Perhaps not traditionally considered a mountain biking destination, the last frontier has all the makings to be on the list. Like much of the US and the world, mountain biking is blowing up in Alaska. New bike-specific trails keep popping up, and the riding stoke is high. Trail builders from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward, Soldnotna, Eagle River, Matsu Valley, and Girdwood have all been building flow trails through local forests and hills. Add these trails to the abundance of incredible cross country and alpine options, and there’s something to satisfy everyone.
The best part? Being in Alaska. The drives between trails will wind through stunning mountains. There is scrumptious seafood picked fresh from the sea in restaurants all over the place, and nature-inspired exploration options abound. A trip to Alaska might call for more rest days than normal to take advantage of Alaska’s infinite opportunities. Then again, with nearly endless summer days (18+ hours of daylight depending on the month), fitting a ride in is easier than ever.
Many people express a desire to see the “real” Alaska, rather than the cruise ship or big tour version and from a bike it’s impossible to avoid Alaska. Views from Denali from the trails in Anchorage, thundering waterfalls, and wildlife all present themselves from the trail.
The Anchorage area is home to some of the best purpose-built bike trails in Alaska
While the state has a myriad of cross-country trails that are epic mountain bike rides, purpose-built mountain bike trails have also been built in recent years that are a game-changer for riding in the state.
The Anchorage Hillside sits on the edge of the city and is home to Chugach State Park with over 500,000 acres of public lands – and is home to Alaska’s best pedal (or shuttle) access downhill trails. With views of Denali and the Alaska Range, the Aleutian Volcanoes and waterways of Cook Inlet, and the city of Anchorage, riding here is a must.
Hillside has directional trails in addition to cross-country riding. The flagship trails are the four downhill runs – Jeff’s Whoop-Whoop, Gauer Power, Eh-line, and Dig Deep that each offer about 500 vertical feet of flowy fun. The trails are accessed by the uphill-only Ticket to Ride for laps that take about 30 minutes per lap to complete.
Designed to take advantage of terrain and offer consistent flow, these trails are also designed around progression. Each trail progresses within itself, in addition to the trails becoming more challenging from Jeff’s Whoop Whoop to Gauer Power to Eh-Line to Dig Deep.
Jeff’s Whoop Whoop is designed as an intermediate blue flow trail that is smooth and a super fun trail for all levels, and that it is. With big berms, plenty of jumps with downhill landings that don’t require a clear-or-case, and lots of flow, this trail is sure to leave you giggling like a 12-year old.
Gauer Power is a bit more advanced with tabletops and more rocks. Starting out with a rhythmic, super fun bermed section, the trail delivers corner after corner with great jump features from the start. The lower section offers rocky terrain to keep you on your toes, and flows super rhythmically until it spits you out onto Ticket to Ride for another climb up to the top!
Upper Eh-Line builds on the progression from Gauer Power with even more jumps and berms, and is one of the most fun. Early on, there’s a wood structure that gives the illusion that trail will fall away under you, but really it’s a smooth and rollable. Lower Eh-Line is hand-built and more technical as the corners become tighter and the trail narrower as it winds through the trees, a perfect progression to Dig Deep.
Affectionately called “The Canadian” by locals, a favorite ride of many is Upper Gauer Power to Eh-Line diving off at the mid-section trail junction and cutting north. It’s pure fun, and arguably the best combination of jumps and flow for an advanced top-to-bottom ride.
Dig Deep was a total hand-built rooty tech trail – a progression from the lower tech section of Eh-Line. In the words of Eric Helmbrecht, owner of Powderhound Bike & Ski in Girdood, “Dig Deep takes us back to our roots of how riding used to be in Alaska (pun intended!).”
The trailbuilders wanted this trail to be gnarly and not necessarily fun for everyone. At the same time, it’s a trail that riders can progress to that will prepare them for tech trails at Alyeska and around the state, as well as trips outside Alaska. Because so many volunteers built it, Dig Deep has changes in character throughout that keeps the riding super lively. The best part: the more it gets ridden in, the better it gets as some parts get worn in and new features emerge.
While the four downhill trails are new and oh-so-fun, they’re really the cherry on top of a great trail network. Between the phase 1 bike trails, the Brown Bear and Black Bear bike trails, and the network of singletrack throughout the hillside, there are endless ride options. Between the Phase 1 and 2 purpose-built singletrack, it’s possible to weave loops between the new and old networks rather than top-to-bottom laps on repeat, and to zip across the whole network and mix classic old school singletrack and dive off for a flow segment, then cut off for a tech old school singletrack again. It’s natural to get in a habit of riding the same thing, but there are so many ways you can weave together a 20-30 mile ride and not touch the same trail.
Overall, Hillside has something for everyone and is a must-ride for any bike trip to Alaska.
Nestled in the birch and spruce forest of west Anchorage, Kincaid offers 17 miles of fun, flowy singletrack that are some of the best trails in the state. Intermittent views of Denali and the Anchorage hillside emerge from the trails, but the best views are of Cook Inlet as the water completes its 180-mile journey from the Gulf of Alaska and branches into Knik and Turnagain Arms around Kincaid Park. It’s best viewed from either Northwest Passage or the C$ trails. And if you’re brave enough to dip your toes in the sea, you can catch the award-winning Tony Knowles Coastal Trail rec path for a quick jaunt in the ocean’s waters.
There’re a few local social trails, but the easiest route is to find the asphalt path by the Kincaid chalet, grab a Yeti hot-dog, and cruise to the bottom of the hill until you’re at the beach. Be warned though, the mud-flats are dangerous and many sorry souls have not fared well when the tide comes in. The general rule is to stay close to the sandy beach and don’t wander onto the mud.
Kincaid Park has two distinct trail networks from the same parking area. South of Raspberry Rd, you’ll find the phase 1 trails – 9 miles of flowy trails through the woods. Every corner is banked and it’s easy to maintain momentum as the trails fluidly meander through the forest. Climbs are never sustained so it’s a built-in high intensity interval workout. While not overly technical, the trails ride fast and smooth so they are as challenging as the rider wants.
North of Raspberry Rd. are the phase 2 trails, which underwent a rework in 2020 to improve the jump lines. This network consists of a series of hot lap jump lines taking off from the main vein of Middle Earth running along its spine. Hanging Chad comes first and is a great warm up. Evolution follows and is a bit shorter but still worthwhile. Candy Mountain comes next and it’s fully of the sugary goodness one would expect from the name. Longer than the first two, the trail is full of rollers and jumps fluidly transitioning to big, bermed corners and gives that roller coaster sensation throughout.
Second Breakfast offers a fun flowy one-way downhill jump line parallel to the Middle Earth main trail. It’s also a great place to session big jumps and practice skills (easily accessible from main road).
The grand finale is Northwest Passage that is unreasonably fun and fast. It starts out with lively turns as the trail loses most of its elevation and then a long straight-ish section that rides oh-so-smooth and fast. With great sight lines, it’s a brakes-off kind of ride. CAUTION: breathtaking views of the Cook Inlet along the whole trail may distract riders – don’t let this happen to you lest you launch into the thorny Devil’s club plants that line the corridor!
For a trip based from one location (vs. a road trip), Girdwood, located about 45 minutes from Anchorage, checks all the boxes for a dream trip. Nestled in a stunning valley and surrounded by towering mountains, the town has a very recreational vibe and lacks the bustle of Anchorage. The local brewery, lovingly named ‘the community center’ by regulars for its outdoor patio, food trucks, and social vibe, makes a perfect post-ride reward and refill. And, Girdwood boasts some of the best restaurants around.
Girdwood is home to Alyeska Bike Park for lift-accessed riding and a great network of local singletrack in the valley. Riding from your doorstep, trail options range from forest riding like the Girdwood Mountain Bike Alliance flow trails and the techy Abe’s Trail to truly epic alpine rides like Upper Winner Creek.
Ride through moss-dripping rain forests with canopies so thick that it will protect you from precipitation as you flow amidst a million shades of green. Top out at Berry Pass and gaze into the towering mountains and expansive glaciers of the Chugach range, out to Prince William Sound, and into the huge glacial 20 Mile River Valley before a downhill that will leave you smiling from ear-to-ear.
While the Girdwood valley is incredible, Girdwood is also a great launch point for adventures further afield. Epic cross country trails of the Kenai Peninsula (like Lost Lake, Johnson Pass, Resurrection Trail) are within 30-90 minutes and are well-worth exploring, and Girdwood is close to dozens of quintessential Alaskan experiences.
Alyeska Resort Bike Park
While pedaling has its own rewards, there’s nothing quite like the sheer amount of riding possible with chairlift access. Perched above the Turnagain Arm and in the beautiful Girdwood Valley, the downhill mountain biking at Alyeska is not to be missed. With three chairs delivering 2,500 feet of vertical, the mountain offers something for riders of every skill level.
Like most bike parks, Alyeska offers lessons and clinics, which are a great option for riders looking to improve and progress into the very technical terrain available.
People help each other learn tech sections and support progression. Visitors might show up and feel like it’s not much of a bike park, but look closer and you’ll see how the challenging and raw terrain creates its own uniquely Alaskan vernacular of riding through glaciers, rain forests, open meadows, and along thundering waterfalls. The Alyeska Bike Park hasn’t yet become a tourist destination, which can only be because riders haven’t realized its potential to blow their mind with beauty and progress their riding in the way that only Alaska mountains can. Day passes start at $35 and and riders can get an intro package with a bike, lesson, and a pass for only $125.
Arguably, what sets Alyeska apart from other bike parks in North America is the volume of raw, steep, and technical trails. Stepping it up means carrying a lot of speed and really being on edge, which will challenge even the most advanced riders. Also unique is the descending in alpine terrain – especially when you add in riding in glacial moraine on the Glacier Bowl Trail. The idyllic valley at the top of The Fridays and Silvertip is a place that’s worth hiking to, even without a lift.
Riding around, one can easily forget what’s in front of them while trying to stay alive on the bike, but when you see the pictures later, it’s shocking just how incredible it is to ride right above the Turnagain Arm with so many big mountains rising directly from the sea and surrounding you in every direction. It really is a special experience that epitomizes the experience of biking in Alaska. And don’t be surprised if moose and bears are on the trails – they do live on the mountain and are not uncommon.
The mountain is set up in zones and offers opportunities for rider progression. The Bear Cub Quad is officially the beginner chair and offers the easiest runs with moderate vertical. Even within the Bear Cub network, however, there’s a progression and arguably one of the hardest black runs on the hill, Cliffside, is accessed from here.
When you can ride upper Big Spruce and Christmas in July, you’re ready to step it up to the longer and more demanding trails of Ted’s Express chairlift, starting with Creek Crossing to Tanaka Grasslands and Canyonlands, riding the road around Waterfall until you’re ready to step it up a little further. These trails are fast and flowy, with jumps and berms.
The progression from Tanaka leads riders to Gear Jammer where you can start practicing tech riding, but with a trail comfortably wide enough to have options. Next comes Bermuda Triangle, which continues to up the game in tech riding and then Race Trail for some fast and fun flow riding. Choose to finish on one of your Bear Cub Quad favorites, or ride lower Race Trail to Caution Trees and Rock Monster to continue upping your game with rocky and rooty tech trails.
As the summer progresses and snow melts from the alpine, Glacier Bowl Express opens for a full 2,500 feet of vertical descent to the base, or heart-pumping tech laps up top. Glacier Bowl riding is the cream of the crop – there’s something almost inconceivable about riding through the glacial moraine of Glacier Bowl trail – it’s almost like riding on the moon. Cross the creek for some more tech options; Sign Line is raw and steep, thrilling with a lot of brakes applied, and an infinite challenge to increase speed. Next it’s on to Slip and Slide (locally known as Lawton’s Demise – just imagine the story of that tight switchback) and then Don’s Crossing over to a choice of the wide and flowy Silvertip or the equally flowy and more challenging Fridays. A fun finish on Treat’s Trees offers big double black jumps for the daring, and lovely, flowy berms for those wanting a tamer type of fun.
What sets Alyeska apart from other bike parks is the community vibe – funky, friendly, and just plain Alaska. There are relatively few riders, so you see the same faces each weekend and cheers from the chairlift are normal because everyone knows your bike. Most people are competing with themselves rather than others, and it’s easy to hop in a group/rider train of different speeds.
Off-the-bike options from Anchorage
Visiting Alaska is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with big ice. The glaciers, some of which are tens of thousands of years old, are humbling. While you can hike or bike to see glaciers from a distance, getting up close and personal with a big glacier will cost roughly $400 per person through these guides. While the price is steep, it is well worth seeing the massive ice blocks up close.
Spend the day with Chugach Adventures and explore the Spencer Glacier in the heart of the Kenai Mountains. Accessed by the Alaska Railroad, these all-day trips explore the glacier by kayaking amongst icebergs at the toe with options to hike on the glacier or float the Placer River back to civilization. With expert riding skills, you could also take the train in and bike the Spencer Bench Trail and Chugach Adventures will support with camping logistics and getting your bike out while you raft the Placer River with them.
Visitors can also jet ski to Blackstone Bay in Prince William Sound. About a 30 minute drive from Girdwood, Prince William Sound is accessible from the town of Whittier through the longest highway tunnel in North America – 2.5 miles through Maynard Mountain. While there are many ways to explore Prince William Sound, perhaps the most unique and adventurous is by taking a jet ski from Whittier down Passage Canal and into Blackstone Bay to huge tidewater glaciers and stunning waterfalls. It’s also a great way to experience the expansiveness of the area and the truly spectacular combination of mountains and sea. This is about 60 miles round trip, and the adventure takes about a half-day with plenty of time to stop and see wildlife.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
About a 10-minute drive toward Portage (also a worthy place to check out), The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) sits on 200 acres of open space comprised of natural habitat for animals found throughout Alaska. A rescue for injured and orphaned animals, AWCC is a fantastic way to see the animals you hope not to see from a bike, and those not found in this part of the state. Make eye contact with a brown bear, blow kisses to a wolf, admire the rack of a bull moose, gaze on the elusive lynx, and marvel at the seemingly prehistoric musk ox. A stop at the wildlife center is also a great start to a trip that will include time in the actual wilderness, as it’s the perfect way to learn about wildlife signs, protocol for wildlife encounters, and overall wildlife safety.
One of the best hikes in the area is North Face trail from the Alyeska Hotel to the top of the tram. While the North Face trail is less than 2.5 miles long, there is still a whopping 2,300 feet of elevation gain. Starting out on a snowcat road, the singletrack emerges and transports you through swampy boardwalk sections to the base of the North Face (one of the best ski runs too). It then starts to climb in earnest, ultimately mellowing out to some switchbacks through the alpine. The best part of this hike is that in an hour or two, there are multiple ecosystems from the alpine tundra overlooking the Turnagain Arm and with stunning views of the entire Girdwood valley, including seven glaciers. This trail is closed to bikes, so save it for a rest day.
When it comes to Alaska travel, the sky’s the limit (literally and figuratively). There is just so much adventuring and exploring to be done, it can hardly be encapsulated in an article. While this article focuses on Girdwood, Anchorage, and the Kenai Peninsula (because that’s where our best biking is!), bike-based road trips can be done in any direction, where the adventures are limited only by your dreams.
- Getting to Alaska: Flights should be booked to the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Alaska Airlines has the most flights, and no extra charge for bikes (although standard luggage rates apply).
- Where to stay: Both AirBnB and hotels offer great options in Girdwood, Anchorage, and small towns like Seward and Cooper Landing if you want more of a road-trip adventure. RV rental is another option. Generally, Alaska is very well set up for summer tourism season, so there is plenty of lodging.
- Car Rental: While not critical to rent a car if staying in Girdwood (shuttles will run approx $125/PP each way), it’s best to rent one for excursions further afield, or to check out trails on the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. A two-wheel drive rental car is usually fine.
- Bike: A full-suspension with a dropper post will do you right for the sundry of trails, though it may be worth renting a DH bike at Alyeska for the fun factor. If you don’t want to bring a bike, trail and downhill bikes can be rented at Powderhound in Girdwood, and Chain Reaction in Anchorage rents trail bikes as well.
- Trail resources: Full trail guides are available at www.alaskaMTB.com or book a guide at Alaska Bike Adventures.
- Wildlife safety: Wildlife is commonly seen on our bike trails – moose and black bear are most common, though brown bear sightings are possible as well. Make lots of noise so as not to surprise animals, and protect yourself by carrying bear spray (purchase at REI in Anchorage – can’t be checked in baggage or carried on). If you encounter an animal, stop and make lots of noise until they leave the area. If they stay, it’s time to turn around – never engage in behavior that could be threatening to them.