When we pulled into our campground just south of Anchorage, Alaska, we were itching to explore the area more. With lush green landscapes just inland from the Turnagain Arm, the terrain was too beautiful to not explore further. So we packed up our gear, grabbed our rain jackets, and headed out to Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood, Alaska.
Getting to the Winner Creek Trailhead
The Winner Creek Trailhead is actually not as easy to find as you would expect for a National Forest trail. In order to get to it, you have to go behind the Alyeska Resort. We parked near the resort in a gravel parking lot. The lot was not marked, so we weren’t incredibly certain we were allowed to park there. But we didn’t get a ticket, so I suppose it was fine! You then just follow the signs next to the resort pointing you to the trail. The trailhead is directly behind the Alyeska Resort Hotel and just at the base of the mountain.
Winner Creek Trail
Stepping onto the trail from the base of the mountain is like stepping into a whole different world. The tall pines overhead provide a nice shade canopy from the Alaskan midnight sun. The ground is damp and mushy but the trail is on a nice boardwalk until you start climbing up into the mountains. With the shade and moisture surrounding you, the air is just a touch chilly.
The trail winds up and around the mountain with forest scenes all around. It seems like a perfect habitat for bears, yet we saw none on the trail. Bear spray is essential everywhere in Alaska as a precaution.
The Winner Creek Trail climbs by about 700 feet of elevation gain, but it doesn’t get too steep all at once in any given area. Since you start at basically sea level, the elevation while hiking seems minimal – at least to those of us used to hiking in Colorado!
About halfway through the trail, it splits into two trails. One trail stays to the left while the other crosses the river via a bridge. We’re not certain where the trail goes that crosses the bridge, as we stayed to the left. We think it goes to the same place and just avoids the hand tram, but don’t take our word for that as we didn’t check it out.
Nearing the end of the trail, you will come to a wide open gulch with a rushing creek at the bottom. At this point, the only way to cross is via the hand tram. This man-powered gondola is quite the experience, and we highly recommend trying it out – if you aren’t afraid of heights! Using the pulley system on a heavy duty rope, you propel yourself across the gulch hand over hand. It was harder than it looks, too! While the gondola sways on the rope a tad, it’s actually more stable than we had expected. The tram appears to be well-maintained and we had no hesitations hopping on it and heading across the gulch.
Looking down while you are in the middle of the gulch, swaying with the wind in the tram, you feel as if you are somehow hovering in thin air. The sound of the trees blowing in the wind and the waterfall ahead of you crashing down to the rocks below is a surreal sensation. Then you start pulling again and head over to the other side of the gulch where the trail becomes many trails in different directions. We explored around the area on a few of the short trails looking for a good vantage point of the waterfall and creek.
After exploring around the area a bit, we decided to head back across the hand tram and make our way back to the trailhead. We started this trail at around 6 pm and finished at around 9 pm. With the midnight sun in Alaska, we had plenty of light for the trip with no problems at all. It’s kind of nice being able to explore without racing the darkness.
The Winner Creek Trail was a nice hike with a lot of very scenic views and opportunities for gorgeous photos. The creek itself is incredibly blue and reminded us of the rivers in Montana. The lush green forest was a major change from the drier and rocky landscapes of the Fairbanks and more northern areas of Alaska.
This was our first hike since we left Denali and we were pleasantly surprised with the beauty offered by the Anchorage area. We are excited to continue our journey south on the Kenai Peninsula and keep exploring Alaska on this great adventure!