Upper Winner Creek to Berry Pass mountain biking

In total, mountain biking Upper Winner Creek to Berry Pass is about a 15 mile round trip mountain bike ride from Alyeska Resort and back.  Considering the hike-a-bike up a lot of it, it’s a bit of slow travel up (3.5 hours for us) and while the descent is fast and steep initially, the ride out the ‘flat’ last 5ish miles is not super fast . . . so the return is a solid 1.5 hours.  As long as there’s decent weather, Berry Pass is certainly not a place to hurry through as it’s one of the coolest and most beautiful places around . . . so much mountain water, expansive views into Upper 20 Mile and the high Chugach mountains, lovely wildflowers, and an overall surreal alpine experience.  The Upper Winner Creek Trail is a segment of the longer Iditarod National Historic Trail.  I honestly think the Upper Winner Creek ride is as good as any IMBA epic out there!  Stunning scenery that changes so much throughout the ride and culminates in an idyllic alpine pass . . . technical features that keep you paying attention on the whole descent . . . wildlife . . . but really, the beauty!!!!  For a short-ish ride mileage-wise, it feels like a big ride and the area feels really remote.  

The ride can have snow into late spring as it’s a 2000’ pass in a very snowy area, and it gets pretty overgrown in many places as summer hits its peak.  We rode it July 17th and it’s about as overgrown as I’ll ride it . . . though it’s a trade-off because growth means wild flowers too!  I just wish the Forest Service had the budget to brush the trails and keep them clear!  This is also a mountain bike ride that benefits from dry trails, perhaps more than others.  There’s a lot of root sections, rocky bits, alpine environment, etc. so I like to give it at least a day since the last big rain and try to only do it on a nice day.  It can get really wet and muddy and soggy to the detriment of ride fun!  

With the hand tram out of service, the ride starts from Alyeska Resort and goes up Winner Creek Trail to the junction . . . a left turn takes you to the hand tram and a right to the Upper Winner Creek trail.  The initial section winds its way up the creek without climbing much . . .  roots, drainage gullies, boardwalks . . . it’s kind of technical riding and I like having knee pads on for it (maybe it’s just psychological!).  This is a section I really don’t like when it’s wet as the roots are a challenge dry and sliding off of them just kind of sucks!  The trail then breaks into a grassy section (overgrowth!) and then goes through one of the best sections: the rock garden.  Narrow, rocky, challenging, and really fun!  I often ride out/back to the rock garden if I’m not headed to the pass as it’s a worthy ride in and of itself (2-3 hours).  

After the rock garden, the trail crosses a few creeks and then starts climbing.  It is impossible to keep your feet dry if you go to the pass, so don’t worry about getting them wet here!  Forest sections, open green sections, and lots of up!  This part of the trail is a lot of pushing, though some of it can be pedaled.  As you near the pass, there’s a big waterfall off an unnamed glacier with a river/creek outflow that you must cross – it’s kind of unnerving and more so at high water! 

From there, it’s a pedal/push through more alpine terrain to the pass itself . . . this section of the trail is so stunning!!!!

While the trail continues over Berry Pass it’s rarely ridden that way (I’ve never made it far) . . . some psychological combo of it not being as fun, the descent being super appealing, and energy levels being low!  If you ride it, let me know how it is!!!  

Descending from Berry Pass is super fun . . . the alpine rocky section has some tight-ish switchbacks that are marginally rideable (common to walk them) but the trail is otherwise super rideable.  The waterfall crossing is spicy but your feet are already wet so whatever!  The descent continues in earnest and it’s amazing how fast you get back to the lower creek crossings and rock garden!  The riding is a combo of super technical and more flowy . . . descending boardwalks, tight switchback corners, technical rooty descent features, etc. make it a  proper ‘black diamond’ trail and many may walk a decent amount of it.  That said, others will love the challenge!  

 

Once back to the rock garden, it’s another techy challenge (less rideable on the return for me), then more brush, more roots (more rideable on the return for me), lovely forest riding (it’s so peaceful in the Girdwood valley forests).  Left at the trail junction back to the hotel, it’s fun to ride the GMBA Small House trail for some flow to end the ride (and it’s nice to avoid descending the Winner Creek trail where there’s so much pedestrian traffic!) . . . 

Sitting outside with a beer and food truck food at the Girdwood Brewery is a very fitting way to cap off the day!  There’s something about this ride that always feels like an accomplishment to me 🙂  

For more mountain biking trail reports, check out the whole guide to Alaska biking!!!  Ride on and enjoy 🙂

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