Kenai Fjords National Park
Located: Alaska - Established: December 2, 1980
The Park: Kenai Fjords, the smallest of Alaska’s 8 National Parks, is a landscape dominated by glaciers. Over 50% of the park is covered with ice. There are at least 38 active glaciers still sculpting the earth, creating the valleys and fjords along the coast. Yet this land was once entirely covered with one huge icefield - a testament to the effects of an ever-changing climate.
Getting there: Located 126 miles south of Anchorage, Kenai is one of the easiest Alaskan parks to access. Nearby Seward serves as the springboard for exploring this immense ice covered park of which half is blanketed by the Harding Icefields.
When to visit: Reaching Seward can be achieved year-round by driving the scenic Seward Highway: however, accessing the park during the winter months will be challenging. During the summer, Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic makes a daily trip to Seward. Buses and small aircraft also provide access to Seward.
What to do: Spanning an area of over 700 square miles, the Harding Icefield is America’s largest ice mass and has been measured in some spots to be up to one mile thick. The Icefields spawn over three-dozen glaciers that have carved their way through the mountains leaving behind stunningly beautiful fjords (pronounced fee - ords).
The easiest ice mass to access within Kenai Fjords National Park is Exit Glacier. Located a short 11-mile drive northwest of Seward, Exit Glacier got its name because it served as the “exit” for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield.
As you drive up to the Exit Glacier Visitor Center, there are signs posted along the roadway indicating where the “Toe of the Glacier” once touched at various points in time. Seeing the rapid pace of Exit’s retreat serves as a visual reminder of what our changing climate is doing to ice fields around the world.
The only maintained hiking trails at Kenai are located at Exit Glacier area. Once at the Visitor Center, venture out to the Edge of the Glacier Trail for a close up look at Exit Glacier. Continue on the Harding Icefield Trail for a more robust hike and panoramic view of Exit Glacier and its hauntingly ice-blue hue, its crevasses and moraines and the pure enormity of the mass! Backcountry exploration of this challenging wilderness without trails is recommended for the experienced only!
Departing from Seward during the summer months, boat tours are a popular way to visit this park. Another way to get a sense of the vastness of the Harding Icefield and its coastal fjords is to take a flightseeing tour.
Where to stay: Kenai has but a single 12-site walk-in campground located by Exit Glacier. The sites are available on a first come, first service basis and there is no fee for camping.
There are several lodging options in Seward; however, if you want to get deeper into this park, the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is an option. Located in a native-owned wildlife sanctuary surrounded by the park, the Lodge is accessible only by boat during the summer months.
Memorable moment: Hiking the Harding Icefields Trail adjacent to Exit Glacier
Trivia: Snowfall on the Harding Icefield can exceed 100 feet each year. After 4-10 years of compression, snow turns into glacial ice.
Banner: Colorful flowers found along the Harding Icefields Trail.
Experience these Check List:
- Visit the Exit Glacier Nature Center
- Hike to the edge of the glacier
- Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
- Take a Boat Tour
- Take a Guided Kayak Tour