If you’d like to explore a snow-bound trail system through a majestic rain forest that gets little visitation in winter, try out Bird Valley in Chugach State Park south of Anchorage off the Seward Highway. You and the family can stroll, ski, snowshoe or snow-bike for hours through a serene and almost surreal setting of towering trees with an occasional stupendous view of Penguin Peak and Bird Ridge.
Only a few yards from the parking lot, it will feel like you’ve ventured deep into a coastal forest. The valley’s network of old logging roads, some dating to gold rush days, invite off-trail exploration. The dim, mossy forest seems to close around you, an otherworldly vibe with its carpet of snow.
Yes, the area is multi-use, open to ATVs April 1 to Nov. 30, and snowmobiles once snow becomes deep enough. But here’s the secret. Bird Valley snowmachine traffic is usually sparse and slow moving. At the same time, the use ends up packing a groomed trail that loops about 13 miles through the park.
This symbiotic multi-use allows skiers, snowshoers, hikers and snow-bikers to travel much further and faster than if they had to break trail. It’s not unusual to spend hours touring deep into the valley on a firm track without seeing—or hearing—any other humans or their devices.
- Overflow. Penguin and Bird creeks sometimes escape their channels and flood trails, creating ice dams and treacherous footing. It’s usually easy to detour around through the woods.
- Penguin Peak avalanche path. Located about 6/10ths of a mile up the main trail, this spectacular meadow regularly avalanches at least once a season, often in the spring. During period of avalanche hazard, cross this 300-yard opening without stopping.
After heading up valley 150 yards, take the obvious left (west fork) about a half mile to the ford over Penguin Creek. Once snow bridges are in, more trails lead to an overlook of Bird Creek canyon. A difficult-to-follow route leads along the rim to Bird Falls, requiring down climbing on steep, wooded pitches.
The bridge over Penguin Creek
This old ATV bridge leads to the upper valley trail system, with a possible loop back down the valley to the Penguin Creek ford site. About 150 yards in, take the main trail (right fork) up the valley about one mile up valley. (Don’t stop in the avalanche meadow during hazardous periods.) The creek is spectacular in winter, building glaciers and ice formations.
Other things to do near Bird Valley in Winter
- Ride or walk a portion of Bird-to-Gird. Traffic often packs a portion of this summer paved trail with world-class views of Turnagain Arm. You can take the trail from the Bird Creek Campground parking almost a mile south to the highway underpass. Beyond that lies avalanche danger, so further travel is not recommended.
- Overlook the Creek. Frigid weather builds fantastic ice boulders and strange mud formations as Turnagain’s powerful tide sculpts and freezes.
- Rent one of two public use cabins located in Bird Creek Campground — Bore Tide or Beluga.