Winter side-trips on the Chugach National Forest

A frozen Portage Lake in the winter

Winter Side Trips on (or adjacent to) the Chugach National Forest

With a little extra time and planning, you can enhance your visit to the Forest by taking advantage of a variety of exciting winter activities along the Seward Highway. (photo by Charles Lindemuth)

Check on openings/closures of motorized use across the forest before venturing out!  Remember there has to be enough snow on the ground before motorized access/use is allowed on National Forest lands. Avalanche conditions can persist across the forest in many areas, even where there are established trails.

Check out Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information (CNFAIC) for daily forecasts, avalanche advisories, and up-to-date information on snowmachine openings, and backcountry skiing and touring. Remember CNFAIC advisories only apply to the Chugach National Forest backcountry. It does not apply to highways, the railroad corridor, or developed ski areas.

Traveler Info 511 AK.
Alaska Department of Transportation.

Not every Forest Service trailhead is maintained during the winter. This means parking may be difficult depending on snow conditions. Do not park on the road where your vehicle will be a traffic hazard. 

Suggested side trips:

Potter Marsh (MP 117.4) –Potter Marsh is excellent for ice-skating when the conditions are right. Watch out for small pockets of open or thin ice. (ice safety quick-link for more information)

Girdwood (MP 90) – Try snowshoeing, skijoring, or cross–country skiing on local trails in the Girdwood valley. A small pond located at the Hotel Alyeska is popular for ice skating and pick–up hockey games and you can snowshoe right from the resort onto the Winner Creek Gorge Trail. Winner Creek Gorge Trail will bring you to a small bridge with beautiful views over the rushing water of the gorge. 

Skates, snowshoes, and skis can be rented at the Resort. Several outfitter guides offer snowmachine excursions to nearby valleys.

Girdwood Nordic Ski club
Girdwood trails map

Portage Valley (MP 79 - Portage Glacier Road) – Portage Lake is breathtaking in the winter. The scenery alone is reason enough to venture to Portage Valley. Snowmobiling, dog sledding, and cross–country skiing are popular outside the Portage Lake area on the nearby Twentymile River and Placer Rivers (MP 81, MP 78).

Portage Lake is a large lake that needs a prolonged period of cold weather to freeze solid. Always check ice thickness before and during time spent on any body of frozen water.

The Trail of Blue Ice can be accessed from Moose Flats Day Use area, approximately 1.5 miles on Portage Glacier Highway from the Seward Highway at MP 79.  This trail makes a great ski or snowshoe outing, extending approximately 5 miles to Portage Lake.

Turnagain Pass Recreation Area (MP 68.5) – A favorite recreation area for snowmobilers and skiers. The west side of the Seward Highway is designated for snowmobile use, while the east side is popular among backcountry skiers. Be sure to check for any closures on the CNF website and look for avalanche forecasts at CNFAIC.

Note that winter access across Turnagain Pass to Granite Creek is not advised due to avalanche danger.

Tern Lake (MP 37) – This shallow lake at the junction of the Seward and Sterling highways is perfect for ice skating and winter photography. Due to decomposition activity in the mud throughout the winter, be alert for open holes and thin ice.

Moose Pass (MP 30) – This quiet little town is a great starting point for a trip across Upper Trail Lake to Trail Creek and upstream to Trail Glacier along the Alaska Railroad. Watch for moose in the Trail Creek valley. Try your luck at ice fishing or travel on Johnson Pass Trail, part of the original Iditarod National Historic route

Lost Lake (MP 17 & MP 5.2) – This high alpine area has grand vistas of Resurrection Bay, and the Snow River and Nellie Juan areas. This trail is suitable for snowmobiles but is also enjoyed by skiers and dog-sled teams. Be alert for other trail users when navigating blind corners. The trail may develop deep ruts and severe icy conditions. If travelling in whiteout or flat light conditions, be extremely cautious above tree line as all terrain looks the same and it is easy to get lost.

Snow River (MP 13.3) – Here is a magnificent valley that climbs up the south fork of Snow River past the north side of Godwin Glacier to Nellie Juan Lake. Snowmobiles, skiers, snowshoers and dog teams have plenty of room to explore. Be prepared for numerous shallow stream crossings and lots of moose sightings.

Exit Glacier (Herman Leirer Road) (MP 3.7, Exit Glacier Road) – This nine-mile road follows Resurrection River to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Ski, snowmobile, or dogsled out to view this spectacular glacier cascading down from the Harding Ice field.

The road is inaccessible to automobile traffic due to a state road closure for the 2019-20 winter season. Winter recreational travel (skiing, biking, walking, snowmachining, etc.) is still permitted.

Seward (MP 0) – Don’t miss this scenic port town’s winter celebrations and the Polar Bear Jump weekend in January. Take part in many of the ski races sponsored by the Seward Nordic Ski Club. Don’t miss the Alaska Sea Life Center and the restaurants and art galleries open for the winter season. For more information visit the Seward Chamber of Commerce.