Get Your Summer Mountain High in Girdwood and Alyeska Resort

I bet if John Denver were still alive he’d sing a song about Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. The stunning scenery nicely coupled with diverse hiking options makes me want to break out in a few chords from The Sound of Music, nevermind Denver’s signature song. Think it’s winter-only at Alyeska? Not a chance. Summertime is equally kid-pleasing, especially up high.

AK Fam powered through the last day of summer vacation Sunday; running in the Providence Kids’ 2k during the Big Wild Life Runs in downtown Anchorage, then driving 45 miles south along the Seward highway to Girdwood and some truly outstanding hiking. We’d intended to take a casual post-race stroll through the wooded and incredibly popular Winner Creek trail to show off Alaska to AK Cousin. What we found were two very different options, and not-so-casual, either.

Enjoying the wide tread of the new Girdwood Nordic Ski Trail, just beyond Alyeska's Grand Hotel.

The first was a pleasant surprise in the form of the new Girdwood Nordic Ski Club trail just northeast of the Alyeska Grand Hotel parking lot along Arlberg Road. Almost finished for the 2012 Nordic ski season, 3k of the 5k loop is finished and waiting for customers of the multi-use variety. Wide open for the expected skiers, bikers, and wandering hikers like ourselves, the trail is the result of endless fundraising and effort by the Ski Club who have been working on this project for years. Traveling through dense forest and a delightful tundra meadow with super views of the Glacier/Winner Creek Valley to the east, the Ski Trail is destined to be an AKontheGO favorite, no matter the season. AK Dog romped at the end of his leash, barking at saucy squirrels and sniffing stream beds, AK Kid found sticks to create a wiggly path behind his sneakers, and we grownups delighted in quiet serenity only steps away from bustling Alyeska Resort, the spicy smell of spruce and mountain hemlock permeating our senses with the most natural of perfumes. Paralleling Winner Creek at a number of points, the Ski Trail nonetheless was much less busy, a pleasant change from the highway of weekend Winner Creek hiking.

Hills are gradual and easily managed by most kids. Jog strollers would do best on this trail, mostly for the soggy, bark-chipped beginning section. Do remind kids of safe bear-aware behavior, too, as black bruins are frequent visitors around Girdwood. While construction is ongoing during the weekdays, weekends remain equipment-free, but do watch for updates at the trailhead and heed all signage dictating direction. We’ll be back here in January, skis in hand, and look forward to this new option for year-round recreation near Alyeska Resort.

Alyeska Resort's tram whisks visitors up and/or down 2,000+ vertical feet.

Our second hike of the day was of the most spontaneous kind. A ride up the steep slopes of the ski resort is a must for anyone visiting Alyeska, especially during the summer months when the green hills and wild flowers make a gorgeous foreground for Turnagain Arm and glaciers in the distance. With continued sunny skies and mild temperatures, we boarded the Alyeska Resort tram for a five minute ride to the top. Summer hikers enjoy a plethora of trails leading to and from the resort’s summit area; from cat track to switchback, most families with kids can navigate at least one or two options, and Alyeska does a great job of publishing a summertime hiking map, available online or at the tram’s ticket window.

We chose North Face as our descent of choice. Steep, full of switchbacks, but with a decided alpine feel, we were prepared and ready for a little burly hiking on this day. Note: Kids (and parents) who opt for North Face must wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for single-track hiking on rocky and/or muddy terrain. This is no place for running, jumping, or otherwise carousing along the trail’s steep slopes. That said, this is the perfect hike for a family looking for a challenge, and Alyeska knows it, offering a FREE tram ride down if one makes it up the 2.2 miles of mountain face.

Cover-shot photo ops greeted us at every turn; from tiny blooming flowers at our feet to a glorious rainbow spreading overhead, even AK Kid was entranced by the wonderous landscape before us, including an impressive paragliding contingent that swooped above and below almost constantly. Busy but not expansively so, the entire hike took about an hour and half, mostly because we kept stopping to take pictures and ogle. We also were cautious of the muddy terrain around the halfway point, concerned it would be too much for AK Kid (an idle worry, it turned out, since he bounced down each section with the surefootedness of a mountain goat).

Follow the Leader down the North Face Trail at Alyeska Resort.

Going up? Allow at least 2 hours with kids for said scenery and frequent water/gear-check breaks. Headed down? Take your time and enjoy the view; it’s safer, anyway. The trail leads around the “Barnyard” ski run to the east of the resort and toward the back of Alyeska Grand Hotel and the tram terminal, just right for heading inside to a snack or beverage at the Aurora Bar and Grill.

Not a bad windup to summer vacation, this. Unique, beautiful, and a darned good workout, too. Any parent would like that, right? Just one more reason Alyeska is tops in our book.

Alyeska Resort is open to hiking until the snow flies, but check their website for mountain conditions HERE. They also host the annual Fungus Fair (yeah, really) this weekend at the Day Lodge and surrounding resort area, perfect for scoring one or two more hikes in the company of some mushroom fanatics. Don’t forget, too, that the resort offers great specials and stay/play packages throughout the late summer and fall months. Hike, then enjoy the luxury of the hotel and spa. Oh yes, what a feeling.

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