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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Anchorage Day Trip: Portage/Girdwood


Day Trip from Anchorage: Portage and Girdwood

When visiting South-central Alaska there is never enough time to accomplish everything you want to see and do.  With the long summer days and a little bit of luck from the weather it is possible to get a wide variety of activities done in one day.  In late April we went down to the Girdwood and Portage areas for a fun day trip.  We always recommend these activities (as well as many others) for guests traveling south to the Kenai Peninsula or for guests just looking for a fun day from the Anchorage area.  Girdwood is about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, and Portage is another 10 miles south from Girdwood.

Heading out of Anchorage
through Potter's Marsh
We started the day leaving at 8:00 am (for our guests, we do offer an early 7:30 breakfast seating for those looking to get a fast start to their day! For earlier departures we do pack a prepared bag breakfast with homemade breads, yogurt, granola, cheeses, and often a few small desserts for later in the day!). Once out of Anchorage the Seward Highway skirts the Cook Inlet the whole way down, offering beautiful views of the Alaska Range and the Chugach Mountains.  Although not able to pull over and stop for pictures we did catch a couple of moose on the way out of town, as well as some Dall’s Sheep on the steep cliffs just outside of Anchorage, as well as a dozen or so Bald eagles.  These are somewhat common to see along the highway. Rare sightings of beluga whales can also be had, however they are most commonly seen in the late summer in these parts of the inlet.

Byron Glacier Trailhead
9:45 am: Our first stop was Byron glacier, located by the Begich Visitor Center before heading into the town of Whittier.  The 1.5 mile round trip trail leads you to the face of Byron Glacier.  

We actually hiked this trail in late 2015 and since then an avalanche has completely filled the valley.  Where once you could cross a small stream to hike to the face of the glacier, now a 50 foot high wall of snow, ice, and rock block the path.  It is highly advisable to not walk on this as the snow and ice can be thin.   This took about 1 hour, including a 15 minute break exploring the new avalanche filled area.  The trail is well maintained, well-traveled, and relatively flat.
Brown bear at the Wildlife
Conservation Center
11:15 am: Our next stop was the Portage Wildlife Conservation Center located right off the Seward Highway and the intersection towards Byron glacier. The Wildlife Conservation Center is a rehabilitation center for Alaskan wildlife and provides the opportunity to get close to brown/black bears, moose, 
Red Fox
Musk ox, Wood bison, caribou, elk, and wolves, as well as some other small mammals and birds. One of the great successes has been the release of a herd of Wood bison in the northwest area of Alaska, and it just so happened that the day we went here, the first wild offspring of the herd had been spotted. We spent about an hour here before heading north towards Girdwood.   

Jack Sprat Yam Fries!
12:45 pm: As we started to get hungry we headed up to Girdwood for a late brunch at Jack Sprat.  On the weekends they offer a great brunch menu.  Their dinner is also wonderful with a wide variety of options. We always go for their yam fries! Unfortunately on weekdays Jack Sprat is closed until dinner service.  But just up the hill is another great spot, the Bake Shop.  They may be most known for their breakfast (and sourdough cinnamon rolls!), they have a wonderful variety sandwich, soups, and salads.

Maintained Winner Creek Trail
2:00 pm: After fueling up, we drove into the Alyeska resort area to get onto the Winner Creek trail.  Girdwood is in a more rainforest environment, and offers landscapes similar to those found in southeastern Alaska.  Large fir and cedar trees cover the landscape.  The first half of the Winner Creek Trail is a fairly flat trail and is also well-traveled.  The second half does have some elevation changes as you approach the streams, but it is not terribly steep.  Although closed for winter maintenance, there is a hand tram at 2.5 miles in that you can use to cross over the gorge. We turned around here to head back towards the resort.  The tram goes over a stream and is a unique feature of the trail.  We stopped at the tram and headed back to the resort area, about 2.5 hours in total and about 5 miles of hiking.   

Hand Tram to cross the gorge
on the Winner Creek Trail
5:00 pm: We made our way back up to Anchorage in the early evening.  With the sun not setting now until 10 PM, we had plenty of sun light.  We didn’t see as much wildlife on the way back, but did catch some locals in the inlet wind surfing.  Guests could easily have a nice dinner back in Anchorage after this itinerary.

This itinerary is great for guests who don’t want to have to book tours months in advance, but still have flexibility throughout their day.  There are many more hikes in the area and Girdwood does have more activities, especially at the resort. We are more than happy to provide our guests some other recommendations for things to do within a day’s drive of Anchorage. We can’t promise you’ll check everything off on your list, but we will do our best to make sure your time is well spent offering the greatest variety and most unique activities for your interests.