Winner Creek is one of our favorite trails to take visiting friends and family. It’s only 45 minutes from Anchorage, and it has a few special treats that we’ll tell you about below. Think of the trail as two distinct sections or experiences:
- The lower Winner Creek Trail is an easy 3-mile hike on a wide, well-developed trail that begins just behind the Alyeska Tram building and ends at Crow Creek Road, just below Crow Creek Mine. This is what 95% of people do.
- Upper Winner Creek Trail leads 9 miles through high country into spectacular mountains. It’s a stunning out-and-back hike…or you can go over Berry Pass, hike down to the Twentymile River, and packraft out.
Lower Winner Creek Trail
This is a perfect trail for families or people who want an easy hiking experience with some rare spectacles. The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska. The first 3/4 mile is a wide, well-developed boardwalk. The next 1.5 miles are easy hiking along a firm dirt trail through lush forest—the northernmost rainforest in North America.
And then you get your first treat: Winner Creek Gorge. The entire river is forced into a narrow constriction of solid rock only 15 feet wide. A solid wooden bridge towers above. Walking across it, you’ll feel the water thundering beneath. It shoots through the gorge like a cannon, spewing frothy white water. Look just below the bridge, and you’ll see the river go over a series of 5-10 foot drops.
Better yet, after crossing the bridge, take some of the side trails right down to the water’s edge. You’ll feel like you’re right in the canyon. We always spend a good 15-20 minutes lingering at the river’s edge and taking in the awe of the scene.
You hike only .2 miles further and get to your next treat: The Hand Tram. Yes, it’s safe. But it’s also heart-pounding thrill to step into the metal cage, and slowly pull yourself out and over thrashing Glacier Creek, more than a hundred feet below. Stop in the middle of the hand tram to take a selfie! If others are waiting, keep going and get to the other side. If not, take your time.
Once you get across the hand tram, it’s only another 1 mile to Crow Creek Road. You’ll be at Milepoint 2.9. If you want to see Crow Creek Mine, it’s only a few hundred yards up the road. If not, you can either walk back the way you came or have pre-arranged a ride back down Crow Creek Road into town.
Many people turn around after taking the hand tram across. You’ll ride it a second time to get back to the other side, then hike back down to the hotel the way you came. From the hotel to the hand tram and back is a 2 to 2.5 hour roundtrip adventure. If you want to do it in half the time, do it in the other direction. Drive your car to the Winner Creek Gorge Trailhead at Milepoint 2.9 of Crow Creek Road, hike the mile to the hand tram, then another .2 mile down to the Gorge, then hike back to your car.
Upper Winner Creek Trail
This trail is only a few years old, and it’s become a favorite of Anchorage adventurers. To get to the upper trail, you’ll turn right at the Gorge and gently ascend into the high country. The views across the alpine valley are beyond description.
There are multiple places where water needs to be crossed on the high trail, but the crossings aren't that difficult. As you hike higher, the trail becomes more primitive. There are several avalanche run-outs that can have deep snow even into summer. The trail can get muddy in places. But the views as you get to Berry Pass are some of the best in Southcentral Alaska. You’ll feel like you’re in deep Alaska wilderness.
Some people will continue over the pass down to the Twentymile River on the other side and packraft out to the Seward Highway. Be forewarned if you intend to raft - the first part of the float has multiple serious sweepers, but eases up after that.
Hiking from the Alyeska Hotel, up and over the pass to Twentymile, then floating back out to the Seward Highway is a full-day trip, only for experienced adventurers who are competent in the Alaska backcountry.
In late summer and fall the berry picking can be good, so bring a bucket along.