Between humming bars of “Jingle Bells” and downing gallons of hot chocolate to soothe the savage swing of “YAY, it’s snowing!” and “ACK, I need to switch the tires on the car!” came a delightful afternoon with two other AKontheGO families at kid-pleasing Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood. Snowy it was, and wet it became, but Winner Creek lived up to its name and led eight kids, three dogs, and six adults through the lush spruce forests near Alyeska Ski Resort.
Popular with hotel guests, Girdwood residents, and Anchorage families eager for a not-too-tough trail to appease their budding nature explorers, Winner Creek is a wide, gravel-and-wood traverse through one of the oldest spruce forests of southcentral Alaska; burls, conks, and interesting downed trees provide ample fuel for active imaginations, and frigid Alaska creeks house white caps of water aboard rocky shorelines. At 1.5 miles one way, it’s also the perfect distance for kids just starting to hike with their parents, instead of on their parents. With the added benefit of a rushing river over which one must cross using a hand tram, it’s a pretty sweet family day trek.
Girdwood is 45 minutes south along the Seward Highway; find the trailhead by parking near the Alyeska Hotel lot (or in it, as the situation warrants), then walking south along the side of the building and the gondola base area; climb a short hill and veer left to the trailhead sign. Winner Creek was recently upgraded to accommodate the enormous amount of foot traffic during the summer, and it was plenty popular on this rainy/snowy September afternoon, too. Wide enough for kids to walk two abreast, with plenty of side space through which we parents (and children) could watch for bears and moose, the tread is nicely maintained with gravel and planks, and although it was slippery on this slushy day, we all appreciated the upgrades.
Follow the trail around, through, and up into the deeper reaches of the forest until you cross a newly-constructed bridge over the creek, keeping a sharp eye on kids due to the violent drop of the narrow, wild Winner Creek Gorge. Continue another few minutes to the hand tram over rushing Glacier Creek. Turn around here if crossing the creek is not your bag (and for some, the 2-person, 400lb-max capacity tram is a bit nervewracking); continue across if you want to make it a round trip; we parked one vehicle at this end and shuttled folks back to the Alyeska parking lot.
The trail actually continues beyond the hand tram to the Historic Iditarod Trail-Crow Pass for longer hikes or overnights. We were content, however, to make a 2-mile break for it, and snack on pies from Coast Pizza back by the Seward Highway.
Success, of course, is measured by smiles and ever-growing stories around a large pepperoni with extra cheese. Judging by the grins, I think we accomplished this quite nicely. Pizza sauce notwithstanding.
Learn more about Girdwood and Alyeska Resort activities by reading previous posts, below: