With every passing day, Alaska creeps closer to autumn and families start thinking about school, sports, and the end of what was a spectacular summer, weather-wise. At least around here, the long trips are completed, and AKontheGO is settling in to a comfortable routine of preparing for another interesting and adventurous fall and winter. But we’re not done exploring, no way, and you shouldn’t be, either, for with the departure of one season comes the arrival of the next, and that’s a perfect reason to drive South on the Seward highway to the little village of Girdwood.
Home to about 2,000 residents (and swelling to twice that during the ski season), Girdwood is a hopping, happening place for year-round outdoor recreation, and our favorite time to visit is not winter, but late summer and early fall, when leaves are just beginning to blush and crowds are thinner. Located about 40 minutes from Anchorage, Girdwood has a famous history dating back to the Gold Rush, and an impressive, modern feel with with success of Alyeska Resort, the state’s biggest (and only) luxury ski resort. Known for steep and deep runs with dry powder that draws experts from around the world, Girdwood is a hub for alpine, Nordic, and backcountry skiing.
Beyond the boards, though, lie three other seasons of outdoor experiences that appeal to families, largely due to Girdwood’s accessibility from Anchorage. AKontheGO recently entertained out-of-town visitors for a day in Girdwood, and offers a few highlights in case you’d like to make mini-vacation out of your next day off.
Getting there: Girdwood is about 40 miles south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway by car. One can also take the Alaska Railroad to or from Girdwood, with an Anchorage departure of 6:45 a.m. and a Girdwood return at 8:55 p.m., meaning visitors will have an entire day to explore the town. Note: It is a long walk from the train station to Girdwood proper, so bring bikes or arrange for a ride with Glacier Valley Transit, Girdwood’s community transportation service.
Playing in Girdwood: Hiking? Biking? Scenery-viewing? Swinging? It’s all here in one nice, neat little village that truly knows how to welcome guests.
- Alyeska Resort offers a 2,300-foot aerial tram ride up Mount Alyeska, with great views and an opportunity to hike back down via the North Face Trail. Hint: If you and your kids can swing it, a hike UP will earn you a free ride down, a savings of at least $100 for a family of four. The resort also rents mountain bikes for those who’d like to explore the epic trails that cater to nearly every skill level. Bikes are available for rent through September 7.
- Take to the trails of Winner Creek (and Upper Winner Creek for a longer, more strenuous hike), or the Multi-Use Nordic Loop, a 5K trail system that beings near Arlberg Avenue near Hotel Alyeska. Find a great trail map HERE. Another option is to find a guided hike at Crow Pass via Ascending Path, an adventure company based in Girdwood. The all-day hike is full of history and interesting stories, and the comfort of a guide for those new to hiking or Alaska. $140/adults, $120/kids 9-11.
- Cycle your way from the Hotel Alyeska along the paved pathway, two miles to town, then continue toward the Seward Highway (also a designated path) or take the “Airport Loop” trail that circles Moose Meadows and winds back to the hotel area.
- Pan for gold, or just explore the antiques, equipment, and history of Crow Creek Mine, a few miles from town along Crow Creek Mine Road. Everyone is welcome at Crow Creek, and kids, especially, seem to love the small houses and shops crammed with “old-timey” (as AK Kid says) tools, furnishings, signs, lanterns, telephones, shovels, store goods….you name it, Crow Creek has it. And it’s unbelievably fun. Admission is $10, kids seven and under are free. Panning for gold is $20/day for adults, $10/kids over seven.
- Take a swing or slide at the Girdwood Community Playground, located in the downtown core. With a skate park, slides, swings, and all manner of make-believe, this is a great place to picnic, have a snack, or allow the kids time to stretch their legs.
Eating in Girdwood:
- Begin your day at The Bake Shop, located at the bottom of Chair 3 at Alyeska Resort. Load up on coffee, pastries, bagels, pancakes, and more. I always feel better after a trip to The Bake Shop, especially because of their commitment to home-grown goodies. Note: They do not take credit cards, so carry cash!
- Lunch at Chair 5, a favorite eatery among pizza-and-burger aficionados, with a craft beer to wash it all down. Kids will like the smaller pies and cheesy french fries.
- Dinner is nice at Jack Sprat, a wholesome and beautifully-themed restaurant near The Bake Shop. I love their fresh, Alaska-grown ingredients, full bar, and trendy, but still kid-friendly atmosphere. AK Kid likes their veggies and pasta, and that’s saying a lot. They also serve vegan options.