Located on the southeastern Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai Fjords National Park is a pristine and rugged land. The fjords have been carved by ice-age glaciers retreating from the ocean’s edge for centuries, leaving behind long, steep-sided valleys that are now filled with ocean waters.
The Kenai Fjords Park covers 670,000 square miles and is made up of three distinct landscapes. The Fjord lined coast, the massive Harding icefield and the Exit Glacier area.
The 700-square mile Harding Icefield. This is the largest icefield located entirely within the United States. Only a few isolated mountain peaks interrupt its nearly flat, snow-clad surface. Almost 40 glaciers cascade off the Harding Ice field, the most visited of which is Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by road, just outside of Seward.
Kenai Fjords is one of the most visited national parks in Alaska, as it sees many cruise ship passengers whose cruises begin or end in Seward. It was first established as a national monument in 1978 before becoming a National Park in 1980.
Boat Tours of Kenai Fjords National Park
Boat tours of Kenai Fjords are the best way to experience the spectacular scenery, stunning fjords and amazing wildlife in this national park. Much of the park is only accessible from the water as the landscape is high up and covered in ice and snow or inaccessible by road.
However, a glacier wildlife cruise is a fun and enjoyable experience with narration, food and a warm place to relax and enjoy the scenic views. The tours leave from the Seward Harbor in Resurrection Bay and explore the glaciers and fjords.
Tours range from 4 hours to over 8 hours, depending how much of the park you want to explore. The longer tours will take guests out to the Tide-water glaciers of Aialik and Holgate. Shorter tours may only see Bear Glacier which is very near Seward.
How to dress for a boat cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park
Even during the warm summer months in Alaska, a boat cruise takes guests into the open water and it can be surprisingly chilly on the boat deck. We recommend a warm layer and a water or windproof jacket to stay comfortable. At some point during the trip you will find yourself on the open deck watching glaciers or wildlife and you don’t want to be rushing back into the protection of the enclosed boat, and miss all the best views. Hats and sunscreen are also recommended for your tour.
Wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Fjords National Park is home to a diverse collection of wildlife. This includes mountain goats, moose, black bears & Brown bears, wolverines, marmots and other land mammals who have established themselves on a narrow zone between marine waters and the ice field’s frozen edges.
Marine mammals in the park includes humpback whales, orcas (killer whales), steller sea lions, harbor seals, Dall porpoises, sea otters, fin whales and minke whales. Bald eagles also are common in this area as well as thousands of seabirds, including puffins, kittiwakes, and murres seasonally inhabit the steep cliffs and rocky shores.
Kayaking Kenai Fjords National Park & Resurrection Bay
For the adventurous travel types a kayak in the protected waters of Resurrection Bay or one of the nearby fjords will certainly be a trip highlight. There are a number of kayaking companies in Seward that can safely guide guests to beautiful fjords and bays to get up close with glaciers and wildlife.
There are Alaska State Park Recreation areas in Resurrection Bay that can be paddled to from Seward, including: Caines Head and Thumb Cove. Both day trips and multi-day trips can be arranged with local companies that include all the necessary equipment.
For those wanting to paddle in Kenai Fjords National Park, it is recommended to take water taxis or a guided trip to be dropped off in Aialik Bay or Bear Glacier Lagoon. Kayaking to these spots on your own can be dangerous.
Exit Glacier is one of the most visited glaciers in Alaska. This is because it is easily accessible by road, and also because it is near the busy cruise port of Seward. Throughout the summer many tours from the cruise ships bring guests to see this incredible glacier, up close.
To reach Exit Glacier, take Herman Leirer Rd (also referred to as Exit Glacier Road) at mile 3 of the Seward Highway. This is just before you reach the town of Seward. Follow the road for 8.4 miles to the parking lot at the Exit Glacier Nature Center.
If you don’t have a vehicle, there are multiple shuttle services between Seward and Exit Glacier that run from mid-May to mid-Sept. There are also local taxi services that are able to provide transportation out to the glacier.
Keep in mind that there is no cell service or Wi-Fi at Exit Glacier so you won’t be able to call for a return taxi. You should have your return trip to Seward organized before you arrive at the glacier.
Exit Glacier area is open year round, however the road to Exit Glacier is not plowed in the winter months, making it inaccessible to vehicles for most of the off-season (fall through spring). Park visitors typically reach the Exit Glacier area on snowmobiles, cross-country skis, snowshoes, bikes and by dog sleds (this is Alaska after all!).
Hiking at Exit Glacier
There are a number of day hike options at Exit Glacier that range from easy and accessible to long and strenuous. There are also daily Ranger led hikes throughout the summer that will give you a better understanding the of how the retreating glacier reshapes the landscape.
Glacier View Loop Trail: This 1 mile trial is an accessible walk through the forest to Glacier View, a panoramic viewpoint of Exit Glacier. The trail loops back to the parking lot.
Glacier Overlook Trail: This well maintained pathway is 0.6 miles and slightly strenuous, but provides excellent views of the glacier and its valley.
Harding Icefield Trail: This is an 8-mile round trip that will test your endurance. It gains 1000 feet of elevation in only a few short miles! The entire hike can take between 6 and 8 hours, so plan accordingly. It’s recommended you speak to a Ranger at the Nature Center before heading out. The trail will offer hikers an amazing view over the vast expanse of ice and snow of the Harding Icefield. The good news is that you don’t need to hike the entire trail if all you are looking for is impressive views of the glacier and valley floor below.
Exit Glacier Nature Center
The Nature Center displays exhibits about the Exit Glacier area a bookstore and National Park Service Rangers who can answer your questions about the unique glacial landscape or which current trail conditions.
There are ranger-led programs daily during the summer that include hikes, interpretive talks, and junior ranger programs for younger visitors.
The Exit Glacier Nature center has washrooms, and water to fill your water bottles before heading out on a hike. Pets are not allowed on the trails around Exit Glacier.
Camping in Kenai Fjords
The only designated campground within the park is at Exit Glacier. There are 12 spaces at this first-come, first-served, walk-in tent campground. The campground is ¼ mile from the Exit Glacier Nature Center.
Backcountry enthusiasts often will kayak into the park and camp along the coast. This can be dangerous if you are on your own and not familiar with the area. There are a number of kayak guiding services that can take visitors into Kenai Fjords, and we recommend all but the most experienced backcountry campers use the services of a guide if they want to explore the coastal regions of the National Park.
Public Use Cabins
There are Two rustic public use cabins in the park. Both are located on the Kenai Fjords coast. One at Aialik Bay and one at Holgate. They can be booked during the summer, late May to early September. These public use cabins can be reached by float plane, water taxi, private vessel, or charter boat. The National Parks Service doesn’t recommend taking a kayak around Aialik Cape as the waters can be treacherous. Reservations are required for the public use cabins and can be made at: www.recreation.gov.
Where to Stay in Kenai Fjords
The majority of people who visit Kenai Fjords National Park will stay in the nearby town of Seward. Seward is 127 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway and has plenty of accommodation options, including hotels, B&Bs, campgrounds and luxury lodges.
There is only one lodge located in the boundaries of Kenai Fjords National Park and that is Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. This is a luxury lodge experience that includes private cabins, gourmet meals, and incredible activities like sea kayaking with marine wildlife, hiking to incredible vistas or just relaxing in the saunas.
How to Get to Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Peninsula town of Seward is the Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is a busting port city 127 miles south of Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway. It is an easy days drive from Anchorage, with plenty of stops that can be made along the way.
The Alaska Railroad is the other way most people reach Seward and Kenai Fjords Park. During the summer, the Alaska Railroad travels between Anchorage and Seward daily. It typically arrives in the morning in time to catch a half day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kenai Fjords National Park FAQs
Best time to visit Kenai Fjords?
The best time to visit the Kenai Fjords National Park is summer. From May to September the park is accessible with tour companies operating. If you arrive during the off season, it will be difficult to experience the Kenai Fjords Park.
How Many Days should you Spend in Kenai Fjords National Park?
We recommend 2 days to explore Kenai Fjords National Park. If you are in a rush, it is certainly possible to see the highlights of this beautiful national park in just 1 day.
You should include a full day boat tour from Seward, into the park to see the glaciers, steep fjords and marine wildlife of the park.
Exit Glacier is the only part of the park accessible by vehicle. Here you can enjoy short hikes with incredible views of the glacier and valley. Or, you can take the more strenuous 8-mile Harding Icefield Trail.
If you decide to spend more time in Seward you can also explore Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park by kayak, with a guided tour company.
Why is Kenai Fjords Famous?
Kenai Fjords is Famous for its beautiful glacial carved fjords, it’s abundant marine wildlife and for including Harding Icefield. The largest icefield entirely within the United States.
Is Kenai Fjords worth visiting?
Yes, Kenai Fjords National Park is absolutely worth visiting. It is one of Alaska’s most visited National Parks. It has everything you would expect or want to see in Alaska; Glaciers, abundant wildlife and stunning mountain scenery.
Can you drive through Kenai Fjords National Park?
You can’t drive through Kenai Fjords National Park but you can drive to Exit Glacier, which is the only part of the park that is accessible by road.
Are there bears in Kenai Fjords National Park?
Yes, there are both black bears and brown bears in Kenai Fjords National Park. Black bears are much more common and may be seen in the Exit Glacier area or spotted on the shore during a boat tour of the fjords.