Enjoy an incredible vacation in one of the most amazing locations in Alaska. There are many amazing things to do in Girdwood, Alaska, a quaint and gorgeous resort town surrounded by some of the most majestic Alaska scenery including mountains, fjords, wildlife, and rainforest to fill an entire vacation.
Located in Chugach State Park and located near other amazing sights like Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park, there is enough to spend your Alaska vacation while making Girdwood your travel base.
We have put together a guide on all the best things to do in Girdwood, where to eat, where to stay, where to explore, and tips for visiting.
Table of Contents
Alyeska Aerial Tram
One of the best things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is to see it from above and be rewarded with majestic panoramic views of the landscape and mountains surrounding the area on the Alyeska Aerial Tram.
The Alyeska Aerial Tram takes passengers on a breathtaking 3-7 minute ride that goes 2,300 feet upwards from Alyeska Resort to the top of the mountain it is named after. The views from the tram are awe-inspiring, extending for miles on a clear day in every possible direction and giving riders the best views of the “hanging” glaciers and the Turnagain Arm, going all the way into the peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range. For those that are not too scared to look down, sightings of animals like bears and moose are pretty common.
Once you get to the top of the mountain there is a station where guests can sit on the observation deck and get an epic photo or even bring your laptop and work using the free wifi offered on-site.
Bor Tide Bar, a great bar and deli, also offers food and delicious beverages for those who might need a bite to eat or something to drink including some local craft brews. There is also a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs to remember this awesome place in Girdwood, Alaska.
The tram runs at half speed in the summer, full speed in the winter, and is closed biannually for maintenance purposes.
Is the Alyeska Aerial Tram closed on your trip? No worries, you can actually hike up the mountain on the switchback trail and still get those majestic panoramic views. Even if the tram is running, you can opt to do this route as it’s a great way to get a workout and encounter wildlife!
Admission onto the tram costs between $15 – $32 per person and sold at Alyeska Resort. Children below 6 years old are allowed to ride for free.
Try a Tour
Aren’t staying in Girdwood, Alaska? Take a day trip from Anchorage with hotel pick up and drop off. This 6-hour tour stops at the Alyeska Aerial Tram and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center starting and ending in Anchorage!
Virgin Creek Falls
A simple hike at Virgin Creek Falls is one of the most rewarding and easier things to do in Girdwood, Alaska that doesn’t require a long walk.
The trail is well worn, winding through dense forests of pine trees covered in moss and offering shade from the sun. The trail is mostly flat and runs beside the stream leading to the waterfall.
Hiking through this trail is great at all times of the year, but the rainforest goes into full-life mode between the months of summer and fall. The trail can get a little slippery in the spring as the snow melts, but a little bit of care will ensure that your footing does not slip as its a pretty flat walk.
If you are hiking with children, you may need to watch out for them, there are some sudden drops off the path.
To get to Virgin Creek Falls, you will need to navigate your way to Timberline Drive, a residential area, and then find a space to park at the end of the road. From there, you will see the entrance of the trail, the entire walk is no more than 10 minutes and easily one of the most gorgeous things to do in Girdwood, Alaska that isn’t on everyone’s radar!
The Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center
Want to see some of the incredible species and animals of Yukon Country? If so, this next thing to do in Girdwood, Alaska is for you! Witness animals like bald eagles, black bears, brown bears, elk, foxes, lynx, moose, wolves, and wolverines.
Located in Portage Valley, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit organization that dedicates its efforts towards the preservation of wildlife near Girdwood, Alaska by engaging in conservation, research, and education, as well as offering high-quality care for animals.
As a conservation center, the AWCC is a part of some international conservation projects, like the Wood Bison Restoration Project which has been carried out to bring back the once extinct Wood Bison.
The center is a haven for animals that are injured and orphaned and offers them a permanent home. Portage Valley is located about a 20-minute drive from Girdwood, Alaska and about a 1-hour drive from Anchorage. The only option to visit is by car as there is no public transportation going in that direction.
Another option is to join a tour group departing from Anchorage. There are also tour groups that depart from Seward, or the cruise ship terminal, Whittier.
Once there, take part in any of the numerous educational programs available like the Walk on the Wild Side tour, which gives guests a close look at the wildlife that lives in the center. During the summer, you will be able to have close-up encounters with majestic beasts like brown bears, bull moose, and caribou.
Try a Tour
Try this 4 hour Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center Tour with pick up and drop off at your Anchorage hotel.
Try this 6-hour tour including the Alyeska Aerial Tram and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center that starts and ends in Anchorage with hotel pick up and drop off.
Try this 4.5-hour tour including the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and a drive around Portage Glacier starting and ending in Anchorage.
For beer enthusiasts looking for fun things to do in Girdwood, Alaska the Girdwood Brewing Company offers a fun-filled visit. Sit and enjoy a few ice-cold local beers inside the homey taproom that is framed with timber, or chill out in the beer garden, right by the fire, and marvel at the beauty of the mountains.
The brewery offers four core beers that run from the taps, as well as rotating taps with brews that vary.
We went ahead and tried a few during our visit and we were pretty impressed, I even went home with a Girdwood Brewing t-shirt for a souvenir. Some consistently available options include but not limited to delicious, hazy IPA, double dry-hopped, double fruited sour, or some bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout.
Regardless of your tastebuds or preferences, you will find a beer that suits you. If you want to take some to go, you can buy a 25-ounce can or a growler fill. You can also go on a tour of the brewery, facilitated by trained guides, to learn about how their beers are manufactured. However, if you are really just there for the beer, you can also get a bite to go along with it from any the different food trucks that park outside the brewery.
Helicopter Ride to a Glacier
One of the most spectacular and epic things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is to get on a helicopter and go exploring the glaciers nearby Girdwood, Alaska and hovering over its beautiful, ice-filled waters.
From Girdwood Airport, the view is absolutely magnificent right from the start of your ascent. As you climb, you will be able to see the legendary Lake George Glacier, the Colony Glacier, and Lake George Glacier. As you fly, marvel at the pools formed from azure melt-water as well as the majestic wildlife in the area like caribou, bears, and sheep as they traverse the River Valley.
The glacier your helicopter will land on will vary, depending on what the weather is like during your visit. Regardless of the one you land on, you will be able to go on to the ice and take 15-20 minutes to explore the frozen wonderland. Sometimes, the weather might make it impossible to go on a trip. If that happens, no worries, you will get a full refund or your tour will be rescheduled.
We recommend going with Alpine Air Alaska, this is the tour we went with and they are the closest company to Girdwood, Alaska.
Ride ATVs at Bird Creek
One of the best adrenaline rushes you can get in Girdwood, Alaska is to take a tour of the beautiful Bird Creek in Anchorage by ATV. Guided tours will include all the necessary equipment and safety tutorials. Once you are reasonably familiar with the driving experience, you will go on to explore the colors and beauty of the Bird Creek Valley trail along with other riders in a safari-style group.
As you travel into the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest, the vast and isolated nature of Alaska will make a deep impression on you. The rainforest looks different, depending on the time of the year, but if always vibrant and lush with colors, making for a great scene as you drive down the trail.
You will also be able to take a mini hiking tour down to a magnificent waterfall which is home to schools of salmon that enter spawning season from the middle of June till the end of September. Beyond the salmon, there are lots of other animals in the rainforest, such as eagles, bears, and moose.
This experience is only available for people above the age of 16 who have a valid driver’s license.
One of the coolest things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is drive to Whittier, one of the most isolated cities near Anchorage and the access point to Prince William Sound for visitors coming by land and where the entire town lives in one building that used to be used as Army barracks.
The winters are so intense that residents are only allowed to live in this building which even has a tunnel to the school for children and its own grocery store. By the harbor, you can find fishing boats, tour boats, and interesting shops and cafes. This is where alot of the Prince William Sound cruises embark from. Although it is home to only a few hundred people, Whittier welcomes thousands of visitors annually for cruises, viewing the mountains, and just being in awe of this community who all lives in one building among some of the most impressive mountains in North America.
To get to Whittier by car, you will have to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This is a one-lane tunnel that is used by both cars and trains. The experience of going through this tunnel is one of the necessary things to do in Girdwood, Alaska. Vehicles have to take turns to use the tunnel, with some coming from Whittier and then some coming from Anchorage in blocks of time as the tunnel is only open for one way at a time.
There is an existing schedule that lets all members of the public know when trains and cars have right of way, so you will have to look this up in advance to make sure you have the most up to date time table to know what it looks like before attempting to drive down to Whittier to avoid up to an hour wait.
On the way in or on the way out you can stop at Portage Glacier and walk the trail or just enjoy the view.
Take a cruise on Prince William Sound
One of our favorite things to do near Girdwood, Alaska still in Whittier is take a cruise on Prince William Sound where you can take in the breathtaking scenery from the coast to the tidewater glaciers and be awestruck by the beauty of the Chugach State Park and National Forest all by water.
This magnificent Sound is home to the world’s darkest assemblage of tidewater glaciers calving into the ocean. Many of them are scattered but lead back to the cliffs of ice they broke off from. The Sound gives visitors a view of many amazing waterfalls and is home to many wildlife species, including otters, seabirds, bald eagles, Dall’s porpoises, as well as some whales. There are, however, more whales in Kenai Fjord’s National Park, which is another great place to go on a glacier cruise.
The only way to see the spectacular views of Prince William Sound is by boat on tour operated cruises. Cruises of Prince William Sound range from half-day to full-day trips. The shorter trips take you on a voyage into Blackstone Bay, where you can see glaciers as the calve, marvel at waterfalls, drifts through icebergs as they sizzle and pop, and head back to shore in 3-5 hours.
Longer cruises go even deeper into the Sound, taking you towards the Harriman Fjords and to the Surprise Glacier, where you will see some of the best calvings in Prince William Sound and even more wild animals like harbor seals, sea otters, and more whales.
If you want to get to Prince William Sound tours, remember that you will need to go through Whittier, so confirm the schedule at the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel before traveling that path.
Book your Prince William Sound Tour
This tour is a 5 hour Prince William Sound Tour with a U.S. Forest Service Ranger and lunch included as you pass through one glacier after another and Chugach National Forest.
This tour is a 10 hour Prince William Sound Tour with a U.S. Forest Service Ranger and lunch included as you pass through an extensive tour of glaciers and the natural landscape of the incredible Sound.
Another one of the best things to do near Girdwood, Alaska if you want to get up close and personal with one of Alaska’s many glaciers if visit Portage Glacier.
Portage Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in Alaska, mainly because of its closeness to Anchorage. It is easily reached from Whittier or just before Whittier next to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. From here you can park and enjoy the views or hike along the trails.
The closest town that will give guests the necessary transportation and accommodation services is Girdwood, Alaska. Where we recommend basing for all these activities to enjoy in Alaska.
The Glacier is about ten stories tall and extends for a number of miles. It forms a part of the Chugach State Park which can be found south of Portage Lake. So if you are visiting the lake, you can get a good view of the glacier.
Alternatively, you can take a glacier cruise from Anchorage that gives you the chance to get a close view of the Portage Glacier without spending a lot of time and money. The cruise will take you up to the face of the glacier in the comfort of an enclosed and well-heated cabin. While onboard, your trip will be narrated by your guide, backed up by the sounds of the cracks and pops of ice in the glacier.
Book a Tour
Enjoy this glacier cruise tour starting and ending in Anchorage from 5-8 hours that drops you off at the Trail of Blue Ice where you can explore on your own.
Enjoy this amazing Portage Glacier tour and Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center tour on this 5-8 hour tour starting and ending in Anchorage which also passes through the Chugach State Park.
Chugach State Park
Another one of the most beautiful and outdoor things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is explore Chugach State Park, home to over 60 glaciers. Chugach State Park is situated within the Anchorage municipality. The park is made up of about 495,000 acres of land, making it one of the four biggest state parks in the United States of America.
The region is blessed with an ocean shoreline that extends substantially, along with many gigantic glaciers, lakes, and ice fields. There are numerous environments within the park; including spruce forests, alpine tundra, and muskeg.
On the western end of the Park sits the Chugach Mountain Range, a great place to go climbing and exploring rocky mountain peaks. To the north of the park sits the Knik Arm, while to the south sit the Turnagain Arm. To the east of the Chugach National Park sit the Upper and Lower Lake George, as well as the Chugach National Forest.
There are a plethora of things to see in the park and activities for individuals of all fitness and skill levels. Within close proximity of the park reside all the locals and their various communities including that of Chugiak, a community home to Denai’ina Athabascans for thousands of years.
The park is absolutely massive and most of the time you are in and around Girdwood, Alaska you are actually in the park. There are an endless array of outdoor activities to enjoy in Chugach State Park from camping, hiking, kayaking on glacial waters, wildlife spotting and more.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Another one of the best things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is drive to Kenai Fjords National Park which is about a 90-minute drive away. This incredible national park is located southeast of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula and home to many incredible fjords that were carved by glaciers and ice fields.
There are over 38 glaciers, the largest being Bear Glacier, and Exit Glacier is one of the most popular to visit as its the only glacier accessible by road and has maintained trails you can explore. Another main attraction is the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in North America. The stunning and unique beauty here is often referred to as where the ice age still lingers.
While you’re exploring Kenai Fjords National Park you can also enjoy the town of Seward where you can rest up, recharge, eat, and even stay if you want to explore more of this area. We also recommend doing a day tour either by boat, kayak, plane, or helicopter to Kenai Fjords National Park, all of the ones mentioned below start and finish in Seward where you can leave your car while you explore the majestic nature and wildlife around you.
Book a Tour
Try this Helicopter Glacier Landing tour for a quick and gorgeous bird’s eye view to a magical glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park where you can get out and walk on an ancient glacier and see this gorgeous Alaska landscape up close that offer excellent photography opportunities!
Try this full day Aialik Glacier Wildlife Cruise & Kayaking tour that will give you the most unforgettable bucket list worthy time in Alaska. View glaciers and marine wildlife up close from a kayak and explore more wildlife on this full-day tour with a local expert and guide.
Try this intimate full day Glacier & Wildlife Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park. This tour keeps it intimate by only allowing a max of 6 people per tour and provide VIP treatment where you get to explore marine wildlife, heated cabins, and some of the most incredible views of calving tidewater glaciers, fjords, and more.
Try this Bear Glacier flight tour where you get to witness the national park’s largest glacier from above on this 30-minute flight on a private plane for incredible views of one of the most beautiful glaciers in Alaska.
Try this half-day whale watching cruise through Resurrection Bay without the crowds! This intimate experience allows a max of 6 people so you don’t need to worry about others spoiling your once in a lifetime experience! The small boats on these tours are heated and take you up close to whales, humpback or orcas are commonly sighted!
One of the most amazing things to do in Girdwood, Alaska is drive along the scenic and historic Seward Highway. The highway is a total of 125 miles long stretching from Seward to Anchorage and the views along the way are stunning. You will experience 45 minutes of it when you drive from Anchorage to Girdwood, Alaska!
The Seward Highway passes through Chugach State Park to Kenai Fjords National Park with some of the most insane views of mountains and the ocean along your way. There are scenic stops you can make and if you time it right you might even see the bore tide in the Turnagain Arm which can be up to a 6 foot high rushing wave rolling in as the tides shift. Some of the most dramatic bore tides are right here along the Seward Highway!
Be sure to stop at the pullouts along the road along the Turnagain Arm for incredible coastal views. This is a great spot to see beluga whales as well as a backdrop of the Chugach and Kenai mountains. Don’t go near the mudflats though, while they look stable they are dangerous and people have died here. The coastal silt is like quicksand, you don’t want to mess with this, please use extreme caution.
Being a smallish town, there aren’t too many options for where to dine in Girdwood, Alaska. But lucky for you the options that are there are amazing. Check out our picks for where to eat during your travels and exploring all the best things to do in Girdwood, Alaska.
- Chair 5 – This cozy restaurant has a laidback lodge vibe and cool decor ranging from antique signs to neon beer signs set inside a wooden cabin. This is a great stop for lunch or dinner with a menu full of amazing seafood dishes, pizza, burgers, and more. The entire experience just gives you an Alaska feel and the food is especially tasty.
- Jack Sprat – One of the fancier options as well as offering an amazing ambiance is Jack Sprat. The location is incredible with a view of the mountains in this wooden lodge style building. Open for lunch and dinner you can feast on one of their signature Alaskan seafood dishes, vegan or vegetarian fare, as well as a variety of other creative dishes that your taste buds won’t forget.
- Girdwood Brewing food trucks – If you’re looking for a more casual option for dining while you enjoy a local brew we recommend stopping by Girdwood Brewing and eating at whichever food truck is there! We enjoyed an amazing hearty bowl of chili during our visit that was the perfect way to warm us up on a chilly day and it also paired well with the amazing beers on tap.
- Sakura Asian Bistro – If you’re looking for some of the freshest sushi, seafood, and cocktails then we recommend Sakura Asian Bistro located in Alyeska Resort. Open seasonally, this was one of our favorite dining experiences, probably because we are fans of amazing sushi. From Atlantic salmon to king crab and amazing tempura, you can’t go wrong with what you order here.
- Aurora Bar & Grill – Another great restaurant option inside of Alyeska Resort serving up amazing comfort food, beer, and cocktails. You can find something for everyone on this menu from steak to salads, seafood, and pizza. If you’re here on a Monday then you can also enjoy their wing night!
While exploring all the amazing things to do in Girdwood, Alaska we recommend staying in Alyeska Resort. Located in the Chugach State Park surrounded by amazing mountains in the glacier-carved valley this lodge and resort is an incredible luxury stay during your Alaska adventures.
Besides having cozy rooms with views, there are amazing restaurants on site, trails around the resort where you can spot wildlife, and access to the Alyeska Aerial Tram, one of our picks for the best things to do in Girdwood.
If you forget anything there are two gift shops and winter supply stores on site. There’s also a shuttle that runs from here to other spots in Girdwood, Alaska to help you get around easily to all the best restaurants and nightlife in the area.
Girdwood, Alaska is located south of Anchorage and only takes 45 minutes via car along the gorgeous and scenic Seward Highway, which is a treat of its own. In the winter, it may take a bit longer due to poor driving conditions. We always recommend renting a car that has 4WD or AWD when driving in Alaska and to practice caution especially if you’re not used to driving in snowy conditions.
If you are renting a car (we recommend using Expedia.com) and driving, be sure to watch out for wildlife. If you see any please slow down as animals get scared and may make an unpredictable movement along the roads. To save an animal and yourself from an accident be sure to watch for this.
To get to Girdwood, Alaska you can fly into Ted Stevens International Airport located in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and where you can find rental car companies for your trip!
Once you’re in Girdwood, you can ride along the free local shuttle which stops. There are no local taxis so this is your best option. We were told at one of the restaurants that if we wanted some of the businesses offer their own rides for a few bucks with a local. If you’re not comfortable with that, we recommend waiting for the shuttle, you can find the time table and stops on their official website.
Other popular driving destinations to Girdwood, Alaska include:
- Homer to Girdwood – 3 hours 45-minute drive
- Talkeetna to Girdwood – 1 hour 15-minute drive
- Denali National Park – 5 hours 15-minutes drive
- Canadian border to Girdwood – 10 hour drive
- Fairbanks to Girdwood – 6 hour 45-minute drive
Packing for a vacation is the worst as if you haven’t been there before its hard to determine what to bring. Enjoy our checklist of what to pack for your trip to Girdwood, Alaska to help planning for your trip be easy peasy.
Bring a warm winter jacket for obvious reasons, Alaska can be chilly and in the fall, winter, and spring, you will undoubtedly need a very warm winter jacket. We love the famous ‘Amazon Jacket’ for women that will keep you warm and stylish as well as this great down winter jacket for men that’s long to keep that cool air off your body.
Another essential you need for your trip to Girdwood, Alaska are thermal layers. Layering is essential as depending on the weather or activity you are enjoying in Alaska you can stay warm. What we love about having layers is if we get too warm we can always take one layer off, it’s easier to take layers off than it is to warm up if you’re underdressed. We love this thermal set for ladies and this thermal set for men.
You’ll want to make sure you pack warm socks. There’s nothing worse than having cold feet when you’re trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Layer your feet up properly with these merino wool socks for men and merino wool socks for women.
Weatherproof and waterproof boots are also essential if you’re planning on exploring in cold or wet weather along with good socks. We love Sorel boots because they are waterproof to keep your feet dry in wet weather or snow, keep your feet warm in cold weather, and are stylish! We love the classic Men’s Caribou Boot with wool lining and Women’s Caribou Boot with a wool lining.
Don’t get caught on a cold day without warm gloves to keep your hands warm! We recommend these wool knitted Thinsulate gloves for men and this gorgeous Chenille cable knit touch screen gloves for women. Or if dexterity isn’t an issue and you want to be sure your hands stay completely dry we recommend getting a good pair of snow gloves.
You’ll also want to pack a warm winter hat or beanie to keep your head warm. We love these Carhart winter hats as they come in a variety of colors and are unisex.
You will also want to protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses! The sun reflecting off the snow is not only bright but the rays of sun are also damaging to your vision. Protect your eyes with the classic Rayban Wayfarers that are polarized and a timeless classic that look amazing on both men and women! One of our all time favorite looks.
Another few great items to bring are hand warmers for those especially chilly days you just can’t get warm, a reusable water bottle as Alaska has some of the best drinking water and you’ll be cutting down on plastic bottle use, a great hiking day backpack like this packable backpack that has rave reviews on Amazon, and a power bank for charging your electronics via a USB cable to make sure your battery doesn’t die during a photogenic moment!
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