Glacier Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Glacier Creek

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    Jule Harle

      SOURCE: The Alaska Packraft Guidebook: Premier Rivers & Creeks in the 49th State (1st ed) Copyright: 2022 by Jule Harle.  Refer to the guidebook for additional info, photos, waypoints or detailed river maps. Author permission required to reproduce, duplicate or transfer following content.  

      Difficulty: III-
      Length: 3.5 miles
      Gauge: Glacier Creek at Alyeska USGS gauge
      Shuttle: Varies, none to 3.5 miles

      Put-in: Glacier Creek Hand Tram, multiple hike-in options

      Takeout: Glacier Creek bridge/town center on Alyeska Hwy

      Character: A local favorite for Girdwood residents, it’s an incredibly accessible quick after work fix that conveniently ends in the downtown area.  A commonly suggested run for newer packrafters, however the pushy sharp bends and constant wood hazards make this run less appropriate for someone’s first time paddle trip, especially if water is high.

      Water Level:  The USGS Glacier Creek gauge has water levels given in both feet & cfs; cfs is referenced here.  Glacier is most commonly done between 225-500 cfs.  Higher flows, above 400 cfs, eddies begin to disappear and the creek moves more swiftly without stopping.  With lower flows, under 350 cfs, macro & micro eddies exist, allowing for excellent eddy peel in & peel out practice opportunities.  Going lower than 200 cfs is possible, but expect some serious butt dragging.

      Glacier Creek can and has been run at flows upwards of 3000 cfs after heavy rain events (instagram post/video on @alaskapackraft); but this makes for an incredibly continuous, non stop run; catching eddies is difficult & nearly impossible in many areas.  At extremely high flows Glacier Creek is still class III, but with class more serious IV/V consequences.

      River Description:  If it’s mid-summer, be prepared to be questioned and photographed by Alyeska Resort tourists hiking in the area, as this is one of Girdwood’s most popular trails.  Who knows, you just may end up in some random person’s scrapbook!

      Handtram rapid, 225 cfs

      Glacier Creek is fun, fast & serves up beautiful views of the Girdwood Valley, especially after leaving the canyon.  There’s no time for warm up, a class III- rapid comes up instantly, right under the hand tram.  This is the largest feature on the creek and can be walked around on the right side easily at lower flows.  The rapid has a large rock in the center, creating a hole at higher flows; both right & left lines exist, but right is generally easier.  Immediately after this entrance feature, Winner Creek comes in as a cascading waterfall on the left.  Kayakers often run this drop.  There is a rock beach & large eddy on the right, great for staging photos of paddlers coming down.

      Mylise Bennet decided the Hand Tram rapid was too low & chunky, easy portage on the right at low water. Gauge: 200 cfs Photo: Jule Harle

      The difficulty of Glacier Creek lies in its sharp turns- the water pushes into rock walls as it bends back right and left throughout the run.  Paddlers need to be seasoned with proper boat angle and be able to paddle aggressively away from these walls.  Whereas this is not incredibly difficult in and of itself, Glacier Creek has swam hundreds (maybe thousands, who knows) of beginning packrafters who were pushed into the walls, resulting in sudden boat flips.  Adding to the danger factor is that these bends often have eddies where logs have deposited; problem wood litters the riverbanks, making flips & swims pretty dangerous.  When the riverbed opens up and begins to braid, stay alert for wood.  Takeout on the right immediately after the bridge.  Class II continues all the way down to the Seward highway, but expect some wood portages. 

      Hike Descriptions:

      From takeout via Iditarod Trailhead: This is a less popular way to access Glacier Creek, but a great one if you don’t mind an extra hour of hiking OR only have one vehicle for shuttle purposes.  From the takeout, cross the highway and head into the town center on Hightower Rd.  Walk through town; after passing the Post Office on your left, you’ll walk past condos/apartments on either side of the street.  A few hundred feet after the condos, look for a gate on the right that blocks access to a dirt road. (parking here is also an option- just don’t block the gate!).  You’ll follow the road for a few hundred feet before a trail picks up in the forest on the left (if you see the metal electric box on the left-you’ve gone too far) It’s possible to walk the road for another mile or so, but the trail is preferred as the road drains poorly and soon turns into a bog. 

      When the trail forks after 1 mile, turn left.  You’ll Crow Creek road, but the trail picks up again on the other side about 50 ft up the road.  Trail then continues through the rainforest, oscillating between roots, boardwalks and wet rock before crossing the road one more time.  After the second road crossing, walk for another ½ mile before arriving at the Winner Creek trail junction.  Follow signs towards the hand tram, 1 mile away..  The easiest way down to the creek from the tram is on the switchback on the upstream/left side.  Approx 4 miles, 1-2 hrs.

      From Winner Creek Trailhead: From the parking lot, follow signs to hand tram.  The trail is wide and nearly wheelchair accessible for most of the way, until arriving at the tram.  Note: at time of writing, tram was closed for use, please respect the current signage.  Once there, follow a short & steep trail towards the left down to the put-in.

      Hiking into Glacier Creek via Winner Creek trail.

      Takeout (view from Alyeska Hwy bridge)

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Glacier Creek