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How to enjoy Girdwood when you want a break from Anchorage

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There comes a time for anyone who either lives or visits Anchorage when you realize it might be good to leave town and explore what’s outside “the big city.”

That’s where Girdwood comes in. Girdwood is a small town a mere 36 miles south of Anchorage — about the length of a grain of sand if you were to measure it on the Alaska map. You get there by following the Alaska Railroad tracks out of town, along the Seward highway that ribbons around Turnagain Arm towards the Kenai Peninsula.

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The drive, especially if you’ve never done it, is spectacular. Gently sloped mountains jut out of the wondrous landscape, framing the silty gray water and wind-swept rock formations that line the side of the highway. You may even spy some Dahl sheep prancing on the cliffs above.

Girdwood is the first turnoff you’ll see, and once you take that left, you enter a wonderland of glacier-capped mountains, rainforest, blueberry bushes, hiking and biking trails, gold mining history, a ski resort and a tight-knit community of goodhearted, fun-loving Alaskan folk.

Where to stay, when you’re not staying at Creekwood Inn

aleyska_resort

The most popular place to stay in Girdwood is the Alyeska Resort, which rests at the base of Mt. Alyeska, Alaska’s major ski resort. Rooms rates at this alpine-esque four-star hotel run pretty high, but here’s a secret that’ll save you hundreds on a room: book thru Hotwire and choose “Girdwood” — it’s the only hotel that shows up.

In the summer, the grounds of Alyeska Resort are immaculately landscaped with all sorts of bright and cheerful wildflowers, a duck pond with a fountain, bronze wildlife sculptures and discreet pathways that lead to private, romantic bench-lined alcoves.

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The views in the area unparalleled: from the back of the hotel you get to look straight up the north face of the mountain, where you can watch the tram and its mesmerized passenger zip silently up and down.

If exercise is your thing, take full advantage of the salt water pool, jacuzzi and workout facility at the hotel. The pool area is enclosed in glass, so you can look out at the Alaskan wilderness as you do your laps or soak in the hot tub. If that doesn’t relieve your stress, hop in the sauna to calm down even more.

berry_picking_alaskaWhen in Girdwood, hike

The other sweet part about Girdwood are the maintained hiking trails that await your eager feet. From the hotel alone, you can take a bold and grueling traverse up the North Face trial, which leads you to the top of the tram stop (views: unbelievable).

You can also take the Winner Creek Trail, a five mile round trip to one of the most curious contraptions you’ll ever see: a hand tram. If you don’t know what a hand tram is, or you’ve never seen one, now’s your chance. On a nice summer day, you’ll have to wait in line with fellow hikers, but it’s well worth it. Where else can you pull yourself in a metal basket over a rushing white water creek.

Other easy hikes are abound in Girdwood, and if you catch the right one, you’ll be treated with tons and tons of wild blueberry bushes. Who doesn’t love blueberries?

…and eat

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Eating in Girdwood isn’t too shabby, either.

The hotel has several restaurants, but you can also go more local at the Sitzmark and Chair Five (great bar food with live music), the Double Musky and Jack Sprat (fine dining) or one of our all-time breakfast/lunch favorites: The Bake Shop. Everything at The Bake Shop is fresh — sandwiches, cinnamon rolls and bottomless bowls of homemade soup.

…and get real

forest_fair_girdwood

If you really want a more intimate, authentic glimpse of Girdwood in the summer, go to the Forest Fair. This festive three-day woodland fair occurs each year over the Fourth of July weekend. It’s a total blast.

The Forest Fair offers just about every local “Made in Alaska” artist and craftsperson selling their wares, from colored glass salmon to stunning wildlife photos to face painting for the kids (and food, too, of course). There’s also live local music playing on a couple different stages.

But best of all, do this: grab a spot in the beer garden for a fresh Alaskan beer. The lines are long and it takes forever to get a beer, but it’s by far your best chance to make a real connection with the locals and their free, fun-loving spirit.

Girdwood does not disappoint. That’s a promise.

Image credits: mattnolte, stephanderson, 27821907@NO6, caryking