Article Overview: Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
The things to do in Kenai Fjords cover a stunning medley of icefields, glaciers, cliffs, and sea stacks that occupy some 670,000 acres of the raw, wild, dazzlingly scenic southern side of south-central Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
Crowned by the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield up in the heights of the Kenai Mountains, the park serves up geologic grandeur and spectacular wildlife.
Here’s a place where you can paddle (carefully) amid icebergs, watch humpback whales lunge out of the Gulf of Alaska with flippered grace, and hike to an incredible view over one of North America’s greatest glacial expanses.
Read on to learn more about some of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Table of contents: Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
- Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
- Top 12 Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
- 4. Paddle the Bear Glacier Lagoon
- Map of Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
- Summary of Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
- Pin Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Things to Know Before You Visit Kenai Fjords National Park
There is no entrance fee to access the wonders that await at Kenai Fjords. If you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, Earth 🙂
The Best Guide Book for Kenai Fjords National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Kenai Fjords National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Kenai Fjords National Park
Where to Stay: This is our favorite hotel in/around Kenai Fjords National Park.
Getting to Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park lies just a stone’s throw outside of Seward, Alaska. Seward, meantime, is very accessible as far as Last Frontier communities go.
Getting to Seward by Car
The Seward Highway provides year-round road access to Seward from Anchorage, which is about 126 miles to the north. That includes the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
In addition, you can drive yourself or take advantage of any number of private bus and van transport services between those two cities.
Getting to Seward by Train
The Alaska Railroad has its southern terminus in Seward, running north from there all the way to Fairbanks. If you’re flying into Anchorage from May through September, you can happily hop the train to Seward.
Getting to Seward by Cruise Ship
At the same time, the cruise ship terminal is just one mile from the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center and seven miles to the park.
Accessing the Park
From Seward, you can drive into the park during the summer in its only road-accessible portion, the Exit Glacier area, via the Herman Leirer Road.
Boat tours, meanwhile, embark out of the Seward Boat Harbor for sightseeing and wildlife-watching along the park’s coastline. Plus, you can also arrange for an air or water taxi service from town to facilitate self-guided kayaking, hiking, and skiing adventures in the park.
Meanwhile, scenic overflights of Kenai Fjords National Park leave from Seward as well as certain other regional hubs, such as Homer, Alaska.
Top 12 Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords isn’t like most national parks, with a slew of trails to choose from. In fact, most of the activities you’ll have to schedule through local outfitters. Be sure you use one of the park-approved vendors from this list.
12. Camp at Exit Glacier
You’ll find one developed, road-served campground in Kenai Fjords National Park in the Exit Glacier area. This is a great option for frontcountry overnighters in the most accessible corner of the park.
Conveniently, there are a dozen walk-in tent sites here, available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground tends to fill up on summer evenings. You’ll find a central shelter for cooking and bear-safe food storage, and water and pit toilets are available.
While camping here, you’ll have the Exit Glacier Nature Center and a nice network of trails to view Exit Glacier—the easternmost outlet glacier of the Harding Icefield.
11. Sail to Spire Cove
Spire Cove stands as a captivating jewel within Kenai Fjords National Park, offering an extraordinary blend of natural wonders and adventure. It’s one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords on the water, and the boat ride is just 30 minutes.
Its appeal lies in its pristine wilderness, where towering glaciers and rugged cliffs meet the serene waters of Resurrection Bay. Caves lead inside the mountains, and arches are worn into the massive rockfaces jutting into the water.
The wildlife here is a spectacle of its own, with chances to spot whales, sea otters, and a myriad of seabirds. It’s a place where the sheer grandeur of nature takes center stage, making Spire Cove an essential stop for those seeking the unspoiled beauty of Alaska’s wilderness.
10. Mush a Dog Sled Tour to Exit Glacier
Mushing your own group of dogs through the snowy wonderland is one of the best things to do at Kenai Fjords during winter.
Tours run for at least three hours, and there are options for all experience levels. Guided by a team of huskies, you’ll traverse the rugged terrain, feeling the raw power and camaraderie of these incredible sled dogs.
The journey culminates at the awe-inspiring Exit Glacier, where you can witness the ancient ice up close, a tangible reminder of Earth’s glacial history. Most tours will come with the history of dog-sledding and Iditarod stories.
But wait, there’s more! If you’re like me and just want to pet all the dogs, you’ll get to help set up the animals for the ride. Most vendors also have future sled dog puppies around, and you’re welcome to play with them. It helps them socialize as much as it makes you smile.
9. Enjoy the Exit Glacier Trail… While You Can
Exit Glacier is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords simply because it’s shrinking at the rate of three feet or more a year, and it won’t be around much longer.
The graphic to the right shows the retreat of Exit Glacier between 1950 and 2020.
One of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords for years was to touch the glacier. However, that’s no longer possible from the trails.
To get the best views, you have two choices. First, there’s the one-mile loop of Glacier View Loop Trail. It’s an easy and accessible path. Second, you can take the Glacier Overlook Trail to tack another 0.6 miles onto the adventure. However, the overlook trail is moderate to strenuous, even with the short distance.
8. See Kenai Fjords from Above
There’s nothing like getting a top-down view of the majesty of Kenai Fjords. “Flightseeing” gives you an unforgettable appreciation for the lay of this steep, icy, and watery landscape.
Without question, a scenic overflight out of Seward gives you the fullest sense of the immensity of the Harding Icefield. To be honest, photos just don’t do it justice. These aerial tours often come spiced with wildlife sightings. Look for cliff-hugging mountain goats and shoreline-ranging bears to whales offshore.
Using the flight options is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park since it can get you to the backcountry adventures that await.
7. Take a Birdwatching Boat Tour
I can’t write about birdwatching as one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords without thinking of Buddy the Elf flailing his arms as he bemoaned, “Not now, Arctic Puffin.” You can see your own arctic puffin amid a throng of other feisty-feathered creatures.
Birdwatching offers possible sightings ranging from hulking bald eagles to an impressive lineup of shorebirds and seabirds. A whole host of the latter forage and breed along the chilly, productive waters of Kenai Fjords, none quite as endearing as puffins.
Two species of these stubby-winged, technicolor-billed members of the auk family nest here. First, the horned puffin, distinguished by the little namesake black horn above its eye and a white belly. Secondly, the slightly heftier tufted puffin is instantly recognizable with its snazzy yellow head tufts and its black belly.
Also, keep an eye out for the fast-flying peregrine falcons. These slick creatures can soar up to 220 miles per hour. Check out this extensive list of other unique birds in and around Kenai Fjords.
6. Go Kayak Camping
Kayaking is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, providing as up-close and personal an exploration and experience of this mighty land-and-seascape as you can get.
This activity is as fun as it is functional, as some of the campsites are only accessible by boat. Spend a night—or several—out in the shorefront backcountry of the fjords, arms, and bays, as at Quicksand Cove or Sunlight Glacier Beach.
However, if going it alone is intimidating, choose a guided kayaking trip. It’s not just the demanding paddling itself, dodging strong waves and icebergs. You also need to know how to set up a tent away from tidal slosh and high surf caused by calving glaciers or iceberg rollovers.
But camping out in tucked-away coves that are only reachable by boat is a dream. And you’ve even got a couple of options for a hard-sided shelter to sleep in. Aialik Bay hosts a pair of public-use cabins with glacier views in Abra Cove and Holgate Arm.
5. Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
The heart of Kenai Fjords National Park is the Harding Icefield, so it’s a real thrill to actually be able to gaze upon its vast, remote white blankness. You’ll get a closer look at features like nunataks, punctured by the dark rock prongs. There’s a whole mountain range under there!
Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail is easily one of the most thrilling things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, but it’s a workout, to say the least!
We’re talking about an 8.2-mile round-trip trek involving some 3,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s 100% worth it. Even if you don’t want to tackle the whole thing, plan to make it as far as Marmot Meadows.
(Heads up: It’s super-common to spot berry-hungry black bears along the Harding Icefield Trail. Do you know bear safety steps?)
Also, note that this isn’t the trail that takes you across the Harding Icefield. You’ll walk the length of Exit Glacier to where it meets with the icefield on this trail.
4. Paddle the Bear Glacier Lagoon
Exit Glacier gets most of the attention at Kenai Fjords, but Bear Glacier is the biggest. That’s why paddling its icy waters is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords.
At its mouth lies a broad lake, Bear Glacier Lagoon (also called Bear Glacier Lake), mostly gated off from the bay by moraine outwash material. Geologists call such a body of water, set between the glacier mouth and terminal moraine, a proglacial lagoon.
Meanwhile, paddling its iceberg-littered waters ranks among the most mesmerizing—if dicey—things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park. Accordingly, you’ll need to watch out for rolling, upturning, or collapsing—icebergs and occasional calving off the Bear Glacier mouth.
Even the potential for abrupt rises in water level due to glacial outburst floods from upstream. Kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders should keep their distance from the big bergs, avoid paddling between two of them, and steer clear of the glacier mouth.
Finally, you should avoid paddling from Seward, as there’s just a lot of treacherous water to cover. It’s safer to take a water taxi for your paddling adventure. And if it’s your first time exploring Bear Glacier Lagoon, consider taking a guided paddling tour.
3. Cruise to Fox Island
Taking a day-long scenic tour is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords to see a lot with little effort.
Here’s a sample tour, where you’ll get to see the bulk of tidal glaciers along the Kenai Fjords coastline. Stops include places such as:
- Aialik Glacier
- Holgate Glacier
- Cruising through islands
- Fox Island
The tour boats have outdoor platforms and climate-controlled indoor seating, whichever you prefer. Lunch and dinner are served, with a special evening meal on the banks of Fox Island. You’ll be among the few people enjoying this scenic landscape.
If you’re salivating at this thought, you can also consider staying a night at the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island.
A summertime sightseeing cruise provides at least a chance to see the epic spectacle of glacier calving in action. Calving is when chunks of the glacier break off into the water.
2. Trek the Harding Icefield
When it comes to more adventurous things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, it doesn’t get much more classic than a ski-mountaineering traverse on the Harding Icefield. Getting on intimate terms with this huge frozen fountainhead, the deep core of the park and of the Kenai Mountains, is something special.
This trek is a beast that can take up to two weeks to complete, and that’s with good weather and nobody falling in a crevasse. The mountaineering can be done on skis or with snowshoes, and April is the ideal month to cross the icefield.
In addition, you need to be prepared to hunker down for a potentially extended period if one of those infamous Gulf of Alaska storms—the ones that feed the Icefield with voluminous amounts of snow—rolls in, which can happen any time of year.
“Those lucky enough to have good weather can experience an awesome glimpse back into the ice age, when entire continents were dominated by glaciers. Isolated nunataks jut up from the vast white expanse like dark islands in a smooth sea, begging to be explored. The view from the summit of one of these jagged peaks is indescribably beautiful and eerie.”KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK RANGERS
The main routes are between either Tustumena Glacier or Chernof Glacier on the west side of the Icefield. Most icefield journeys start by a boat or plane drop-off and finish at Exit Glacier.
1. Animal Adventures in Kenai Fjords
Finally, we reach the “where can I see a bear/whale/sea otter” portion of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay, and flanking waters of the Gulf of Alaska support a magnificent menagerie of marine mammals, most spectacularly during the summer months when baleen whales migrate here to feast.
Boat tours provide world-class viewing of these behemoths, plus the smaller toothed whales, pinnipeds, and sea otters that also ply these waters.
Orcas, the ocean’s most apex of apex predators, are commonly seen slicing the surface with their dorsal fins, while little Dall’s porpoises often ride the bow wakes of tour boats. Look to the side of the mountains for the nimble mountain goats that “live their lives literally on the edge.”
The biggest sea lion in the world, the Steller sea lion, provides another impressive sight in Kenai Fjords, with multiple summer haulouts and a rookery at Chiswell Island. You may spot a little harbor seal or two chilling on an iceberg calved off a tidewater glacier, while the universally beloved northern sea otter is a regular sight as well.
Map of Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Summary of Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
- Animal Adventures
- Trek the Harding Icefield
- Cruise to Fox Island
- Paddle Bear Glacier Lagoon
- Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
- Go Kayak Camping
- Take a Birdwatching Boat Tour
- See Kenai Fjords from Above
- Enjoy the Exit Glacier Trail… While You Can
- Mush a Dog Sled Tour to Exit Glacier
- Sail to Spire Cove
- Camp at Exit Glacier
Pin Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
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