There is a maze of interesting trails in and around Girdwood near Alyeska Resort, including the famous Crow Pass Trail. But the Upper Winner Creek Trail to Berry Pass is one of those rare gems that promises to sparkle in your memory.
The Upper Winner Creek trail is not that difficult to find. You park in the Hotel Alyeska’s daytime parking area, then head up to toward the tramway and follow the cables from the lower tramway terminal uphill for about 100 yards. You’ll then reach a U.S. Forest Service sign that indicates the Winner Creek Trail on the edge of the woods. Follow the trail left, or north for about 1.7 miles and you’ll reach a “T” intersection. Bear to the right for the Upper Winner Creek Trail.
Located within Chugach National Forest, the Upper Winner Creek trail contours the valley along the south side of the creek and gradually ascends through rainforest of spruce and hemlock. It is about 6-1/2 miles to the beginning of Berry Pass, which is pocked with small pools and clumps of dwarf hemlock trees.
The pass is described by some as an alpine “Shangri-La,” perhaps reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.
You can then hike a mile across the pass to awesome views and then, if you’re really ambitious, descend another 1-1/2 miles to Twenty Mile River. Some people carry in lightweight pack rafts and then float the river all the way to the Seward Highway.
Stream Crossings: The Upper Winner Creek trail is quite good, but requires a few stream crossings.
The largest one is about Mile 5-1/2, and depending on the time of year and time of day, it can be somewhat challenging to cross. I removed my boots and socks, slipped on rubber “water walkers” and had no difficulty. With a little scouting, my friends found a good crossing point about 20 yards uphill from the trail and actually “rock-hopped” the stream to keep their feet dry.
The upper part of the trail can be somewhat brushy with alders and it was obvious that by July and August, the foliage could become quite thick if no trail maintenance is performed. The approach to the pass is loaded with salmon berries, and in the pass blueberries and crowberries can be profuse — thus the location’s name. For this reason, be on guard for bears; mostly black bears. It’s very advisable to hike this trail in groups, to make lots of noise and carry some protection, such as pepper spray. During our hike we found bear scat at three separate locations, but didn’t spot any bears.
If you go about a half mile through the pass your round trip will be about 14 miles. It took us a total of 10 hours, with frequent stops and a nice rest at the pass. I would rate this hike moderate to strenuous. It definitely pays off big time when you get to the pass, which rivals the stunning natural beauty of Lost Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. You’ll find yourself not wanting to leave and wishing you’d brought camping gear.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and ECHO News team member who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired grade school teacher.