain range.

Alyeska Resort not only features a saltwater swimming pool, a spa, and a fitness center but also boasts the largest ski area in Alaska.

This resort is also an ideal jump-off point for hiking, mountain biking, and trekking on many of the nature trails and paths in and around Girdwood.

Have a Beer at Girdwood Brewing Company

Visit this local brewer at Alyeska Highway for a taste of fresh beer while enjoying the rustic ambiance of Girdwood.

You will immediately feel the unique Alaskan vibe at the timber-framed taproom of Girdwood Brewing Company.

As you down a mug of its fresh brew, you can ponder on the local art and ski relics adorning the taproom.

If you prefer drinking outdoors, take your drink to this brewery’s cozy beer garden with fire pits and plenty of seats.

Girdwood Brewing Company offers a series of rotating taps plus four of its core beers.

Non-alcoholic beverages, like root beer, kombucha, and coffee, are also available for the teetotalers.

Learn about Girdwood’s History at the Roundhouse

Exterior of the roundhouse during daylight.
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The Roundhouse is an octagonal building constructed in 1960, which originally served as a warming hut and terminus of the Alyeska Resort’s ski lift.

Its perch on the Alyeska mountain slope at 2,280 feet above sea level makes Roundhouse even more distinctive.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, Roundhouse is accessible by ski lift or aerial tram.

People enjoying the beautiful view from Roundhouse observation deck
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It was converted into a museum and interpretive center after the construction of the Alyeska tramway in 1960.

The exhibits and displays in the Roundhouse Museum depict the history of mining and skiing in the Girdwood area.

These include antique skiing equipment and a Girdwood relief map that you can appreciate more through the help of an interpretive Alyeska Resort staff.

Gear Up for the Downhills of the Alyeska Bike Park

This bike park of Alyeska Resort sets itself apart from the other mountain biking destinations in Girdwood.

Here, you will experience the challenging thrill of lift-accessed downhill biking adventures, which include flowing trails, logs, and short boardwalks.

The design of the Alyeska Bike Park, however, offers choices of downhill routes for all ability levels.

The trail picks include a mix of single-track, road, and man-made features in their top-to-bottom configuration.

Watch out, too, for the bike festival and downhill race series in the Alyeska Bike Park to make the most out of your visit to Girdwood.

Take a Flightseeing Tour via Alpine Air Alaska

A red helicopter parked near a body of water.
Sovxx, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This air tour service provider on Mt. Hood Drive in Girdwood offers flightseeing by helicopter, which is considered more enjoyable than via a fixed-wing aircraft.

With a chopper tour, you can land on a glacier for that once-in-a-lifetime experience of walking or even dog sledding on ancient ice.

This exciting trip can go as far as Prince William Sound, where the sight of its tide-water glaciers can be an incomparable experience.

Red helicopter taking off near a field of trees.
Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, you can pick air tour flights with landing on the Chugach Mountains for glacier hiking, iceberg rafting, or glacier kayaking.

Just going on flightseeing may be enough, though, as only moments after lift-off, you’ll be soaring over snowcapped mountains onward beautiful glaciers and vast, remote wilderness.

A red helicopter parked near a mountain.
Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Savor a Dish at Seven Glaciers Restaurant

This extraordinary dining destination got its name from the seven hanging glaciers visible from the restaurant’s 2,300-foot perch atop Mount Alyeska.

An AAA Four Diamond dining venue, Seven Glaciers Restaurant is accessible via a tram ride from the Alyeska Resort.

Diners of this restaurant during summer and fall can also explore the nearby alpine tundra for spellbinding views of the Girdwood Valley and the Turnagain Arm’s silvery waters.

The main course, though, would be on the menu list of Seven Glaciers Restaurant.

As an appetizer, one great pick is the restaurant’s Ahi Tuna Carpaccio that can segue to entrees ranging from Alaskan King Crab to New York Steak.

Cap these with a dessert of Bavarian chocolate cake for a fulfilling visit to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant.

Climb Mount Alyeska

Lush green landscape of Mount Alyeska
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This mountain from which Alyeska Resort drew its name stands at 3,939 feet above the Turnagain Arm waterway at sea level.

Mount Alyeska, although more popular for downhill skiing, is also an exciting mountain to climb.

Its peak offers breathtaking views of the Girdwood Valley, several nearby mountains and glaciers, and Turnagain Arm.

There are trails up the mountain’s peak accessible right from the resort, and one of these is the North Face Trail.

This 2.2-mile path is steep and suited for advanced hikers who can comfortably tackle its 2,000-foot vertical slope.

After the climb, which can be done half-day, the descent can be much easier as a complimentary resort ride on the aerial tram is available.

Have a Coffee Break at The Grind

This coffee shop on Hightower Road is no Starbucks, but it’s surely worth a stop either before or after skiing or snowboarding in Girdwood.

The folks at The Grind swears that their coffee beans are organic, sourced from countries like Colombia and Kenya.

The friendly barista of this coffee shop will sate your yearning for caffeine, with offerings like a cappuccino with three espresso shots.

You can also try The Grind’s red bull special with pineapple and raspberry for added measure.

Check out also the quaint souvenirs at this coffee shop for some fitting souvenirs of your Girdwood trip.

Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Bisons resting on the green fields at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
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This nonprofit wildlife center, located at Seward Highway, displays its injured and rescued animals.

You can swing through the center, staying in your vehicle to see these wild creatures for rehabilitation.

Group of reindeer at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
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To see a bear, bison, or a moose in the center, another fun way is riding your bike or walking around the 1.5-mile loop of the sanctuary.

The center also offers a 90-minute guided tour that will give you a closer look at the center’s operations.

This tour also opens an opportunity for you to feed one of the center’s rescued wildlife.

Bears feeding on the grass at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
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Buy an Artwork at the Girdwood Center for Visual Arts

Visit the gallery of this center on Olympic Mountain Loop, where you can find various art pieces for sale.

These artworks are the creations of more than 30 Alaskan artists who specialize in a wide range of media.

The gallery of the Girdwood Center for Visual Arts is a nonprofit cooperative devoted to promoting local artists and their creative interpretation of Alaska.

Purchases in this gallery help support the continuing development of the arts in Alaska.

Pitch Your Tent at the Girdwood Campground

You can pitch a tent at the Girdwood Tent Campground on the Alyeska Highway for affordable accommodation in Girdwood.

This facility is open only during summer, though, and it provides just 18 rustic sites on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campers here can stay a maximum of 14 consecutive nights, with their tents set up amid tall cottonwood and spruce trees.

The campground’s facilities include a cooking area and fire ring, as well as bear-proof food lockers.

Campers can draw drinking water from a spigot on the grounds of the nearby City Hall building.

Final Thoughts

The town of Girdwood is a one-stop shop for leisure trips seeking to capture all the essence of Alaska.

The Alyeska Resort alone provides a wide range of recreational activities that can satisfy every visitors’ desire for fun and leisure.

Girdwood is truly a destination where the things to do and sights to see can draw visitors' interest regardless of the season.