Kenai Fjords National Park by Water, by Land
If you are following us elsewhere (like Instagram or Facebook), you know that we have officially finished our trip and have cozied up in my smallish hometown of Washington, Missouri. (Corncob pipe capitol of the world, thankyouverymuch) We are planning to continue to share pictures, videos, and perspectives on our trip for a long time, so stick around! For now, we still have to report on several Alaska parks: Kenai Fjords (this post), Lake Clark, Katmai, and Denali. Then, we will have space to write several round-up style posts that we have in mind, including our TOP TEN parks of the trip. Thanks for following along!
We came upon Kenai Fjords National Park at an interesting phase of our grand Alaska adventure: We had half of the park under our belt by then. We had hiked many miles in Alaskan grizzly country. We flew to the two most remote parks. We had conquered several tricky logistical hurdles. We had also just been refreshed with a stopover in Anchorage (thanks, Becky!) and so we had showered, bought fresh groceries that didn’t cost a million dollars, and we were feeling confident about the rest of our trip.
So our energy was high when we drove 2.5 hours from Anchorage to Seward to catch an early day cruise to explore the fjords and wildlife of Kenai Fjords National Park.
To explore the water areas of Kenai Fjords, there are several questions to ask yourself. What do you want to see? Do you want to paddle or cruise? How much time do you have?
We asked ourselves these questions and answered: glaciers and whales! / to cruise / one full day, respectively. So then it was all about the options. Day cruises are probably most popular, and are available from two concessionaires: Kenai Fjords Tours and Major Marine Tours. These two companies offer almost identical cruise options, ranging from about 3.5 hours to 9 hours, and running about $49 to $200 per person. A variety of overnight cruises, sometimes with remote island lodging and meals, are also available.
Another activity to consider is kayaking. Several outfitters in Seward offer guided tours and kayak rentals throughout the park and surrounding waters. We had already had that experience in Glacier Bay and felt like we wanted to venture into this comfy world of an all-inclusive day cruise (if only for a day).
After contacting both Kenai Fjords Tours and Major Marine Tours and feeling out potential partnerships, we were able to get a deal on a Northwestern Fjord Tour through Kenai Fjords Tours. This is their longest tour at 9 hours, their most expensive at $189 per person, and also travels far beyond most of the other boats. (Although regardless, the park has done a great job minimizing the boat traffic through the bay, and we really didn’t see other boats much at all). The tour includes a narrated tour through the bay, through Northwestern Fjord, and to Northwestern Glacier, a light breakfast and lunch (emphasis on the light, you may want to bring an extra snack), and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.
This may have been my favorite day of our entire Alaska trip. The weather was perfect, so that helps, but I also just loved the change from our typical go-see-hike pace of travel. We saw many orcas, humpbacks, fin whales, a sea otter, sea lions, harbor seals, puffins, bald eagles, and several other types of birds. We watched Northwestern Glacier calve into the ocean for about 40 minutes (and still weren’t ready to leave). We cruised to an ocean waterfall and several glaciers in the park. And we relaxed on a boat for once.
If you have only one day to spend in Kenai Fjords, and it is a nice day, we’d recommend you be on the water in a similar fashion.
But, of course, if you noticed the title of this post, there is another magical way to soak in all that is Kenai Fjords.
Our second day in the park was spent in the drive-up Exit Glacier area, about a 15-minute drive from Seward. When we mapped out our Alaska trip and looked at long and unique ranger programs that we wanted to work around, we found a ranger-led hike to Harding Icefield (8 miles round-trip and 3800 feet elevation gain) that we wanted to jump on. This is a full-day hike that occurs every Saturday in the summer.
We showed up right at 9:00 (okay, about 5 minutes late… but that’s on time in Cole world) and were surprised to see about 40 other people going on the hike as well. One ranger designated herself “hardy” and the other “leisurely” and the group split in approximately half to follow the rangers along the trail.
The trail begins along the Exit Glacier Trail, where most visitors go, but splits off before reaching the glacier. And then it begins to climb. And “hardy” is no exaggeration. After about a mile and a half, the trail reaches a place called Marmot Meadows. This would be a great turn-around spot for families or those who just want a great view of Exit Glacier. We stopped for a snack and a breather, then continued up switchbacks to the Harding Icefield.
After about a mile or so, our group became much more spread out. We were having trouble keeping up with the front of the group, and we decided to fall back and enjoy ourselves more. We continued the rest of the way up (up up up) to the Harding Icefield – a huge, well, field of ice that feeds several glaciers in the park (including Exit Glacier, which is seen most of the trail). The trail was popular, but we missed most traffic by starting early.
These were some of the best views we have seen all year, and we felt like the trail gave us a great bang for our buck. It was tough, but if you have the energy, you will be dramatically rewarded.
After descending to the main area of the park, we did hop over to the Toe of Exit Glacier to see what this popular trail looked like. Unimpressive compared to what we had just seen, but worth the short trek nonetheless.
Our time at Kenai Fjords was short — two days — but we used it wisely. Our days were FULL of incredible views, amazing animals, and one-of-a-kind experiences that, even in our year of one-of-a-kind experiences, stands out as one of the greatest.