The Kenai Peninsula breaks off from the rest of the large state of Alaska and juts out into the sea, defiant and icy. Here the Kenai Fjords National Park was created to protect this stunning area for people and future generations to enjoy. The park is the closest park to Anchorage and lies near the town of Seward, two major cities that are the hub of life in this gorgeous state. Seward is known for the cruise ships that come and go along its waters and also serves as a departure point for cruises and water tours were amazing wildlife can be seen. The fjords, for which the park is named of, are long and narrow inlets of the sea that can be seen between the towering cliffs that stretch above them. They are formed when glaciers move, and retreat from the area and the sea fills the area.
Glaciers Galore in Kenai Fjords National Park
The chilly winters of Alaska leave permanent ice fields behind, as well as massive glaciers that still survive in the area. Over half of the park is covered in ice. One of the largest ice fields in the nation can be found here, called the Harding Icefield. Thirty-eight glaciers call this park home, with some of the more popular being the Exit Glacier which can be reached by road, whereas most areas can be reached by boat. In fact, Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the only tree national parks in Alaska that can be reached by road. Over the years, especially with global warming, the glaciers have “retreated,” melting into the sea and either shrinking or disappearing completely, leaving behind the carved fjords. The cold weather of Alaska still keeps many of the glaciers intact, and the Exit Glacier is a perfect specimen that is worth seeing.
Marine and Land Wildlife
Many people are surprised by the amount of plants and wildlife that call this their icy home. Various companies give tours that are sometimes led by the Kenai Fjords National Park Rangers where people can see the land and marine wildlife. Animals that can be seen include the black bear, snowshoe hares, mountain goats, puffins, sea lions, porpoises, humpback whales and orca whales. The tours offer a chance to see the natural landscape of the fjords and glaciers as well. Search the skies for bald eagles, the national bird of the U.S., as well as peregrine falcons and black-billed magpies. There are many other land and marine animals that call this unique place home, so keep your eyes open because you never know what you may see.
Popular Places to Go in the Park
There are several options of places to go and see during your visit. One of the neatest things you will see in the area is, of course, the Exit Glacier. Located between two large mountains, the ice fills the void between them. It has a distinct appearance that makes the average person look twice and wonder “what is that?” There are a few trails that get very close to the glacier and boat tours are a great way to see the size of it. Stop in one of the two visitor centers located in the park, one of which is by the Exit Glacier, called the Exit Glacier Nature Center. The other visitor center is known as the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center which can be found in Seward. Another must-see item while you’re there is the largest icefield in the United States! Have you ever seen a field made up of grass or flowers? Most people have never seen one made of ice! The Harding Icefield has a beautiful trail called the Harding Icefield Trail. This trail is strenuous, so amateur hikers or people in poor physical condition should not attempt for their safety and for the safety of the rescue crew that would have to save them. Expect to gain 1,000 feet in elevation for every mile over the 8-mile hike. Watch for bears as this is bear country, but enjoy the field of ice that stretches for over 700 miles, a sight very few people will never get to enjoy.
Where to Eat and Sleep
This area, although beautiful, is remote. Seward is a nice town with lots of traffic from the cruise ships. There is a full range of hotels, restaurants and grocery stores for you year-round. Campgrounds are available in the park, but it is primitive camping with tent sites. Other options are a couple of public use cabins that are available in the summer months and also the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge which can only be reached by boat in the summer months. Camping is encouraged during the warmer months, as most roads close during the winter. Other camping options are the Chugach National Forest and the Seward Parks and Recreation Department which is nearby.
Winter in the Park
Winter in Alaska is notorious for lack of daylight, unbelievable snowfall, and temperatures that could freeze anything. The roads are closed for the winter, but if you wanted to see Exit Glacier, you are allowed to visit using skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles, or dogsled. The area receives over 200 inches of snow annually, so be prepared for what you are in for. Camping is not an option at this point, so finding accommodations in Seward would be safer and better for any visitor.
Nearby Attractions During Your Visit
The park is an excellent and beautiful place to visit, and while you’re there, you can visit other nearby attractions, if you’re looking for some entertainment. The Alaska SeaLife Center is the state’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center. The town of Seward is picturesque and has places to eat and shop around, and there is also the Caines Head State Recreation Area and Resurrection Bay State Marine Parks and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to see as well. Boat tours are an amazing way to see the scenery from the water, and you might even see a whale or two.
The Beauty of Wild Alaska
Alaska is one of the largest and lowest inhabited states in the U.S. Because of this, much of the land is in pristine condition and mostly untouched by human contact or damage. National parks, wildlife refuges, and marine preserves save the land and animals and protect them and their lovely habitats. Enjoy the icefield and the massive glaciers and see the amazing fjords where the ice has retreated to create the Kenai Fjords, National Park.