Winner Creek Trail(s)
Winner Creek Trail is a fantastic way to spend quality time in the outdoors while in Girdwood, Alaska. The air is fresh, the sounds of rivers fill the surroundings and the trail is lined with moss-covered trees, cliché and picturesque of the Pacific Northwest while boardwalks and stairs make getting through muddy or steep sections easier. Whether hikers are part of a small group or going solo, this rainforest trail is also perfect for trail running, bike riding and photo opportunities. From a local’s perspective, Winner Creek can really be broken down into four main sections, Winner Creek Extension, the hand tram route, Upper Winner Creek and the Crow Creek side.
The most popular, and the section that sees the most use, is the route to the hand tram starting at The Hotel Alyeska. From the hotel, guests and Girdwood visitors alike take the 2.5-mile trail through the woods with minimal elevation gain or loss making this section of the trail great for people who are looking for a leisurely stroll than a full on workout. About a quarter of a mile from the hand tram is the Winner Creek Gorge with a beautiful log bridge over a rushing waterfall. The contrast between black slate rock, glacier blue water and forest greens is incredible. The creek has carved out and smoothed away the black rock giving it a very unique texture. Confident climbers can scurry down to the creek edge and look back up at the bridge, a perfect photo opportunity. The trail continues onward until the hand tram, which is the real reason many people choose this section of trail. Dangling over a rushing river about 70 feet high the hand tram is a steel basket built for two. Anyone who cares to partake in this crossing must pull themselves across the 150-foot span. A word to the wise, once hikers are in the middle of the span it’s a great place to take a photo but be forewarned that it’s hard to start pulling again once momentum is lost. There are also bike hooks on the outside rail to carry bikes across.
The hand tram delivers people to the Crow Creek side of the trail. A less used but still amazingly beautiful trail that connects to the Iditarod Trail greets those who have made the pull across on the hand tram. A steeper climb with switchbacks makes this side of the trail a little more challenging. A parking lot on the crow creek side is about a mile from the hand tram so people who don’t want to commit to the five-mile roundtrip from The Hotel Alyeska can park a little bit closer. Mountain bikers also like this side as the steepness of the trail allows for some faster, gravity-assisted riding. Guests can also utilize the Girdwood Valley Shuttle to gain access to the trailhead.
A shorter walk on the south/southwest side of the hotel’s courtyard is the Winner Creek Extension Trail. This slightly-more-than-a-mile trail is a more secluded option than the Gird to Bird bike path for those looking to walk to and from the Sitz. With minimal elevation gain and loss, this trail is well packed down, marked and makes for some easy traveling.
Lastly, is the Upper Winner Creek section to Blueberry Pass. This trail is certainly for more adventurous hikers and bikers who have all day or even an overnight in their hiking plans. The trail extends through rooty and technical terrain, along with sections of well maintained and benched out single track through the Upper Winner Creek Valley. Beavers, moose and bears can be a common sight. About four miles back is a boulder garden where massive rocks were shaken loose during the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 and transported to the valley floor via what must have been an immense landslide event. Once hikers and bikers are through the rock garden the climb up to Blueberry Pass begins. Steep switchbacks are exposed to fantastic scenery of the surrounding valley and hikers are greeted with views of the 20 Mile Valley once atop Blueberry Pass. The total distance from The Hotel Alyeska to Blueberry Pass is about seven miles and those willing to push onward can continue to Rosehip Creek which is about three additional miles from the pass.
Regardless of which area of Winner Creek hikers and bikers prefer, one thing is true for all of them; Winner Creek is a fantastic trail that offers easy accessibility to a wide variety of users.