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Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska | © Bureau Of Land Management Oregon and Washington/Wikicommons
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska | © Bureau Of Land Management Oregon and Washington/Wikicommons

A Practical Guide To Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Picture of Alexia Wulff
Alexia Wulff
Updated: 9 February 2017
At the edge of the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska lies the Kenai Fjords National Park – a rugged landscape characterized by lush forests, mountains, thriving wildlife, and nearly 40 glaciers flowing from the Harding Icefield, an expansive forest land nestled between the mountains and coastline. The Kenai Fjords National Park, created in 1980, was established to protect the park, especially the Harding Icefield – one of the largest ice fields in the US. For many years, the native Alutiiq relied on resources from both the land and sea for survival; today, the melting glaciers bear witness to an otherwise changing climate.

Background

Kenai Fjords National Park was first designated as the Kenai Fjords National Monument by President Jimmy Carter in December of 1978; in 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was passed, allowing for the establishment of the monument as a national park. Covering a massive area of nearly 670,000 acres, Kenai Fjords National Park was named after its many fjords – long, narrow valleys with steep cliffsides usually below sea level – created by the glaciers flowing through the Harding Icefield. The field has nearly 40 glaciers, including Bear Glacier and Exit Glacier, with the latter accessible by car; however, most of the park’s popular sights are only reachable by boat. The park is also home to many animals, including black bears, sea otters, whales, seals, sea lions, and moose, and there are many opportunities to witness this wildlife.

What To See & Do

Despite its somewhat remote location in southern Alaska, the Kenai Fjords National Park is located close to Seward, a popular port destination. From here, visitors can take a boat tour, which departs daily in the summer, for a full-day tour of the glaciers, or half-day tour of the park’s wildlife and scenery from Resurrection Bay. There’s also plenty of hiking to explore the park by foot – there are many short trails that go from the valley floor to Exit Glacier. For the pros, the Harding Icefield Trail, an 8.2-mile (round trip) day hike, passes through the valley floor, forests, and meadows to finally reach a summit that provides the most breathtaking views of the Icefield. Pro tip: this is a very strenuous hike, and takes six to eight hours to complete. If you’d rather opt for something less intense, sign up for a park ranger walk or day hike, offered May-September. For a bird’s-eye view of the park, book a flightseeing tour, which flies you high above the park.

While boat tours provide remarkable views of the glaciers, if you’re an experienced kayaker, many opt to take a water taxi or chartered boat to the park with their kayak for an up-close-and-personal view. There’s also fishing in the park’s backcountry, in the fjords, Resurrection Bay, and in Seward – fishing licenses are required, but there are plenty of fishing charters that operate year-round. While peak season is during the summer months, the park is still open in the winter and provides plenty of activities like mountaineering across the Harding Icefield, snowmobiling, dog sledding tours, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and scenic snowshoe tours.

Where To Stay

Because many visitors head to Kenai Fjords National Park via the nearby port town, there are plenty of accommodations for a stay in Seward. For budget-friendly stays, check out Hotel Seward, Trailhead Lodging, or the Sea Treasures Inn Hotel; for a middle-of-the-range stay, opt for the Breeze Inn or the Best Western; and for a bit more cash, you can grab a room at the Harborview Inn or Van Gilder Hotel. For those looking to stay in the park, there are three public cabins – two on the coast, available during summer, and the Willow, open during the winter – and 12 campsites near Exit Glacier, but these are only first come, first served (there are other sites in the Chugach National Forest).

Where To Eat

For dining near Kenai Fjords National Park, there’s Le Barn Appetit, Exit Glacier Salmon Bake, and Resurrection Roadhouse. Seward offers many options as well, including The Cookery & Oyster Bar, Chinooks Waterfront and Ray’s Waterfront for seafood fare, Seward Brewery for beer and casual eats, Woody’s Thai Kitchen, and Smoke Shack.