Nestled in a lush valley surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers, Girdwood, Alaska, is a unique blend of stunning natural beauty, adventurous outdoor activities, and a vibrant community spirit. This small town, located about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, offers a glimpse into Alaska’s wild heart, making it a must-visit destination for travelers and a cherished home for its residents.
The History of Girdwood
Girdwood’s story begins in the late 19th century during the gold rush era. It was named after James Girdwood, a linen merchant who staked four claims along Crow Creek in 1896. The initial settlement was primarily a mining camp, with gold being the central focus of activity. However, the town gradually evolved, shifting from its gold-mining roots to a community centered around forestry and then eventually to the diverse and vibrant town it is today.
The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake dramatically impacted Girdwood, necessitating relocation of the town due to the resulting land subsidence. The new location, just 2.5 miles up the valley, is where present-day Girdwood lies. This event marked a significant turning point in the town’s history, paving the way for a transformation into a modern Alaskan hub for tourism and outdoor recreation.
Girdwood’s Natural Splendors
Girdwood is situated in a glacially carved valley in the Chugach Mountains. The town is enveloped by the Chugach National Forest, the second-largest national forest in the U.S., offering a playground for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. The area is also known for its diverse wildlife, including moose, black bears, and bald eagles, adding to the allure for wildlife watchers.
One of Girdwood’s most famous natural attractions is the Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s premier ski destination. The resort boasts the longest continuous double black diamond ski run in North America, attracting skiers and snowboarders from around the world. In the summer, Alyeska transforms into a haven for hikers and mountain bikers, with trails that cater to all skill levels.
The Seven Glaciers Restaurant at Alyeska Resort deserves a special mention. Accessible via a scenic aerial tram ride, the restaurant offers breathtaking views of the surrounding glaciers and Turnagain Arm, making it a perfect spot for a memorable dining experience.
Outdoor Adventures in Girdwood
Girdwood’s geographical setting makes it an ideal location for a variety of outdoor activities. In winter, besides skiing and snowboarding at Alyeska, visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoeing. The town also hosts several winter festivals, including the Slush Cup, where skiers and snowboarders attempt to skim across a pond of icy water.
Summer in Girdwood is equally exciting. Hiking trails like the Winner Creek Trail and the Crow Pass Trail offer incredible views and varying degrees of difficulty. For the more adventurous, there are opportunities for glacier trekking, whitewater rafting, and paragliding. Fishing enthusiasts can find ample spots for catching salmon and trout in the nearby streams and rivers.
The Cultural Tapestry of Girdwood
Despite its small size, Girdwood boasts a rich cultural scene. The town is home to a diverse community of artists, musicians, and craftspeople. The Girdwood Center for Visual Arts, a cooperative gallery, showcases the work of local artists, offering a glimpse into the vibrant artistic talent in the area.
Music and festivals are a significant part of Girdwood’s cultural identity. The Forest Fair, a yearly event held in July, is a celebration of music, arts, and crafts, drawing visitors and locals alike. The Blueberry Festival in August is another popular event, featuring live music, local crafts, and, of course, an abundance of blueberries.
Dining and Accommodation in Girdwood
Girdwood’s culinary scene is surprisingly diverse for its size. From high-end eateries like the Seven Glaciers Restaurant to cozy cafes and bistros, there is something to satisfy every palate. Local specialties often feature fresh Alaskan seafood, such as salmon, halibut, and king crab.
Accommodation options in Girdwood range from luxury hotels like the Alyeska Resort to charming bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals. For those seeking a more rustic experience, camping and RV sites are also available in the surrounding Chugach National Forest.
Girdwood’s Commitment to Sustainability
As a community deeply connected to its natural environment, Girdwood has a strong commitment to sustainability. Efforts are made to preserve the pristine wilderness that surrounds the town, with local businesses and residents actively participating in environmental conservation initiatives. This commitment ensures that Girdwood’s natural beauty can be enjoyed by future generations.
Getting to and Around Girdwood
Girdwood is easily accessible via the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway. The drive from Anchorage offers stunning views of the Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains. Once in Girdwood, most attractions are within a short driving distance, and the town is also bike-friendly, with many trails and paths available for cycling enthusiasts.
Girdwood, Alaska, is more than just a scenic destination; it’s a community where the grandeur of Alaska’s wilderness is met with a warm, welcoming spirit. Whether it’s for adventure, relaxation, or cultural enrichment, Girdwood offers a unique Alaskan experience that stays with visitors long after they’ve left. Its combination of natural beauty, outdoor activities, cultural richness, and commitment to sustainability makes Girdwood a true hidden gem in the Last Frontier.