Where to Stay in Alaska: The Alyeska Resort
You want to experience all that Alaska has to offer, but you don’t have much time, or maybe you don’t want to venture too far outside of Anchorage. That’s okay. You’ve made it to the 49th state and you’re going to have an unforgettable time regardless – it’s hard not to in Alaska. But to guarantee a memorable stay like no other, take a short (like, super short) drive outside of Anchorage and turn off into Girdwood. Why Girdwood, you ask? The Alyeska Resort is waiting to show you it all.
Let’s backtrack for a moment. I’ll start by saying that when I travel, resorts aren’t necessarily a must-have for me. The amenities are nice, and the properties are beautiful, but for the most part, I am pretty happy in pretty much anything from a standard hotel to a cabin (or bubble) in the middle of the forest. But in some cases, resorts can be the best possible way to get the most out of a destination, especially when things like day trips and transportation is hard or expensive to navigate. In south central Alaska, the Alyeska Resort is bar none when it comes to hospitality, cozy comfort, and easy access to everything Alaska has to offer. So, when I decided on a whim to take a 4-day trip up to Alaska, and my mom decided to tag along, the Alyeska was a no-brainer when it came to last-minute planning and all-around peace of mind.
Less than an hour outside of Anchorage, Girdwood is a tiny resort town (or, a pretty decently sized town by Alaska standards) with a lot of charm. Picture this: sprawling mountains – the Chugach – surrounding on 3 sides, a huge body of water known as the Turnagain Arm off in the distance complete with beluga whales and salmon, and lush green trees in every direction you turn. This is Girdwood, and it essentially feels like the perfect little microcosm of all of the best that Alaska has to offer, with the Alyeska Resort at the center. You can get here easily by train, Uber, or rental car, but we used the train. One of my favorite things about the town was how many things there are to do in the area despite its small size. You can hop on the Glacier Valley Transit (otherwise known as the GVT - a free Girdwood bus system that runs all day) to visit different restaurants, go shopping, and head to the train station whenever you need to, making it super accessible even without a car.
When you arrive, you immediately feel surrounded by all of the best parts of a warm, cozy, cabin in the mountains. Walk into the lobby, and you are greeted by fireplaces, large staircases, nap-worthy leather sofas, and the friendliest staff imaginable. The giant windows in the lobby look out into a large pond and the resort grounds, continuing up until your eyes meet the top of the mountains above. Squint and you might even be able to see the top of the tram, which is one of the signature features of this ski resort even in the off season. You can take their aerial tram from morning till late in the evening each and every day, and have a meal up in the clouds. Bore Tide Deli (affordable, fast casual, lunch-appropriate) and Seven Glaciers (fine dining) are two of the resort’s several eating options with the best location and the best view - no argument there. We ate at both, and loved Seven Glaciers in particular because we celebrated my birthday there to the tune of to-die-for crab cakes, freshly caught salmon, baked Alaska, and rose. If you’re going to go, make a reservation about an hour to an hour and a half before sunset, so you can get a view of the hanging glaciers in the surrounding mountains right before dark. Just magical.
The rooms themselves are straightforward. Simple, familiar, and consisting of everything you could possibly need (except, as I learned the hard way, a wine opener! Pro tip: if you need one, be sure to ask while the restaurants in the lobby are still open. Not late at night, like I did. Did you know that you can open a wine bottle with a pen if you try hard enough?). Head straight for the comfortable beds, lots of closet space, and if you’re lucky, a front-row view of the mountains and the tram. Check, check, and check.
Things to Do
Here’s where Alyeska really shines. Once you’re in Girdwood, the town serves as a home base for a bunch of different activities all over south central Alaska, like glacier hiking, bicycling, and rafting in the summer, and skiing in the winter. From roaming around the resort’s property to working with their concierge to plan the perfect day trip, there’s all kinds of stuff to get into.
At the Hotel:
The hotel property is pretty expansive, so you could easily spend a morning or afternoon exploring without even leaving.
Eat: At one of Alyeska’s 7 restaurants and eateries onsite, at every possible price range from a quick coffee and bagel up to a fine dining experience in the clouds.
Swim: There’s a heated indoor pool overlooking – yet perfectly incubated from – the outside world and all the elements that come with it. I spent both mornings here and would do anything to be back at that window-side jacuzzi right about now.
Hike: Because of the hotel’s location at the base of the Chugach mountains, there are well-maintained hiking trails everywhere. Just pick up a trail map from the hotel concierge to get a lay of the land.
Ride: All year round, ride the Alyeska Aerial Tram 2,300 ft up to the top of Mount Alyeska. In addition to 2 restaurants, the top of the tram is also home to a pretty epic viewing platform with panoramic views of glacier-lined mountains. If you go up while it’s cloudy, don’t worry – your tram tickets are good for all-day use, so you could technically come back later in the day if the weather’s cleared up for a better view.
Relax: There’s a spa in the hotel with all of your standard offerings. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try it firsthand while we were there, though we would’ve loved to get some massages in after all of our long days roaming around.
Hop on the GVT – this public bus runs pretty much all day and operates on donations. It’ll take you anywhere in Girdwood you need to go – and there are lots of options.
Eat: There are some highly recommended spots in Girdwood, like the Sitzmark Bar & Grill and Double Musky Inn. I personally went to Jack Sprat, which has a cool sort of treehouse vibe, a ton of vegan options, and solid drink selections. There’s also The Ice Cream Shop, which despite the uncreative name has some of the best mango sorbet I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Drink: In addition to Jack Sprat, Sitzmark, and Double Musky, head to the Girdwood Brewing Company. That’s all you need to know.
Watch: If you head to a nearby lookout point off of the Turnagain Arm at the right time of day, you might be able to watch for beluga whales! Supposedly, these guys come pretty close to shore one or two times a day each and every day, and are really easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for since they’re bright white. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I was looking for, I guess.
Outside of Girdwood:
There’s a long laundry list of day tours and trips that you can take pretty easily from Girdwood (most will actually pick you up at the resort), and the hotel’s concierge can help you arrange all of it.
Glacier Hiking: I signed up for a 9-hour day trip to Spencer Glacier, complete with iceberg kayaking and glacier hiking, through a tour group called Ascending Path that works closely with the hotel. More details on this in a future post!
Dog Sledding: We almost went dog sledding with Girdwood Mushing Company, but the day we had our tour booked it was pouring rain, and the mud wouldn’t have been fun for the dogs, or us. While I was pretty disappointed, Alaska’s weather is extremely volatile and we knew our plans would be subject to change depending on the conditions.
River Rafting: While I didn’t do this myself, I saw a lot of people have fun rafting. You get to float from Spencer Glacier down through Placer River, which sounds equal parts relaxing and epic.
Overall, though our trip was short, we had a very comfortable stay and I could not have asked for a more memorable long weekend in Alaska. Keep your eyes peeled – I’ll be sharing a more detailed follow-up blog post about things to do in south central Alaska in the coming weeks!