If you are in Alaska and have access to a car or are arriving by cruise ship, there is a good chance that Kenai Fjords National Park is on your list of places to go. And for good reason-this park is an amazing collection of glaciers, ice fields, incredible hikes, seemingly unexplored waterways and breathtaking scenery.
While Kenai Fjords National Park isn’t the easiest park to get to or the simplest one to get around, there are plenty of options regardless of how much time you have or your capabilities. The trick is to be sure you plan ahead and have options, as crowds can be heavy (particularly when it’s cruise-ship season), and the weather can be a bit unpredictable. Having a few things on your list as possibilities based on the weather can be to your advantage. Plus, with the long summer days, you can expect to be able to pack more into your day than your average National Park visit!
We hope this guide will help you out with your trip planning to Kenai Fjords National Park!
Ahead of your trip to Kenai Fjords National Park, check out our downloadable Kenai Fjords National Park itinerary. This .pdf is packed full of information, including useful maps, what to pack, 1, 2 and 3-day itineraries for travelers of all capabilities, details on the best hikes and how to get the most out of your trip. We also cover where to stay while you are in the area!
KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK HISTORY
Kenai Fjords National Park was designated as a National Monument in 1978 before becoming a National Park in 1980.
If you are heading to the park, then you’ll most certainly visit the Seward area. Seward is a great town to visit, though it is outside of the park. There are plenty of supplies and touristy shops, as well as grocery stores and goods for pretty much anything you may need, including fuel. If you are in need of something that you can’t find easily, be sure to ask a local. There are a lot of stores that have an atypical combination of products. Even the grocery stores may have that odd piece of hardware that you need to repair your tent!
When visiting the Seward area, we recommend the following:
- Kenai Fjords Visitor Center. The Kenai Fjords Visitor Center is located outside the park in downtown Seward (right on the harbor). The visitor center is a great spot to go and speak with Park Rangers, as well as view the park film. We normally recommend visiting the Visitor Center first, but it really isn’t a necessity if you are wanting to also do hiking and visiting the Exit Glacier area (which we highly recommend). Instead, visit the Visitor Center when you have some spare time in Seward, or before or after you take a boat tour. Be sure to also check for any Ranger programs that may be of interest.
- Boat Tours. To really explore the bulk of Kenai Fjords National Park, you really should get out on the water. There are plenty of day cruises that depart right from Seward, and many of them serve meals. Some of them are even narrated by park rangers. We found the tours to be excellent (even though we went on a day that was quite rainy!). The boat captain gave a phenomenal tour for all of us and got up and close to a glacier. He was also able to find plenty of wildlife on the tour. It’s amazing how large the glaciers are, even though the boat is about a half-mile away! Companies that conduct boat tours include Major Marine tours and Kenai Fjords tours. Though they may have last-minute availability, you really should book well in advance (at least two weeks ahead of your trip). Coupons are commonly offered online, or you can find discounts if you book through where you are staying.
- Flightseeing Tours. Seeing Kenai Fjords can be amazing if you do it from the air. You can even get the opportunity to land on a glacier! Seward Flightseeing Tours
- Kayaking Tours. Taking a guided kayaking tour is another great way of seeing the park, though you will cover a bit less ground than if you take a boat tour or head into the air. We highly recommend you only do this with a guide, unless you are really experienced, as the waters can get really dangerous. Advance reservations are recommended.
EXIT GLACIER AREA
Exit Glacier area map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Exit Glacier area is accessed by driving on Herman Leirer Road for about 8.6 miles. This speed on this road is not fast, but it is beautiful and has views of a glacier along the way. Along the way you can see “year” signs that show where the toe of Exit Glacier was as it retreated. At the end of the road is the nature center and a parking lot. This lot can get full, so arrive earlier in the morning to be sure you can get a spot if you are planning on a long hike.
While in the Exit Glacier area, we recommend:
- Exit Glacier Nature Center. The nature center has exhibits and access to Park Rangers. There are also restrooms, and signs outside stating when the last bear or other wildlife sightings were.
The hiking options offered from the Exit Glacier area will fit pretty much anyone’s capabilities. All of them are great:
- The Harding Icefield Trail is quite challenging. At 9.0 miles (round trip), this hike climbs just over 3,100 feet. To those that are up for the challenge, this might just be the “hike of a lifetime.” Staring from the Nature Center, the hike climbs up with views of Exit Glacier before traversing snow covered paths (even in July) on the way up to a breathtaking view of the Harding Icefield. The climb is steady, but not technical. So, if you have the energy, this is a must. Even if you can only make it 5 or so miles (round trip), you will get great views of the glacier that you won’t believe!
- If you like to hike but aren’t up for the Harding Icefield Trail, the Exit Glacier Overlook Trail is a fantastic option. Moderate in difficulty, this 2.3-mile (round-trip) hike climbs about 420 feet on the way up to amazing views of Exit Glacier. Even if you’ve done the Harding Icefield, this is also worth doing too (though you may have to do it on a different day when you have more energy!).
- The Glacier View Trail is an easy, 1.0-mile trail that is wheelchair accessible and offers panoramic views of Exit Glacier.
HOW TO GET TO KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
As mentioned earlier, getting to Kenai Fjords National Park may not be the easiest since it is in Alaska, but it if you make it to Alaska and have access to a car, it’s only a relatively short drive away from Anchorage.
- The most common airport to fly into is Anchorage, AK. Though quite a ways away from other parts of the US, the drive from Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park is straightforward and amazingly beautiful. Here are the best directions from Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park, which includes a breathtaking drive down to the Seward area on the Kenai Peninsula.
It’s also easy to get to if you are on a cruise ship arriving into Seward. Most cruise ships will organize bus tours to the Exit Glacier area. This will allow you to spend at least a few hours and get out and do a short hike or two to see Exit Glacier.
WHERE TO STAY IN KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK
Kenai Fjords National Park Lodging: There is no lodging inside of Kenai Fjords National Park. We recommend staying in or around Seward, AK. We stayed at the Box Canyon Cabins in Seward, and they were excellent! The cabins were extremely clean, laundry was on-site and the hosts (Rob and Rene) were amazing. Also, the location was great-it was quiet, and made for a shorter drive to the Exit Glacier area.
Box Canyon Cabins in Seward, Alaska
Picture courtesy of Ron and Rene Montgomery
Camping in Kenai Fjords National Park: There is only one established campground in Kenai Fjords National Park, and it is only accessible by hiking in. There are no reservations. You can also camp in Seward.
BEST TIME TO VISIT KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK
Kenai Fjords National Park is open year-round, but you really want to visit in the summer months to see the park as the roads to Exit Glacier is not plowed. If you are equipped to handle the snow, then skiing or visiting with a snowmobile is a great option as well.
Park temperatures are always cool, with highs averaging in the low 60’s in summer, and only reaching the low 30’s during the winter months.
WHAT TO BRING TO KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK
We are going to cover what you should bring if visiting in the summer. If you are coming in the wintertime, then you are likely used to handling yourself in extremely cold and snow environments without our advice!
- Bear spray is a must. This park is full of wildlife, and bears are around and can be aggressive.
- Believe it or not, you will have to be sure to bring bug spray. The mosquitoes in Alaska, even near glaciers, can be rough. Though you may look a bit funny, a bug jacket can also come in handy.
- Of all the books written for Alaska travel, by far the most useful is the Milepost. This tells you all the places to stop. Trust me, whoever is in the passenger’s seat will have this in their lap the entire trip.
- We really recommend bringing a good map, and the Kenai Fjords map from National Geographic is outstanding.
- Sunscreen is really important, as you’ll be exposed when hiking and the glare off the snow can really create an impressive burn!
- Dramamine (to avoid seasickness) is great when you are out on the water. The seas can get pretty rough, and when we were out many of the other tourists on the boat were getting sick.
RELATED INFORMATION ON KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Be sure to check out our Kenai Fjords National Park itinerary and download it ahead of your trip. In addition to more details than you see in this blog, you will also have itineraries and maps that you’ll undoubtedly find useful!
- In addition to the National Parks, there are also some great state parks to visit, like Independence Mine State Historical Park.
- Just to the north, you should check out What to See and Do at Eagle River Nature Center as well as the amazing port town of Whittier, AK.
- After you get back from your adventure, contact us and we’ll work with you to create a custom, vintage travel poster. We look forward to working with you!