Scenic Seward, flanked by rugged mountains on one side and sparkling Resurrection Bay on the other, has a way of luring visitors. There is fantastic hiking nearby, a quaint downtown, the amazing Alaska SeaLife Center, access to Kenai Fjords National Park, and excellent in-town camping where you can park your vehicle and walk to most attractions.
About Seward (Sugpiaq: Qutalleq)
Located at the terminus of both the Alaska Railroad and the Seward Highway, and a port of call for many cruises, this town of about 2,700 residents is easily accessible from Anchorage yet can serve as a base for anybody who likes to kayak, hike, fish, and view whales and glaciers.
Things to do
Downtown and the Small Boat Harbor
While most people arrive in Seward to explore Kenai Fjords National Park and the area’s endless outdoor recreation opportunities, the bustling town has a lot to offer. There are two main areas to explore: the Small Boat Harbor area, which is home to a string of shops, tour companies, restaurants, and lodging options nestled along the harbor, and Downtown, which is about 1.5 miles south of the harbor at the end of the Seward Highway, home to more stops, restaurants, hotels, and the fantastic Alaska SeaLife Center.
Connecting the two areas is the Seward Waterfront Trail, a paved multi-use path that travels alongside the shore of Resurrection Bay and offers stunning views plus chances of seeing Steller sea lions, eagles, sea otters, and sometimes whales.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Created in 1980, Kenai Fjords spreads over 587,000 acres and is crowned by the massive Harding Icefield, the source of countless tidewater glaciers that pour down into coastal fjords. The impressive landscape and an abundance of marine wildlife makes Seward a favorite jumping off point for whale watching excursions and kayaking trips in the park. Many visitors take a day cruise along the coast south of Seward to watch tidewater glaciers calve into the sea and look for whales, sea lions, and sea otters.
Another popular attraction in Kenai Fjords National Park is Exit Glacier, which lies just north of town. This road-accessible glacier offers an impressive up-close view of the glacier and is the starting point of the only established hiking trails in the park. National Park Rangers lead naturalist hikes to the edge of the glacier, or you can challenge yourself on the Harding Icefield Trail, which ascends 1,000 feet over four miles and rewards with expansive views over the impressive icefield.
The Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center is located in Seward's Small Boat Harbor area and has interactive displays on the park. Visitors can get information on hiking and camping or pick up maps and field guides to the area. The Exit Glacier Nature Center is located about 12 miles from the boat harbor, featuring interpretive displays on the natural history of the glacier, a small gift shop, and information on hiking trails.
Glacier and Wildlife Cruises
The most popular way to view Resurrection Bay and the dramatic fjords, glaciers, and marine wildlife of Kenai Fjords National Park is on a glacier and wildlife cruise departing from the Small Boat Harbor. Tours range from half-day wildlife cruises in Resurrection Bay to full-day outings that take visitors out to Aialik Bay or Northwestern Fjord to view tidewater glaciers and picturesque coves, islands, and rugged coastline.
In the spring, gray whales migrate through the area on their epic migration north and can be seen on tours that run specifically to view this impressive species. Humpback whales spend the summer feeding in the area’s nutrient-rich waters from May – October, and resident pods of orcas can be seen year-round. The abundant marine wildlife is a highlight of day cruises into the park, with opportunities to see Dall’s porpoises, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and many species of seabirds including puffins, common murres, kittiwakes, and cormorants.
Seward has a large charter fishing fleet that is well-suited to take visitors out into Resurrection Bay and beyond for some of the best saltwater fishing in Alaska. All five varieties of Pacific salmon can be found here, along with halibut, rockfish, and lingcod. Fishing charter companies offer a wide variety of trips to target specific species, or you can join a combo trip to target more than one species. Most companies can arrange for your catch to be processed, frozen, and shipped home.
The annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby is staged in mid-August and attracts anglers from around the country. The lucky anglers who catch the largest silver salmon divide a prize pot totaling more than $100,000.
The fjords and protected bays outside of Seward offer endless opportunities for kayaking. Visitors can hire water taxis to venture out to remote fjords in Kenai Fjords National Park to reduce the amount of paddling needed to reach the tidewater glaciers and marine wildlife found in the heart of the park. Others chose to kayak right outside Seward in Resurrection Bay, or paddle among the icebergs at the end of Bear Glacier in the nearby Bear Lagoon. In town are several outfitters that rent kayaks, provide water drop-offs, and offer a wide range of guided trips.
Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is one of Alaska's finest attractions. This marine research and wildlife rehabilitation center rescues and rehabilitates injured marine animals found throughout the state. Many rescued animals are able to be released back into the wild. The center’s exhibits range from aquariums holding colorful fish and jellyfish to oil-spill displays and a tidepool touch tank, where you can touch sea anemones and starfish. The highlight for most visitors is a series of two story, glass-sided tanks where you get above and below-water views of seabirds, harbor seals, and Steller sea lions. The center offers educational behind-the-scenes tours focusing on specific species like sea otters, puffins, and octopus.
Overshadowing Seward is Mount Marathon, the scene of one of Alaska’s most famous and challenging foot races. A friendly wager in 1909 resulted in this annual 1.5-mile run up the mountain's steep slopes to the top of the 3,022-foot peak and then back down. The annual Mount Marathon Race attracts advanced runners from all over the world and is a highlight of Seward’s lively Fourth of July celebration, one of the best in Alaska, featuring booths, music, food, and fireworks over Resurrection Bay.
If you’re not into racing, you can take a more leisurely approach to Mount Marathon by hiking up the Mount Marathon Jeep Trail, which takes a slightly less steep trail and leads you past a beautiful waterfall to an alpine bowl with stunning views of Resurrection Bay.
For those limited on time, the best way to view the glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park and the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds Seward is on a flightseeing tour. Several companies offer flightseeing and helicopter tours of the area, and some include glacier landings so you can get up-close glacier views.
Dog Sled Tours
Seward is home to sled dog kennels where you can listen to stories from veterans of the state's famed Iditarod Sled Dog Race and then hop on a sled or wheeled cart to experience the power of these amazing canine athletes. For an even bigger adventure, hop on a helicopter for a flight to a glacier sled dog camp where you can cruise across the glacier’s ice and snow pulled by a dog team.
Exhibits at the Seward Museum range from an excellent Iditarod exhibit and a rare 49-star US flag to relics of Seward's Russian era, the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and 1989 oil spill. Most surprising to many visitors is a 'cow raincoat' designed for the oft-drenched cattle at the now-defunct Seward dairy.
Staying and Eating in Seward
Seward is a full-service community with a wide range of accommodations, restaurants, stores, and gas stations. Visitors can choose from large hotels nestled in the forest or overlooking the water, small boutique hotels and lodges, scenic waterfront cabins, B&Bs, and vacation rentals. Local seafood is the highlight at Seward’s many restaurants, ranging from fine dining on the waterfront to casual food trucks and a local brewery.
There are plenty of camping options right in town including several campgrounds and RV parks. Surrounding Seward are a number of public-use cabins that can be reserved for a wilderness getaway. The remote, rustic cabins are reached by paddle, float plane, or on foot and are maintained by the Alaska Division of Parks at Caines Head State Recreation Area, the U.S. Forest Service in Chugach National Forest, and the National Park Service in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Getting to Seward
Seward is located at the end of the Seward Highway on the Kenai Peninsula, 120 miles south of Anchorage. The town is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, with daily train trips available in the summer. Many cruise ships that cross the Gulf of Alaska end or start their itineraries in Seward, making it a popular spot to start pre- or post-cruise land-based tours.
Seward was founded in 1903, when settlers arrived to plot construction of a northbound rail line. By the time the Alaska Railroad was completed in 1923, this ice-free port became the most important shipping terminal on the Kenai Peninsula. The city also served as the southern terminus of the 1,200-mile Iditarod National Historic Trail to Nome, an important dogsled thoroughfare connecting to the Interior and Alaska’s remote bush communities. Like many towns in Southcentral Alaska, Seward began a new era in 1964 after the Good Friday Earthquake caused fires and tidal waves that destroyed 90 percent of the town.