This glacial wonderland features stunning scenery, incredible wildlife and aquatic adventures
Created in 1980 to protect some of the most incredible and impenetrable wilderness in Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park spans 601,839-acres at the foot of Seward. Snow and ice cover 60 percent of the park, and lining the edge is the vast 936-square-mile Harding Icefield. From the massive icefield, countless tidewater glaciers pour down, carving valleys that fill with seawater to form stunning fjords and icebergs the size of small houses.
Kenai Fjords National Park was established as a national monument in 1978. It became a national park in 1980 to preserve the fjord and rainforest ecosystems, Harding Icefield, abundant wildlife and historical and archeological remains, and to provide visitor access.
Kenai Fjords National Park includes three main areas – Exit Glacier, Harding Icefield and the coast. Exit Glacier, a half-mile wide river of ice, is the easiest section of the park to access. The 700-square-mile Harding Ice Field is one of only four remaining ice fields in U.S., and is also the largest ice field entirely within U.S. borders. The park’s rugged coastline includes beautiful tidewater glaciers and abundant marine wildlife.
This seemingly harsh terrain is home to a diverse array of plants and animals. Terrestrial animals, such as black and brown bear, beaver, coyote, mountain goat, river otter, moose, gray wolf and wolverine, cover the land, while marine life is as diverse. The glacial waters are home to sea otters, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals and whales. The park is also a welcoming habitat for birds, where a total of 191 species have been documented in the park.
Both roadside and backcountry visitors can find enjoyable activities in Kenai Fjords National Park. Activities include kayaking, camping, public use cabins, fishing, beach combing, bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, boat tours, ranger programs, flightseeing and mountaineering.
To see the tidewater glaciers and the park's abundant marine wildlife visitors, take advantage of tour-boat cruises along the coast, dipping into such sizable fjords as Aialik Bay, Northwestern Lagoon, McCarty Fjord and North Arm, as well as sailing beneath mountains exceeding 6000ft in height. Possible wildlife sights from the side of a vessel range from sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor seals and Dall's porpoises to Orcas, minke, humpback and fin whales. For the truly adventurous, the coastal fjords are a blue-water kayaker's dream and many utilize a drop-off service from a tour boat to spend days paddling projective fjords.
Hikers can ascend to views of the Harding Icefield from a trail at Exit Glacier, and experienced mountaineers equipped with skis, ice axes and crampons can continue on to explore the icefield. Icefield crossings, which take successful mountaineers up to two weeks to complete, or the eight-mile Harding Icefield Trail, are popular options for visitors.
Although Seward serves as the gateway to Kenai Fjord, the park is penetrated by only a few trails and Exit Glacier Road, which spurs off the Seward Hwy at Mile 3.7. At the end of the 8.4-mile-long dirt road is the park's marquee attraction, 3-mile-long Exit Glacier, along with the Exit Glacier Nature Center and trails that wind to the ice and above it. That includes the Harding Ice Field Trail, a popular 4-mile hike that follows Exit Glacier up to a viewing point where hikers can gaze at one of the last remnants of the ice age. Also along the road is Exit Glacier Campground, the only formal campground in the park, and the southern trailhead for the Resurrection River Trail that heads 16 miles north into Chugach National Forest.
The only other development in the park are three public-use cabins along the fjords and a lodge. Aialik Cabin is on a beach perfect for whale watching while Holgate Arm Cabin has a spectacular view of Holgate Glacier. In 2009, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge opened on Native-owned land in Aialik Bay within the park and is accessible by boat during the summer months.
There are no fees for entrance to Kenai Fjords National Park or camping. There is a nightly fee for the park's three public-use cabins which should be reserved in advance from the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (907-644-3661; 866-869-6887).
Seward is 130 miles south of Anchorage and can be reached via the Seward Highway or the Alaska Railroad during the summer months. Many cruise ships also use Seward as a port-of-call. In Seward both tour boats and charter air services provide transport deeper in the Kenai Fjords National Park.
For a list of commercial boat tours, outfitters and air taxi operators contact the Kenai Fjords National Park Headquarters (907-422-0500) in Seward or the Seward Chamber of Commerce (907-224-8051).