Kenai Fjords National Park

Location: Southcentral Alaska

Park Tally: 37/59

Orientation: Kenai Fjords National Park is located in southcentral Alaska, on the edge of the North Pacific Ocean and nearby the quaint town of Seward. The entrance to this glacial wonderland can be accessed via a relatively short drive from Anchorage (130 miles), by train, boat or private air craft. The majority of Kenai Fjords is only accessible via hiking, boat or plane, with very few roads existing in the park.

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The most popular and accessible area in the park is Exit Glacier, 13 miles northwest of Seward, where you can drive to or take a tour bus. From mid-May to late September, daily boat tours from Seward offer half and full-day excursions to the fjords and outlying islands. There are also various options for private boat charters, kayaking, fishing and backpacking trips.

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Most iconic view:  The jewel of Kenai Fjords National Park is the magnificent Harding Icefield. From this massive 700-square-mile icefield, countless tidewater glaciers pour down, carving fjords and icebergs. Over 30 glaciers of different size and type flow from the Harding Icefield, with some terminating in lakes (e.g. Skilak Glacier), some ending on land (e.g. Exit Glacier), and some being tidewater (e.g. Aialik Glacier). The Icefield may be a remnant of the Pleistocene ice masses that once covered half of Alaska.  Visitors can witness the Harding Icefield itself via a steep hike from the Exit Glacier area of the park, via aircraft, or numerous of its glaciers can be viewed via boat.

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Accessible activity: A popular way to experience the park is via a tour-boat cruise from Seward. We opted to take a full-day ‘National Park Cruise’ with Major Marine Tours, which included interpretation from a knowledgeable park ranger. The 7.5-hour cruise allowed for ample of time witnessing two active tidewater glaciers, Holgate and Aialik Glaciers, plus we were lucky enough to view an abundance of wildlife. It was a real treat watching orca and humpback whales breach out of the calm waters, as well as puffins fish by the boat.

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For the adventurous:  As mentioned above, the Harding Icefield is a gem of Kenai Fjords National Park. Spectacular views of the Icefield can be gained via hiking the 8.2-mile roundtrip Harding Icefield Trail, either as a day-trip or to camp overnight. This strenuous trail gains approximately 1000 feet every mile and should only be attempted by relatively fit and prepared visitors.

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The hike provides breathtaking views of Exit Glacier, cottonwood and alder forests, heather filled meadows and of course the ginormous Harding Icefield. The top of the trail provides a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see. Camping is permitted along the Harding Icefield Trail corridor, though you must be at least 1/8 from the trail on bare rock or snow. Be sure to follow the principles of Leave No Trace. We had a wonderfully peaceful (and chilly!) night camping by the Icefield, something we would do again in a heartbeat.

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Best photo opportunities: Photographers come from all over the world to capture the abundant wildlife of Kenai Fjords. Book a boat cruise (or charter a private tour) and be sure to take a telephoto lens for the best chance to photograph marine life and seabirds. We also found the sea otters by the Seward Harbor to be very photogenic!

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Quick facts

  • Kenai Fjords National Park was established in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
  • The Alutiiq and Dena’ina people are native to the outer Kenai Peninsula coast and have traditionally hunted and subsisted on the land for more than 1,000 years.
  • Kenai Fjords is the smallest national park in Alaska but still larger than 42 of the 59 national parks in the entire National Park System (covering approximately 670,000 acres).
  • 51% of Kenai Fjords National Park is covered by glacial ice.
  • The Harding Ice Field is one of only 4 remaining ice fields in the country, and is also the largest ice field contained entirely within the United States’ borders.
  • Wildlife in the park consists of various seabirds (including puffins), bald eagles, peregrine falcons, harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, porpoises, moose, black bears, brown bears, wolverines, coyotes, mountain goats, and more.
  • The 1989 Prince William Sound oil spill by Exxon Valdez greatly contaminated the coastal area of the national parkland. The National Park Service worked tirelessly to clean up in the years that followed.
  • In 2016, the park had 346,534 visitors.

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