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Girdwood, Alaska

Girdwood, Alaska Visitor Guide

Girdwood is a scenic and vibrant community nestled in a glacial valley in the Chugach Mountains, approximately 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Anchorage, Alaska. This picturesque town is surrounded by lush forests and majestic peaks, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. In this guide, we’ll cover Girdwood’s latitude and longitude, directions from Anchorage, things to do, the area’s history, RV and camping information, and annual festivals and events.

Girdwood is located at approximately 60.9547° N latitude and 149.1594° W longitude.

Getting to Girdwood from Anchorage

Girdwood is easily accessible from Anchorage by car, following the scenic Seward Highway, which has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.

By Car

1. From Anchorage, head south on the Seward Highway (AK-1) towards Seward.
2. Travel approximately 40 miles (64 km) along the highway.
3. Turn left onto the Alyeska Highway, following signs for Girdwood.
4. Continue for about 3 miles (4.8 km) to reach Girdwood.

The drive from Anchorage to Girdwood typically takes around 1 hour, depending on traffic and weather conditions.

Things to Do

Girdwood offers a variety of activities for visitors, ranging from outdoor adventures to cultural experiences.

Alyeska Resort

Alyeska Resort is a premier ski and year-round resort located in Girdwood. During the winter months, the resort offers skiing and snowboarding on groomed trails and backcountry terrain. In the summer, visitors can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and scenic tram rides.

Hiking and Biking Trails

Girdwood is home to numerous hiking and biking trails that cater to all skill levels. Popular trails include the Winner Creek Trail, Crow Pass Trail, and the North Face Trail. These trails offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and forests.

Chugach National Forest

Girdwood is situated within the Chugach National Forest, which encompasses over 5.4 million acres of diverse landscapes, including glaciers, mountains, and coastal rainforests. The forest offers abundant recreational opportunities such as hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and berry picking.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals, located just outside Girdwood along the Seward Highway. The center provides an opportunity to view Alaska’s native wildlife up close while learning about conservation efforts and the animals’ natural habitats.

Detailed History

Girdwood was originally established as a gold mining town in the early 1900s, named after Colonel James Girdwood, an Irish immigrant who staked the first claims in the area. The gold rush in Girdwood was relatively short-lived, but the community continued to grow as a strategic location along the Alaska Railroad, which was completed in 1918.

In the 1950s, Girdwood began to develop as a recreational destination, with the construction of the Alyeska Resort and ski area. Today, Girdwood is a thriving community that caters to tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wide range of activities and attractions.

RV and Camping Information

Girdwood offers several options for RV and camping accommodations:

Girdwood RV Park

Girdwood RV Park is a small, privately-owned RV park located in downtown Girdwood. The park offers full hook-up sites, as well as dry camping for smaller RVs and tents. Amenities include restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and Wi-Fi access.

Portage Valley Cabins and RV Park

Located about 20 miles (32 km) south of Girdwood along the Seward Highway, Portage Valley Cabins and RV Park offers RV sites with electric hook-ups, as well as rustic cabins and tent camping options. The park is situated near the scenic Portage Glacier, providing opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, and glacier tours.

Annual Festivals and Events

Girdwood hosts several annual festivals and events that showcase the community’s unique culture and natural surroundings.

Girdwood Forest Fair

Held annually in July, the Girdwood Forest Fair is a family-friendly event that features live music, local arts and crafts, food vendors, and a variety of fun activities. The fair celebrates the community’s connection to the surrounding Chugach National Forest.

Alyeska Resort Spring Carnival

The Alyeska Resort Spring Carnival is an annual weekend event held in April, featuring a variety of on-mountain activities, live music, and competitions, such as the popular Slush Cup pond-skimming contest.

Fungus Fair

The Girdwood Fungus Fair, held annually in August, is a unique event celebrating the diverse fungi found in the Chugach National Forest and surrounding areas. The fair offers workshops, guided mushroom forays, cooking demonstrations, and educational talks, all focused on the fascinating world of fungi. This event provides an opportunity for both novices and experienced mushroom enthusiasts to learn more about the role of fungi in the local ecosystem and how to identify and sustainably harvest various species.

Blueberry Festival

Celebrating the abundance of wild blueberries in the Girdwood area, the Blueberry Festival takes place annually in August. This family-friendly event features blueberry-themed treats, live music, arts and crafts vendors, and activities for all ages. Visitors can also participate in guided blueberry picking excursions and learn about the importance of sustainable harvesting practices.

Girdwood Nordic Ski Club Events

The Girdwood Nordic Ski Club hosts several events throughout the winter season, including races, clinics, and community ski days. These events cater to skiers of all ages and skill levels and promote the enjoyment of Nordic skiing in the Girdwood Valley.

Additional Activities and Attractions

Scenic Flightseeing Tours

To truly appreciate the stunning landscapes surrounding Girdwood, consider booking a scenic flightseeing tour. Local operators offer helicopter and small plane tours that provide breathtaking views of glaciers, mountains, and the nearby Prince William Sound. Some tours also include glacier landings, allowing visitors to step out onto the ice and explore the unique glacial environment up close.

Dog Sledding

Experience the thrill of dog sledding by booking a tour with a local musher. During the winter months, visitors can enjoy exhilarating rides through the snowy landscape, while summertime tours often utilize wheeled sleds or carts. These tours also provide an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of dog sledding in Alaska and to interact with the sled dogs themselves.

Gold Panning

As a nod to Girdwood’s gold mining history, visitors can try their hand at gold panning. Local guides offer gold panning tours and lessons, teaching guests the proper techniques for sifting through sediment and looking for gold flakes. This activity provides a fun and educational experience for visitors of all ages.

Rafting and Kayaking

Girdwood’s surrounding rivers and nearby Prince William Sound provide ample opportunities for rafting and kayaking. Local outfitters offer guided trips suitable for a range of skill levels, allowing visitors to explore the area’s waterways and enjoy the stunning scenery.

In conclusion, Girdwood, Alaska, is a vibrant and picturesque community offering a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors. From world-class skiing and outdoor adventures to unique cultural events and a rich history, Girdwood provides an unforgettable experience for all who visit.