Explore some of Southcentral Alaska’s most breathtaking wilderness, just minutes from Anchorage. Locally-owned Ascending Path offers several day trips out of its headquarters at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood. Hike and kayak to a glacier, explore a rainforest or head far out into the backcountry. Each choice offers stunning views, crisp mountain air, and insight into the flora, fauna and history of the area.
Spencer Kayak Glacier Hike
Ride the rails, kayak though an iceberg-strewn lake and explore Spencer Glacier, all in one trip! This awe-inspiring outing packs several exciting elements into one satisfying day. The journey begins on the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train (either from Anchorage or Portage), where you’ll ride through areas inaccessible to public vehicles, with incredible views out every window. Disembark at the Spencer Whistle Stop, where an Ascending Path van awaits to take your small group (5 or fewer per guide) closer to the action.
Glacial melt fills the lake along with larger icebergs and smaller chunks called “bergy bits” and “growlers.” This ice was formed at least 10,000 ago, so you can literally touch history as you glide through these dark glacial waters. Your one-hour tandem kayak journey is a surreal experience as you approach the face of the glacier and begin to understand its majesty – and its immense size. You’ll have plenty of chances to take photos as the glacier comes closer and closer into your viewfinder!
Once across the lake, you’ll gear up with crampons, harnesses, helmets for a 2-hour explore of Spencer Glacier itself. Discover blue ice, hidden ice caves, crevasses, and deep blue pools of water - all with expert assistance from your Ascending Path guide. Learn about glaciology, the carving of the land by ice, and how this glacier has been affected by climate change. Ask about an upgrade to Ice Climbing if you want to add some vertical adventure to this trip!
Times: 10 hours starting daily at 9am or Noon. Departs from Alaska Railroad Anchorage Depot at 9am or the Ascending Path yurt next to Hotel Alyeska at noon (June 1 – Sept 15).
Iceberg Sea Kayaking
Paddle through icebergs on a tandem sea kayak while approaching a massive glacier. Everyone can enjoy this quintessential arctic adventure no matter their experience level. It’s thrilling to glide through the calm waters of Spencer Lake, touching icebergs along the way and getting a new perspective of one of Alaska’s incredible glaciers. Like the Spencer Kayak Glacier Hike, this trip begins with incredible views from the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train en route from Anchorage or Portage. An hour-and-a-half on the water gives you plenty of time to explore the lake and Spencer Glacier, with pauses for photos along the way!
Times: 6-8 hours starting daily at 9am or Noon. Departs from Alaska Railroad Anchorage Depot at 9am or the Ascending Path yurt next to Hotel Alyeska at noon. (May 28 - Sep 15)
Perfect for families or folks looking for an educational and enjoyable stroll in the woods, this affordable trip explores Girdwood’s Winner Trail in North America’s northern-most temperate coastal rainforest. A fairytale path through lush foliage and old-growth trees forming a canopy overhead, Winner Creek Trail also has historic connections to the original Iditarod Trail. Hike out-and-back on a five-mile journey, while a friendly naturalist helps you interpret what you’re seeing, hearing, and tasting! Nibble on edible leaves, flowers & berries, explore traditional and contemporary herb lore, identify bird song & animal behaviors, and enjoy stories about Native and Alaskan history. You might even see a moose!
Times: 3-hour hike starting daily at 10 am and 3 pm. Departs from Ascending Path yurt next to Hotel Alyeska (June 1 – Sept 15).
Hike the alpine tundra, learn mountaineering skills and get out onto a glacier, all in one excursion. Your trip begins with a bird’s-eye view of the stunning Girdwood scenery, as you ride the Alyeska tram 2,300 feet up into wildflower valleys and mountain tundra. An Ascending Path mountain guide will show you the basics of mountaineering, complete with harness and rope and/or crampons (depending on snow conditions). The hike takes you up 800 feet and back (1 mile total) with plenty of “Natural History Breaks” to rest your lungs and muscles. Be ready for stunning views of seven glaciers, the Chugach Mountains, Turnagain Arm and the Girdwood Valley. Great for families with kids 10 and up!
Times: 3-4 hour excursion, leaving daily at 9 am, 2 pm and 4 pm (June 13 – Sept 15).
Discover amazing features of glacier ice over several hours in a full-day heli-glacier tour. Board one of Alpine Air’s R44 helicopters for a quiet and awe-inspiring ride into the remote back-country. Land on a glacier or at the glacier’s edge and begin your exploration after gearing up with helmets and crampons. Each glacier guide works with just two people for maximum attention to your technique and individual experience. Explore ice caves, find crevasses, moulins, blue ice and more. The trip includes all your equipment, lunch, snacks and water. Add on an ice-climbing option if you also want to get vertical!
Times: Requires advance reservation and fills up quickly! Full day, meeting in Girdwood departing at custom times, returning when you want. (June 1 – Sept 15).
Your small group will hike along the iceberg-filled Spencer Lake, sculpted over thousands of years by Spencer Glacier. Touch icebergs and get up close to the massive face of the glacier – all in relative peace and quiet. The only access to this area is on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery Train, which brings you to the Spencer Whistle Stop. There, your Ascending Path guides transport you along old mining roads to start your trek to the glacier. (While the Forest Service also guides hikes here, only Ascending Path operates a vehicle that brings you closer to the ice. Start your hike where everyone else turns around!)
Total Time: Departing from the Ascending Path yurt at the Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood: six hours. Departing from Anchorage: about 9-hours (your guide and fellow hikers will join you on the train at Portage). (June 1 – Sept 15)
About Ascending Path
The owners of Ascending Path, Matt and Heather Szundy, live the business. (In fact, they met on an ascent of Denali!) Matt has spent his adult life exploring, from Nepal and New Zealand to Antarctica and Alaska. He’s guided for Hollywood film crews, acted as a stunt double for ice climbing films – and was even called on by the White House to assist President Obama on a 2015 trip to Exit Glacier.
Here are some of the reasons Ascending Path is the go-to guiding company for so many:
Ascending Path is one of three permitted operators at Spencer Whistle Stop in the Chugach National Forest. Ride the train to the Whistle Stop and then travel by van for closer access to the Spencer Glacier. Ascending Path nurtures relationships with local partners – such as the Alyeska Resort, Alaska Railroad and Alpine Air – so that visitors can have convenient access to Alaska’s wilderness areas.
Accomplished and enthusiastic mountaineer guides
Ascending Path is the rare guiding company that employs expedition guides for day trips. Your adventure may be led by a guide who has summited Denali, kayaked on month-long ocean expeditions and/or climbed in the Himalaya mountains. Enthusiasm and love of the outdoors is something the Szundys look for in every guide they hire, so when you opt for an Ascending Path guided trip, you’re guaranteed a fascinating adventure filled with tons of interesting facts and maybe even some corny jokes.
Each hike offers a small group to guide ratio. Small groups have less impact on the environment and allow for maximum interaction between guests and guides. Having a fun, friendly and attentive guide can make a regular outing a spectacular day. Learn about glacier formation while sea kayaking or walking beside an iceberg-strewn lake. Discuss the uplift of coastal mountains, and then identify wildflowers. Step into a harness and crampons to learn about glacier hiking while viewing crevasses as you explore an ancient ice field. The pros here not only guide, but they teach and inspire, and with very small ratios, you won’t be lost in a crowd. Each trip is customized to your skills & interests. No previous experience is necessary and trips are family friendly!