Alaska Journey to Kenai Fjords

This is part 4 of Nancy Bandley's Alaska Parks journey. This week the journey transitions from the water world of Cruise Ships towards a journey that can be experienced (mostly) from land.


Kenai Fjords National Park : NPS PhotoOne of the least visited ( less than 300,000 last year ) , but easiest to get to of our National Parks is Kenai Fjords. It is located about 120 miles south of Anchorage near the town of Seward. You can get there partially by road or if you are not driving in Alaska ( and you don't need to be ), then it's by train. The main visitor center is located in the town of Seward and has really nice displays, and videos. Nearby ( about 8 miles ) is the only land based portion of the park called "Exit Glacier". The road to it is mostly paved, it is only the last section which is not. The Nature Center at Exit Glacier provides more interpretive exhibits, and a nice warm stove. There is 3/4 mile trail which is paved for the first section and leads to the land portion of the glaciers of Kenai. This is definitely bear country - mostly black bear. On our last visit, a bear crossed over the paved trail just in front of us.

Also accessible from this site is the much more strenuous Harding Icefield Trail. This is definitely an all day trip. They say it goes up as much as it goes far - for every mile you walk, the altitude is increased by another 1,000 feet. When Kenai was first mapped, they found eight glaciers which came down to the sea. However further mapping indicated most of them stemmed from one icefield, which was left over from the last ice ages. Now that's really old ice! If you chose this all day jaunt, your reward is a spectacular view of an icefield stretching for miles upon endless miles for as far the eye can see. If you are not up for hiking the whole 8 miles, there is a view of the icefield from one of the first stopping ( and catching your breath ) locations along the trail.

Kenai Fjords is home to abundant wildlife - like bear, moose, and mountain goat on the land, and orcas, minke whales, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, puffins and porpoise in the ocean. One way to experience the park from land is a neat tour called the Idita Ride ( it's like the Iditarod but this one is in the summer and it's on wheels ). The tour starts at the Nature Center and travels through the forests of the park. To experience the park from the water, try the Kenai Fjords Cruise with the Park Service. They pick you up in Seward, take you out on the boat, and have a ranger explain for you the topography, scenery, and animals you are sure to see. This is about a 5-6 hour tour and includes lunch.

Don't assume that glacier watching can only be done in Alaska from a cruse ship. You can see a lot from land, and I highly recommend this visit to Kenai Fjords in order to experience the glaciers that come down and touch the sea, often calving ( see Juneau also ), causing the ice to creak, crack and break off in a spectacular display into the warmer ocean water.

Next Friday our inland-Alaska journey continues toward Wrangell-St Elias National Park.