Kenai Fjords National Park is home to the Harding Icefield, a 700 square mile sheet of ice feeding over 40 glaciers. The Icefield, remnants of the last ice age, has carved finger-like projections called Fjords through its many tidewater glaciers. These glaciers give life to a brilliant ecosystem of marine life in the surrounding ocean which it feeds. Glacial movement releases unoxidized ore, a basic nutrient that is the basis of the food chain here. Ore feeds plankton, which in turn feed everything up to orcas and humpbacks at the top of the food chain.
A visit to Kenai Fjords National Park will allow you to get up close and personal with tidewater glaciers, land and marine wildlife, and offer a glimpse into how native maritime people subsisted. At only 350,000 visitors per year, this is one National Park where you can get away from the crowds. If you find yourself drawn to Alaska, we highly suggest a visit to this gem!
Table of Contents
- How to Get to Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park at a Glance
- Where to Stay in Kenai Fjords National Park
- What to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
- More National Parks
How to Get to Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is located in Seward, Alaska. This cute coastal town is a two and a half hour drive from Anchorage, Alaska. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is stunning, taking you past the Turnagain Arm into the Kenai Peninsula. Seward is also a common stop for cruise ships so you may arrive in Seward by boat. The visitor center for the park is located in downtown Seward. Exit Glacier is the only part of the park that can be accessed by road. The rest of the park is accessed by water. Kenai Fjords charges no entry fee to access the park.
Kenai Fjords National Park at a Glance
Kenai Fjords became a national park in 1980, however humans may have inhabited this area as early as 1200 AD. The Sugpiaq, also known as the Alutiq, are a maritime people who subsisted in the outer areas of the Kenai Peninsula coast. These native peoples made kayaks out of wood and mammal skins and hunted in the ocean. You can learn more about their fascinating history in the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center.
Temperatures range from -20 to 30 F in the winter and 40 to 70 F in the summer. The area averages 200 inches of snowfall annually and 64 inches of rain. There are 160 days of precipitation. The driest month is May while the wettest month is September. The best time to visit is in the summer months of June, July, and August. These months will offer the best climate and the best opportunities for activities like ice climbing, hiking, and boating. You’ll want to be prepared for any weather and dress in layers. Rain gear is a must, we suggest raincoat, rain pants, and boots. The last thing you want is to make the trek there and have your experience ruined by improper gear!
Kenai Fjords National Park is teeming with wildlife. On land, you can spot brown and black bears, moose, bald eagle and mountain goats. In the ocean, you can see humpback whales, orca, fin whales, Dall’s porpoise, seabirds, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and harbor seals. The wildlife in this region is the highlight of many peoples visits!
Unfortunately Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the least dog friendly National Parks. Pets are only allowed on Exit Glacier Road and in the parking lot of the Exit Glacier Nature Center. Pets are not allowed on trails or within 1/4 mile of coastal backcountry. It is best to leave your pup at home or have prior arrangements. Pet sitting opportunities are limited in the area.
Where to Stay in Kenai Fjords National Park
There are several options for camping around Kenai Fjords National Park. There are twelve walk-in tent sites at the Exit Glacier Nature Center for free with a 14 day limit. Along Exit Glacier Road in Chugach National Forest there are several dispersed camping spots. The best spots are along the Resurrection Riverbed. These spots are boondocking sites with no amenities, always remember to leave no trace so these sites will remain available for all to enjoy. There are municipal campgrounds on the waterfront in Seward with incredible views of the Resurrection Bay. Sites can be booked through The City of Seward. Prices range from $20 for a tent site to $65 for full RV hookup.
Backcountry camping is another option. There are several campsites along the fjords that are only accessed by boat. You can hire a water taxi to take you there or go on a kayaking trip with a guide, there are several outfitters that offer multi-day kayaking excursions. This is a great way to spend more time in the coastal areas and immerse yourself in the park.
There are several options for lodging in Seward. If you’re looking for a hotel, Seward Windsong, Harbor 360, and Best Western Edgewater are all good options that will situate you close to the park and downtown Seward. There are also several rentals through VRBO and AirBnB. Reservations for summer trips book up quickly so you’ll want to be sure you book in advance. Aside from Public Use Cabins and back country camping, the only lodging within the park limits is Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. This lodge offers a pricey but unique experience of the park.
Public Use Cabins
There are two public use cabins that can be reserved through Recreation.gov. They are $75 per night and are limited to a three night stay. These cabins are only accessed by water so a water taxi trip will be necessary.
What to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
Exit Glacier is the only part of the park that can be accessed by road. Just north of Seward, Exit Glacier Road will lead you to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. Pay attention to the signs on the side of the road as you approach, they are markings for where the glacier reached in previous years. It’s striking to notice how far Exit Glacier has retreated in recent years. From the Exit Glacier Nature Center you have a choice of two trails.
Exit Glacier Overlook Trail
This trail is a 2.2 mile loop with 308 feet of elevation gain. Continuing on the trend as you drive to the Nature Center, this trail has more signs designated where the glacier reached in previous years. We had goosebumps as we realized how much of this glacier has retreated. Portions of the trail are paved and it is wheelchair friendly to a certain point.
Harding Icefield Trail
This hike is strenuous but if you are up to the challenge, we can’t recommend this trail enough. In our years of hiking, this has been one of our favorite trails. At 8.2 miles and 3,512 feet of elevation gain, you will be on a constant stair climber. Plan to give yourself 6-8 hours to complete this hike. Be sure to pack lots of water, food, sunscreen, trekking poles, bear spray and crampons. We recommend dressing in layers; glaciers create natural air conditioning through “katabatic winds.” Temperatures can vary widely depending on how close you are to the glacier.
The best time to do this trail is July through September. We hiked in June and found microspikes incredibly useful above the Top of the Cliffs. We recommend actual microspikes over YakTrax for more traction. If there is still snow on the trail, try to hike early in the morning when the snow is still crisp. When we hiked down in the afternoon, the snow was slushy. This is an avalanche zone above Top of the Cliffs, if avalanche conditions are present, do not hike. Consult with a park ranger for current trail conditions. Keep an eye out for wildlife, bear and mountain goat sightings are common!
Though we did not personally do a glacier tour, we have heard great things about Exit Glacier Guides. A guide will take you safely onto the ice providing an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal with a glacier. Exit Glacier Guides also offers ice climbing experiences. All equipment is provided and prior ice climbing experience is not necessary. This is definitely an experience that’s high on our list to do next time! We could see ice climbers from the Harding Icefield Trail and it looked like a blast!
If you visit Kenai Fjord National Park, we highly recommend getting out into the water in some form. There are many options, from cruises, to kayak excursions. We did a kayak trip to Aialik Glacier, however our favorite part ended up being the water taxi out and all the creatures we saw!
Kayaking in Kenai Fjords National Park is a truly intimate way to immerse yourself in the park. There are several companies offering tours to get you out on the water. You can kayak in Resurrection Bay, Bear Glacier Lake, or go further into the park to Aialik Glacier or Northwestern Glacier. To our knowledge, Liquid Adventures is the only provider to offer trips to Bear Glacier Lagoon. Trips to Bear Glacier Lagoon are subject to cancellation due to tidal flooding.
Tours to Aialik and Northwestern will be pricier as there is a cost for water taxi transportation. One bonus for tours to Aialik and Northwestern is an added wildlife cruise. Water taxi providers will stop for wildlife and allow you to take pictures. On our tour with Kayak Adventures Worldwide, we saw humpbacks bubble feeding, dahl porpoises swimming along the boat, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, sea birds and orcas! The wildlife was one of the highlights of our day. Another major kayak tour provider is Sunny Cove. We recommend looking at all providers and choosing one that has your preferred dates available.
If you’re not interested in kayaking, there are several options for boat tours that will get you close to the marine parts of the park. Kenai Fjords Tours offers the most comprehensive through their 8.5 hour tour. You will cruise through Resurrection Bay to Aialik and Holgate Glacier, around islands looking for wildlife, and stop at Fox Island for a buffet dinner. Another option is the Northwestern Fjord Tour, this will take you the farthest into the park to Northwestern Glacier. For the cheapest and shortest tour that will get you to the marine areas of the park, Kenai Fjords Tours offers a 6 hour tour. Other major tour providers are Major Marine, and Kenai Fjords Cruise.
There are so many ways to explore Kenai Fjords National Park. From boat tours and kayaking to hiking and glacier walking. There’s something for everyone who wants to explore this beautiful natural wonderland. The question is, when are you booking your trip? Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!