Located 15 minutes from the quaint fishing village of Seward, Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Parks is home to glaciers, wildlife, adventures, and views that will leave you breathless. We recently visited this park during our trip to Alaska and we've compiled a list of the 6 best ways to see Kenai Fjords National Park. No matter your age, physical capabilities, or experience in the great outdoors, there's an option here for you!
If you're planning on visiting Kenai Fjords National Park, chances are you probably have a few questions about what to when visiting Alaska. Lucky for you we have an entire blogpost dedicated to this very topic including what to pack, wildlife information, and more, so be sure to check that out HERE.
Kenai National Park, as well as the town of Seward, are an absolute delight to visit! While visiting Alaska we were traveling in our camper van and had no real schedule past to leave before winter hit. We visited Seward early on during our time in Alaska and loved our time there so much we visited a second time after a brief trip to the other side of the Kenai Peninsula to visit the town of Homer (which is another really cool area, btw).
I don't know about you, but when I think of national parks I instantly think of hiking because that's typically the best way to see any given park (plus hiking is FREE!). However, Kenai Fjords is a little different. Yes, hiking is still a great way to see a magnificent glacier, but there are only two trails to choose from in the entire park. For indecisive people like myself, this saves a lot of time deciding what trail to hike.
First, you have the Exit Glacier Trail. This trail is 2 miles roundtrip and is well marked and very well maintained. While on this trail we saw everything from retirees and even young parents with small children. The trail does cover some uneven surfaces so if you struggle with balance, this may not be the best option for you.
The trail gets you right up to the glacier and lets your experience its beauty up close and personal. While the Exit Glacier Trail is only 2 miles roundtrip, you will see signs that direct you to the rock bed that leads right up to the glacier from the valley floor. Hike this at your own risk, but you are allowed to walk down there to get a different view of the glacier.
Second, we have the Harding Icefield Trail. Listed as strenuous because it gains 1000 ft of elevation every mile, this 8.2 mile roundtrip trail takes you right up to the Harding Icefield. Be sure to allow 6-8 hours for this hike and set out on the trail prepared. This is bear country so in addition to your usual day hiking gear be sure to bring bear spray and know how to use it.
Probably the most popular way to see the park, narrated boat tours last anywhere from 4-8 hours and get you right up to the glaciers and you'll learn a bit about the glaciers while you're relaxing in your seat on the boat. This is a wonderful option if you have a group where not everyone is physically able to do a more strenuous tour. A boat tour guide will tell you about the glaciers and you may even spot some wildlife along the way!
Kenai Fjord National Park recommends taking a tour with Major Marine. Checkout their website for additional information regarding tour availability and cost.
We've talked about hiking to a glacier, but what about walking on a glacier?! While you can walk on various glaciers in Alaska without a guide, if you're inexperienced with hiking and/or don't have all the appropriate gear with you, going with a guide may be the right option for you. Hiring a professional to takes a lot of the guess work out for you.
Weather on a glacier can change drastically and quickly, and having an professional mountaineering guide help you navigate the area could make or break your experience and also aid in keeping you safe. Glaciers can be tricky to walk on and companies such as Kenai Backcountry Adventures will provide you with crampons, helmets, etc. to keep you safe on your adventure.
Side perk of going on an expedition with Kenai Backcountry Adventures is that they provide a picnic lunch and even hot drinks (like coffee and tea) to participants in addition to safety equipment.
If you're hoping to explore the glaciers from the water but aren't interested in a crowded boat tour, consider renting a kayak. This is a great way to experience the glaciers and marine wildlife up close and personal while also enjoying the solitude that you'd expect to find on an Alaska vacation. If you've never kayaked before or are looking for a little direction you can book a kayak tour with a professional.
If you've never kayaked before, we'd definitely encourage you to go the guided route. It's easy to overestimate your physical abilities and underestimate the wild environment of Alaska. Stay safe and stick with a pro if you're new to kayaking.
Do keep in mind that kayaking conditions reflect the weather. Always keep an eye on the forecast and talk to the rental company regarding specific conditions to be aware of before you head out on the water.
Flightseeing is probably (okay, definitely) the coolest option on this list. While it is the priciest option on our list, that price tag comes with some killer views that you can only get from the air! For an additional cost you can even take a tour in a helicopter that lands right on the glacier allowing you to get out and walk around on the ice for bit.
Another perk of flightseeing is that it is a good option for all ages and physical abilities.
Side note: there are weight restrictions as well as a minimum of two guests per tour. Also, if you have a larger group, you may need to pay for additional helicopter tours due to the helicopter's passenger capacity.
Helicopter tours have a variety of options including various lengths, glacier landings, and specific glacier options. Be sure to check out Seward Helicopter Tours for more information regarding these options.
Last but not least, be sure to check out the ranger led activities at the park. Everything from ranger led walks to ranger led sketching (drawing) sessions in nature, to activities designed specifically for kids. These programs are a great way to learn more about the park while you're experiencing all it has to offer.
A huge perk of ranger led activities is that they're usually FREE. These official offerings brought to you by the National Park Service are a great way to learn more about the park.
Note: If you plan on participating in a ranger led activity, we'd recommend doing so before heading out for any solo adventures. It's likely you'll learn information in the ranger led activity that will be valuable when solo adventuring in the park (such as wildlife info).
Be sure to check at the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center for up to date activity schedules and availability.
Kenai Fjords National Park is full of unique opportunities so be sure to research which options are best for you. We always recommend starting all research on the official website for the national park and talking with a ranger if you have further questions.
Remember to always be a responsible traveler, leave no trace, and HAVE FUN!