Explore Kenai Fjords National Park

8.2 Miles Round Trip - 3000 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

60.004179,-149.796826 - Search Nearby - Added by Autumn Schrock

The essence of Alaska all in one place – fjords, glaciers, mountains, abundant wildlife, and the ocean – make this a must-visit national park

None of Alaska’s eight national parks are easy to get to, but Kenai Fjords National Park is one of only three national parks in the state that can be accessed (partly) by road. It’s also the closest national park to Anchorage, which makes this an easier jaunt from the capital. While this park is the smallest of Alaska’s parks, it’s still the size of Yosemite National Park in California, so there is much room for exploration! What makes this national park so unique is the fact that it is around 51% covered by ice. The Harding Icefield, which spans over 300 square miles, feeds almost 40 different glaciers and is the largest icefield in the United States.

From Anchorage, head south to Seward. You have a couple of options to access the park from here: drive to Exit Glacier Area, the only part of the park that is accessible by road, or take a boat tour out to the Aialik, Northwestern, Holgate, and Bear Glaciers. I highly recommend both as they each boast their own type of adventure. If you’re looking for a good hike, visit Exit Glacier Area. If your aim is to see wildlife or glaciers up close without having to hike, take a boat tour.

Exit Glacier Area

There is a small nature center at the base of Exit Glacier with access to a few hiking trails of varying difficulties: you can hike all the way up to the Harding Icefield where Exit Glacier originates, hike the accessible Glacier View Loop Trail which is a paved lower trail, or get a view of the toe of the glacier on the Glacier Overlook Trail. 

Note: The Harding Icefield Trail is strenuous! It climbs close to 1,000 feet per mile. It’s 8.2 miles round trip, so prepare yourself for several hours of hiking. The Glacier View Loop Trail and Glacier Overlook Trail are more family friendly.

The Exit Glacier Area is open year-round, but the road to Exit Glacier does close for snow in the winter. The area is open to winter recreation once snow arrives, so don’t let the weather stop your exploration!

This national park is in bear country, so take appropriate actions: pack out all litter, make noise so that bears know you’re near, hike in groups if possible, and never feed the wildlife. Black bears are seen almost every single day from the Harding Icefield Trail.

Boat Tour

There are several different tour options that go to different glaciers. Most of them include lunch or dinner as the tours range from 4 hours - 9 hours. Your adventure departs from the quaint Seward Boat Harbor where you’ll most likely spot sea otters adrift sleeping or munching. As the tour leaves, keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals, Dall’s porpoise, sea otters, and bald eagles. The tour guides are also on the lookout, so don’t worry if you miss something – they’ll slow the boat down and point it out to you.

Our tour was the Kenai Fjords National Park tour, which visits the Aialik Glacier. Our first wildlife spotting was a group of tufted and horned puffins. These adorable little marine birds can be identified quickly as they flap their wings quite rapidly (up to 400 times per minute) and have large orange beaks.

Once you near Aialik Cape, it’s likely that you’ll see Steller sea lions lounging on the small islands soaking up the sun. We even saw orcas near this area! Making your way into Aialik Bay, you’ll notice the temperature drop, so don't forget to pack layers. This is the first indication that you’re near a glacier. It’s a very strange feeling, as the cold comes on quite suddenly. In the distance you can see what appears to be a very small glacier ahead of you, but looks can be deceiving. When the captain gets you close to this glacier, the sense of majesty and enormity begin to click. You will probably see little black specks on the floating ice under the glacier – this isn’t dirt, those are seals! They look wildly tiny from this distance, which is another indication as to just how expansive these glaciers are. Prime calving season is May and June, so you may get lucky to see massive chunks of the glacier slough off into the bay.

This area of the park is where you’ll stop for lunch. On your way back to Seward, hopefully you’ll get a glimpse at some humpback whales and/or orca. You will definitely see more puffins and Steller sea lions, who will most likely shout at you as you float by. You’ll have plenty of time on the ride back to appreciate how magnificent nature is and how vast and abundant the glaciers are that make this national park such a special place.

Tags

Stand Up Paddle
Canoeing
Snowboarding
Camping
Photography
Skiing
Kayaking
Snowshoeing
Hiking
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Groups
Handicap Accessible
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife

Details

8.2 Miles
3000 ft elevation gain
Out-and-Back Trail

Stay Nearby

Seward, Alaska

Seward KOA

Homer, Alaska

Homer / Baycrest KOA

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