Exploring Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park is like journeying back in time to when the Ice Age still reigned supreme and ice covered the world.
Today, much of that ancient ice still remains at the edge of the Kenai Peninsula in a lush but harsh terrain where ice, mountains, and ocean meet. This national park in Seward, Alaska, sweeps over a staggering 607,805 acres of unspoiled wilderness along the southeastern coast of Alaska. The Harding Icefield, a remnant of when ice ages carved out this land, is the largest icefield contained within U.S. borders. It stretches out for 700 miles of miles-thick ice.
During a hosted trip to Seward, I fell in love with this wild, untamed land. Snow-capped soaring peaks of the Seward Peninsula Mountains always loom in the distance, but the glaciers that make this park so special are what really drew me here. From hanging glaciers to receding and surging ice walls, seeing the massive and awe-inspiring power of how ice continues to shape this land makes one feel humbled.
Exploring the outdoor wonders of Kenai Fjords isn’t the only activity you can enjoy here, however. Hiking, ocean tours, and biking are all popular, but eating local, learning about the indigenous culture, and taking in the local vibes are also a lot of fun.
Although I only had a few days in Seward, here are my favorite experiences in Kenai Fjords National Park.
1. Spot Local Wildlife
I was hosted by Pursuit Collections, which has a variety of adventures in its Alaska Collection. Being a provider of attraction and hospitality experiences, Pursuit owns and operates Kenai Fjords Tours. Even if I wasn’t hosted by Pursuit, I would overwhelmingly recommend the Northwestern Fjord Tour for the simple fact that it goes further and longer than most of the boat tour operators in the area.
This full-day narrated boat tour brings visitors along the Northwestern Fjord to see three tidewater glaciers, to the little islands that dot the fjord, and along seabird rookeries. Most of Kenai Fjords National Park can only be accessed by the water, so taking a boat tour of this gorgeous land is a must.
On our first day trip, the weather was gray and ominous, promising rough crossings, but the skilled and knowledgeable captain and crew handled it with ease. Along the way, they spotted frolicking sea otters, massive colonies of sea lions, whale spouts in the distance, a pod of killer whales, and the delightful little puffins that call this area home.
We cruised through hidden bays with waterfalls that looked as if they came straight out of the Disney movie Ferngully. We were educated on the life span and awesome power of the glaciers we were almost close enough to touch.
A light breakfast and lunch is included on this tour, but if you need a steaming hot chocolate or a glass of the local brews, the bar is open as well. Oh, and the homemade, gooey chocolate chip cookie at the end of the day tour will probably taste like the best cookie you’ve ever had.
Pro Tip: I don’t care how calm the harbor looks or how beautiful the weather seems, take motion sickness pills before the tour. Our bad weather day made our tour especially rough, but even on calm days, a dozen or so folks end up getting sick each trip. Don’t ruin this special experience with seasickness.
2. Take A Glacier Dinner Cruise
Departing from Seward in the afternoon, this Kenai Fjords Tours evening cruise also starts from Resurrection Bay before gliding deeper into Kenai Fjords National Park to see glaciers up close.
A plated meal of crab cakes, roasted corn, salad, and a dinner roll makes for a nice romantic dinner on board while you gaze at the impossibly deep blue of the glaciers, watch whales breach in the water, or see otters playfully float alongside.
Pro Tip: Definitely layer up, even in the summer. The wind is staggeringly cold, so a hat and gloves can definitely make this cruise more comfortable, especially if you spend most of your time out on deck watching the beautiful lush scenery go by.
3. Hike The Exit Glacier
As the only glacier in the park you can hike to, Exit Glacier is one of the 35 glaciers that pour over the Harding Icefield. It earned its name by being the exit point for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968.
There is a series of trails to access the Exit Glacier. The first is an easy-to-moderate 1-mile hike to the Glacier View Loop or the 1.8-mile path to the Glacier Overlook Trail.
The other option is the challenging and sometimes dangerous 8.2-mile Harding Icefield Trail, which has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet per mile and takes 6–8 hours to complete. This trail is recommended for skilled hikers only.
We did the Glacier Overlook Trail, which rewarded our steps with sweeping vista views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Exit Glacier itself is a marvel to see. Its beauty is breathtaking to witness, but it’s also sobering in the fact that it is retreating at an average rate of 125 feet a year.
Nevertheless, the Glacier Overlook Trail is a well-maintained trail, but it can be moderately strenuous in places as it weaves over the glacially carved inclines.
Pro Tip: While the Exit Glacier area is open year-round, the road to the glacier is usually inaccessible to cars from late-October to mid-November due to snow.
4. Learn About Wildlife
Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park are teeming with wildlife. You’re likely to spot a moose along the banks of the Resurrection and Snow Rivers, see a playful sea lion in the Seward Harbor, and view more bird life than you can count.
The Alaska Sealife Center
The easiest way to get up close and personal with the native wildlife of Kenai Fjords National Park is a visit to the Alaska Sealife Center. Located in downtown Seward, this public aquarium and permanent marine mammal rehabilitation center features all different kinds of species, including puffins, salmon, seals, octopus, steller sea lions, and more.
It’s also a great place to learn about the Sealife Center’s animal rehabilitation efforts, which were featured on National Geographic’s Alaska Animal Rescue. The aquarium also has a touch tank and a variety of encounters with animals like a sea otter or an octopus.
Ididaride Dog Sled Tours
Believe it or not, dog-sled tours are available during the summer months as well as the winter. Ididaride Dog Sled Tours offers tours just a short flight from the Seward Airport to its dog-sledding camp on a glacier, where you can experience a dog-sled ride through the gorgeous backdrop of glaciers.
Visitors can ride on the runners and help drive the sled or just relax and enjoy the ride. The Summer Wilderness Tour is done on wheeled sleds for an hour and a half tour.
See The Bears
Kenai Backcountry Adventures offers the only bear-viewing tour from Seward, Alaska. This 12-hour tour includes a full-day bear-viewing experience in Lake Clark National Park and includes all gear, lunch, and airfare.
5. Explore Seward’s Charming Streets
Seward’s historic downtown is a fun place to spend half a day or so. With plenty of little shops, you’ll have a lot of chances to pick up thoughtful souvenirs or hand-crafted gifts. Art lovers will adore the local galleries and all the murals painted around town.
In fact, downtown Seward is considered the “Mural Capital of Alaska” with more than 30 paintings depicting famous events, historical characters, and the landscape of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords Peninsula.
The Seward Community Library & Museum is worth a visit to see the collection and history of Seward throughout the years.
Pro Tip: A great way to explore Seward is with the Seward free shuttle, which runs a 5-mile route that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Seward City Tours offers an informative, 1-hour Historical City Tour, or a 5-hour Seward Deluxe Tour. The History and Glacier Combo is a happy medium for those who can’t do the full 5-hour tour. The tours include luggage storage and shuttle service to any destination in town.