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Jul 19, 2021| Plan Your Trip

All About Kenai Fjords National Park

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All About Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is a magnificent parkland that lies just outside the town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, about 125 miles south of Anchorage. It protects the more than 700-square-mile Harding Icefield with ice up to a mile thick, feeding over 30 glaciers that flow from the mountains, six of which stretch to tidewater. A vestige of the vast ice sheet that once covered much of the state during the Pleistocene era, a visit brings the rare opportunity to get up close to the tidewater glaciers and spot abundant wildlife. 

Many come to hike the scenic trail from Exit Glacier to Harding Icefield. It runs alongside the glacier, bringing breathtaking views that include deep glacier crevasses and vast seracs, passing heather-filled meadows and climbing well above the tree line for an extraordinary view out over the icefield. 

Kenai Fjords National Park History

The history of Kenai Fjords dates back 23,000 years, with the ice carving out the fjords seen today. According to archaeological evidence, the area also has a long history of human inhabitants, home to Alaskan natives for thousands of years. In more recent times, fishermen, hunters, miners, and more have eked out their living in the fjords.

Fascinating stories abound, including accounts of the Sugpiaq, a maritime people who used the area for over a thousand years, traditionally hunting, with their camps strewn along the outer Kenai Peninsula coast. 

In 1978, Kenai Fjords was established as a national monument, but just two years later it became a natural park to protect and preserve the rainforest and fjord ecosystems, wildlife, archaeological and historical remains, and Harding Icefield while providing visitor access.

 

Kenai Fjords National Park Facts

  • Located on the Kenai Peninsula west of Seward in south-central Alaska
  • Covers 699,983 acres
  • Established in 1980
  • Approximately 300,000 visitors annually
  • Temperate marine climate (summer temperatures: mid-40s to low 70s and winter: -20 to the low 30s Fahrenheit)
  • No entrance fee required

 

Unique and Interesting Features

From the vast icefield, countless tidewater glaciers flow down, carving valleys that fill with salt water from the sea, which forms spectacular fjords and huge icebergs, many of which are the size of a small home. When the ancient ice carved out the fjords, it created habitats for countless creatures, with nearly 20 species of sea birds nesting along the rocky shores, including the clown-faced puffin.

Peregrine falcons might be spotted hunting over the outer islands while bald eagles soar along the dramatic cliffs. Brown and black bears, mountain goats, gray wolves, moose, and other animals inhabit the land, and marine life is just as diverse. Sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, porpoises, and whales all call the park’s waters home.

Orcas and humpbacks are the most commonly spotted whale species, although gray whales pass through the Gulf of Alaska here in the spring. Minke and fin whales are also found in the area, but sightings are rare.

How to Get to Kenai Fjords   

Visitors can easily drive to the park from Seward, less than a two-mile drive away. There are also taxi and shuttle services that will bring you to Exit Glacier, the only area of the park accessible by car. Boat tours can also bring you on a day trip from Seward to view the tidewater glaciers, fjords, and marine life.

From Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park, it’s an approximately 125-mile drive along Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway. It takes about two hours and 20 minutes, but you may want to allow for extra time to enjoy the scenery and wildlife watching along the way. 

Yet another option is to take the train from Anchorage during the summer months. The Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic departs early every morning for Seward and returns to Anchorage by 6 pm. to allow for a day trip that includes a cruise from Resurrection Bay into the park. The excursion has been ranked among the Top Ten Train Rides in North America, winding along Turnagain Arm where the precipitous Chugach Mountains plunge straight into the sea before passing through backcountry wilderness with scenery that is guaranteed to make your jaw drop.

Camping in Kenai Fjords

If you want to enjoy Kenai Fjords National Park camping, there is one campground here, Exit Glacier, which has 12 walk-in tent sites available only on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no fees or reservations accepted. Two public-use wilderness cabins are available during the summer in the greater Aialik Bay area; however, access is by water only.

Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is the only wilderness lodge right within the park and offers a unique experience, accessible only by boat. Getting there is part of the fun as it doubles as marine wildlife and glacial cruise. Once there, you can kayak in the lagoon, hike nature trails, and take advantage of a 12-person canoe that will bring you across the glacial moraine for a trek along the lagoon’s glacier.

With Seward nearby, you’ll have a wide range of other accommodation options to choose from just outside of the park. There are many campgrounds in and around Seward, including RV and tent sites along the waterfront of Resurrection Bay through the Seward Parks & Recreation Department. Hotels and vacation rentals are available at various price points too.  

What to do in Kenai Fjords National

Kenai Fjords National Park offers nearly an endless list of activities and adventures. You can take a boat tour to watch for wildlife and get up close to glaciers, kayak to get even closer, and hike some of the world’s most beautiful terrain. Or see it all from above on a flightseeing tour where you’ll fly over Harding Icefield looking down at the wildlife and glaciers from a birds-eye point of view.

Just some of the other options here include fishing, biking, and beachcombing. In the winter, it’s a popular spot for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fat bike riding, dog sledding, and more.  

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