Why This Trip?
If you've booked a 7-day stay at Bob's Girdwood Retreat, here are some ideas on how to turn your stay into a full Alaskan experience.
Anchorage to Girdwood, Day in Girdwood
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Girdwood is the Alaska you came to see, just 45 minutes from the Anchorage airport. Why base in Anchorage when you can stay in a charming resort town ringed by mountains and hanging glaciers? This is small town America. You will love the relaxed pace and uber-friendly locals. Girdwood is an ideal base camp, because it’s closer to Alaska’s most iconic experiences: glacier cruises, flightseeing, hiking, river rafting, and just breathing in the fresh mountain air!
Your trip begins with the 45-minute drive along Turnagain Arm to Girdwood–one of the world’s most stunning drives (awarded US Forest Service Scenic Byway, All-American Road, Alaska Scenic Byway, etc.). You can do it in 45-minutes, but give yourself at least 90 minutes to 2 hours (and if you’re into photography, even longer!) Roadside pull-outs offer 180-degree views of the Arm (a bay), the Kenai Mountains, chances to see Beluga Whales, Dall Sheep, and Bald Eagles, as well as restrooms and interpretive panels. You might also see the Bore Tide while driving down the arm, a natural phenomenon where the incoming tide forms a wave up to 6 feet high. Adventurous locals get on it with their paddle boards and surf it for miles. See all the highlights of the road in our Turnagain Arm driving guide.
Plan a flightseeing tour for your first day. (That way, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can reschedule for another day during your stay.) It’s the only way to truly appreciate how wide open, untouched, and grand the Alaska landscape is. The Chugach Range is on par with any mountain range in Alaska with huge rocky peaks rising thousands of feet above dozen-mile long glaciers, waterfalls plunging down mountainsides, sheep clinging to impossibly steep cliffs, and blue glacial lakes studded with shining white icebergs. Connect with Alpine Air. Tours range from 30-90 minutes. Some land on the glacier. If you have kids (or you’re a kid at heart!) do the tour where you land on a glacier and ride behind an Iditarod dogsled team.
Then head to our place. It’s right at the base of the mountain. You can check-in at 4pm. After bringing in your luggage, unwind! Walk out on the deck, crank up the very cool, hand-drawn and -carved metal “Dragonfly Lotus” firebowl, and take in the panoramic mountain scene in the circle of your friends and family. (Can you tell I’m proud of this firebowl?)
For dinner, walk 5 minutes over to Jack Sprat (healthy, delicious cuisine with great vegetarian options). It’s probably my favorite local restaurant. They keep a wood fire burning just outside where you can hang out and meet locals while waiting for your table. Get the Yam Fries with Aioli sauce as an appetizer; my favorite!
Remember this is the land of the Midnight Sun, and the sun won’t set before 10pm until September. There’s plenty more time to enjoy the views from the deck (or even the hot tub) after your meal.
Choose your Girdwood Adventure
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There are so many other things to do in Girdwood. Three days isn’t enough, so you’ll have to choose.
Hiking: If you like hiking, Girdwood has one of my favorite hikes in Alaska. The Winner Creek Trail leaves from behind the hotel and winds through mossy old-growth rainforest up to a thundering gorge with a bridge spanning above the water fury. It’s mesmerizing. I usually cross the bridge, then climb down to the river on the opposite shore and hang out for a bit. Ask a local or call the Alyeska Hotel and ask whether the hand tram is open. If it is, take it across the river, and hike another mile through the forest to the Crow Creek Road.
Another popular trail is to drive up to the very top of Crow Creek Road and hike a few miles out the Crow Creek Trail. There’s an amazing cascade right at the parking lot that you will want to spend a few minutes gawking at.
If you’re up for a challenge, choose the steep North Face Trail up Mt. Alyeska – the winter ski mountain. If you hike up, you can enjoy a beer or snack at the top, and ride the tram down for free.
Girdwood has great biking trails. Rent from Powderhound or Alyeska Mountain Sports and either take the 12-mile (one-way) “Bird to Gird” trail along the old highway road with great Inlet views, or buy a pass to ride up the chairlift and downhill bike down the seriously gnarly trails on the mountain. (Powderhound is only a 5-minute walk from our house.)
History / Gold: Visit Crow Creek Mine, an operational mine run by a mining family. You can take a historical tour of the grounds, and pan for gold. If you visit Crow Creek, right before the parking area is a trailhead for the opposite side of the Winner Creek Trail. Hike the short distance to the hand tram (which is currently closed) and use that as your turnaround point. It’s the best of the temperate rainforest on display with mossy trees, big old-growth spruce - it almost feels like Jurassic Park.
Families with Young Kids: If your kids haven’t already seen the awesome playground visible from the main road in Girdwood and begged you to go, now is the time. Tucked in amid huge cottonwood trees, it’s a true community spot. Then go to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, just 15-minutes down the highway. Kids also tend to really enjoy the hands-on activity of gold panning at Crow Creek.
Cap off your Girdwood adventure with dinner at the Seven Glaciers Restaurant, perched 2,300 feet above sea level on Mount Alyeska. It’s one of only three AAA Four Diamond restaurants in Alaska, and you’ll want to make reservations in advance. The restaurant is open Wednesday - Saturday. You’ll drive to the hotel (5 minutes) and take the tram up and back down after dinner.
If you’d rather something more casual, hit up Chair 5, the local pizza joint and watering hole. Or the Sitzmark, a mountainside bar and grill with big picture windows, and a great deck on a sunny day.
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Make this your “glaciers galore day.” There are two main options I describe below. Neither of these tours leave first thing in the morning. I usually wake up and get a workout in, either a heartpounder of a hike up the steep North Face Trail or a jog along the Girdwood Bike Path to the hotel and back, shower, then head over to the Bake Shop for breakfast (a 5-minute walk). Everything is good: their sourdough pancakes, homemade granola, vegetarian omelette. I usually also pick up some homemade bread and jams to go. Or their sweet rolls, spelled “decadent.”
#1. If you want to get within feet of glaciers, and even raft amongst them, catch the 11am Glacier Discovery Whistlestop Train to Spencer Glacier. It’s a 7-minute drive from our place to Girdwood Stop on the Alaska Railroad. You’ll ride through one of my favorite valleys in Alaska–the Placer River Valley in the Chugach National Forest. It’s pristine, with no roads. In summer, you’ll see amazing mountain, meadow, and glacier vistas–and probably spot moose. But in Spring, the snowpack is still 6-10 feet deep, and it’s one of my favorite valleys to cross country on the frozen crust. If you want a sneak preview of the valley, check out this video I made by mounting a camera to the wing strut of my Cessna 182.
There’s a lake at the base of Spencer Glacier. Icebergs calve off the glacier and blow across the lake. You can walk the shore of the lake on your own and photograph them. Or you can book a complete package with Chugach Adventures that includes the train, and either kayaking or rafting around the icebergs. This area is only accessible by train, so there’s never more than a few others on the water. The experience feels remote and intimate. You’ll be back in Girdwood by around 5:30pm.
#2. Leave our place by 11am (driving) to catch the 11:30am tunnel to the port of Whittier. (This is the world’s longest mountain tunnel.) Take a day cruise into the waters of Prince William Sound where you’ll see the enormous tidewater glaciers you’ve seen in all the brochures! On the 26 Glacier Cruise, you’ll not only see 26 glaciers but also park in front of one hoping to see blocks of ice break off and crash into the ocean (lunch included). You’ll also see seals, sea lions, seabirds, and maybe eagles and whales. If you want a more active experience, kayaking and jet skiing are also an option, as is chartering your own private boat with Captain Mike at Lazy Otter Charters. He and his wife Kelly are good friends who’ve dropped our family off on some of the most memorable trips of our lives. They can bring kayaks along.
When you return to Girdwood, try Spoonline Bistro for dinner. It’s small and intimate, and she can accommodate any dietary need like paleo, keto, gluten free, and vegan. Get dessert to go and eat it on the deck when you get back to the house. If you like Sushi, the Sakura Asian Bistro at the Alyeska Hotel is seriously good sushi.
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Today your destination is the Central Kenai Peninsula, also known by locals as “Alaska’s Playground” – and for good reason. There’s a lot to choose from. Here are a few great ways to spend the day:
Raft or Fish the Kenai River: Drive just over an hour to Cooper Landing and choose a day of fishing or floating on the world-famous, turquoise blue Kenai River. Float trips on the Kenai are calm and mild and are great for families with kids, and range from 2-hours (multiple departures a day) to full-day experiences (starting at 10 or 11am).
Fishing trips for salmon, raindbow trout, and dolly varden start early (between 4:30 and 7:30am!) so you’ll need an early start from Girdwood. Full day trips last 8-9 hours, but shorter 4-hour half day trips are also available. Guides will take you to the best spots on the river, provide all the gear and instruction, and clean your catch at the end of the day. Bring a fillet back home for dinner and have the rest frozen and shipped to your home.
Whitewater Rafting on Six Mile Creek: If you really have the heart for adventure, just 40 minutes south of Girdwood you can also choose to raft Six Mile Creek, one of the most famous, and most challenging whitewater runs in Alaska, with class IV and V rapids. Our adrenaline junky friends that have done this have said it was the highlight on their trip. The trip requires an in-river swim test before you’re approved to go. Book with Nova Alaska Guides.
Hiking: There are some incredible trails on the central Kenai Peninsula, all loved by locals. In July, you might see bears fishing in the falls from the Russian River Trail. If you want to go into wide open high country dotted with lakes and green mountainsides, consider hiking a portion of the Johnson Pass Trail. Looking for a steep, thigh-burner? Try Carter Lake.
After your adventure, head back to Girdwood. Maybe you have fresh salmon to prepare! If so, swing by Girdwood Brewing first for a pint, or get a growler (a gallon) of beer to go and enjoy it on the deck. If you’re looking to dine out, casual options after a day of adventure include Chair 5, the local pizza joint and watering hole. Or the Sitzmark, a mountainside bar and grill with big picture windows, and a great deck on a sunny day.
Relax in Gridwood
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Yesterday was a full day of adventure. To balance it out, stay a little closer to home base today. Here are some ideas!
Nordic Spa: Alyeska Resort opened phase 1 of a brand new Nordic Spa in 2022. It’s just 5-minutes down the road. Make a reservation and access one of 6 hydrotherapy pools, the sauna, or book a massage.
Portage Glacier Road: You can drive from Girdwood to Portage Lake in about 30 minutes, but it’s a great road to linger on. Once you turn off the Seward Highway onto Portage Glacier Road there are multiple pull-outs, as well as access to the 5-mile Trail of Blue Ice, a mostly flat walking and biking trail. Spend some time on the path, or bring camp chair and set up in a sunny spot near one of the ponds or Portage Creek with a good book. At the end of the road is the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, featuring exhibits on glaciers. A 1-hour boat ride is available to see the face of the retreating Portage Glacier. Or, you can hike the nearby Byron Glacier Trail.
Mingle with Locals: Use the paved bike trail in Girdwood to walk to town. Visit the local shops, and visit Girdwood Brewing for a pint. Each day Girdwood Brewing has a different food truck if you want a snack with your brew!
Have dinner at the Double Musky. It’s a popular spot, and they do not take reservations. If you don’t want to wait, you can show up right at 4:00 and get a table pretty quick. If you do have to wait, the food, Alaska / Cajun Fusion, will be worth it.
Day trip to Seward
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Take the train, or drive to the seaside town of Seward.
The most popular excursion is a boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park to see tidewater glaciers and look for marine wildlife like whales, sea otters, seals, and seabirds.
The train picks up early, around 8am, and arrives in Seward around 11. From there you can hop on a transfer bus right from the depot to the small boat harbor, enjoy your 5-ish hour cruise, before a return transfer to the depot, back on the train, and a Girdwood arrival around 9pm. It’s a full day, but all the logistics are taken care of. You can buy breakfast and dinner on the train, and a meal is included on the boat.
If you’d rather drive, it takes about 1.5 hrs each way. You could leave early if you think you want to spend a little time in the waterfront town of Seward before or after your cruise. You could squeeze in dinner in Seward following your boat tour, or visit Exit Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the state you can walk right up to.
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Wake up and grab Breakfast from The Bake Shop before checking out at 11am. It’s just a 45-minute drive back to Anchorage. Or, if you’re continuing your trip elsewhere around Alaska it’s 3.5 hrs to Homer, 3 hrs to Talkeetna, or 5 hrs to Denali.