Winner Creek is the go-to trail for newer hikers and any out of state guests who want to see a little bit of Alaska without venturing too far off the beaten path. It’s not very long of a hike at just 3 miles from one end of the trail to the other, but it still has enough distance to tire you out. During the hike you’ll experience lush, thick rainforest, glacier rivers, and the best part is getting to the hand tram! An added benefit to this hike is that you’ll love the drive out along the Turnagain Arm. Stick around after the hike for a delicious meal and some cold beer at one of the many local restaurants in the ski town of Girdwood.
The 45 minute scenic drive from Anchorage to Girdwood along Turnagain Arm is amazing in itself. We’ve driven the road hundreds of times, and it never gets old driving along steep mountainsides right next to the ocean. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a sunrise, sunset or even the bore tide where you’ll see paddleboarders riding it into the Arm. Once in Girdwood, park at the Hotel Alyeska parking area, as this is the start of the trail.
The trail starts just below the tram lift on the far side of the hotel. Walk around the tram stairs to the other side of the building, and veer left. There is a sign outlining the hike and some things you’ll see along the way. The first 3/4 of a mile is well maintained with wooden boardwalks through the very green, thick and lush rainforest that is the Chugach. There’s little chance of getting lost on the trail, as it’s very obvious where to go, so hikers rest assured that you won’t end up lost in the woods in Alaska.
One of Dana’s favorite attractions is a bridge going over Winner Creek Gorge. This spot is amazing! Fast moving deep blue glacier water rushes through this gorge between high rock walls making for a very dramatic scene. You can get right down to the river and there are also some high overlooks that can be reached if you want to explore a little bit. Don’t miss the opportunity to get close to the water! You’ll be able to feel it’s power and the cool mist coming off the rushing water is very refreshing.
From here the trail gets less manicured, but is still a very well maintained trail. Shortly after the bridge you’ll come across the snow-cat bridge that crosses another river on your right. This bridge is also fun to walk on and explore around. Keep on the trail from here (don’t go across the bridge unless to explore) for about another mile, meandering close to the water. Soon the trail will descend back towards a steep valley. This is where it gets fun!
You’ll reach a hand-tram, which is a little past two miles into the trail. The hand tram is designed to take up to two people across the river valley on a hanging basket propelled by ropes and pulleys. It’s not easy to get across by your own power, so plan on breaking a sweat and having tired arms once you get across. In the summer months there are usually people congregated here that will help pull the rope across. It may look sketchy, but it’s a maintained fixture and it’s super fun! Live a little bit and get in that thing! You’ll end up about 30 feet above the river valley below. It’s a very unique experience and worth the effort.
Once across the hand tram, the trail continues on for another mile before ending up at Crow Creek Road. If you plan ahead and leave the campervan on this side of the river, you can camp out for the night and head out from there. A shorter option is to go in from the Crow Creek Road parking lot and just hike the mile to the hand tram to check it out. You will miss all of the trail in between the hotel and the other side of the hand tram though.
We usually start at the hotel, hike out to the hand tram and pull ourselves to the middle of the river to soak in the views and experience for a minute. We then retrace our steps back to the hotel for just over a 5 mile round-trip hike. It can be done by young and old, novice or pro hikers, and it is very enjoyable. You’re likely to see black bears on this trail so remember your bear aware tactics. Afterwards spend the night in the awesome Alaskan ski town of Girdwood eating local food, listening to live music and crashing out in the campervan. Winner Creek is not to be missed!