Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the easier to get to national parks in Alaska. It is a vast wilderness of mountains, glaciers, fjords and wildlife. The scenery is stunning and the experience of this National park is not one you’ll soon forget! This land of the Alutiiq and Dene People was carved by glaciers during the last ice age. This ice activity created the fjords and the jagged mountains we see today. The remants of that ice age live on in the glaciers and ice fields.
It can be a little overwhelming to figure out how much time to spend and what to do to get the most out of your trip. I’m here to share the best things to do so you don’t miss a thing and maximize your time. I lived in Alaska for 7 years and worked as a tour guide and this is one of my favorite places. I’m excited to share it with you!
I’ll be talking about tours as well as free things you can do on your own. I’ll also talk about outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking as well as wildlife and glacier cruises.
Entrance Fee: Kenai Fjords National Park does not charge an entrance fee
Dog Friendly: Dogs are NOT allowed on any trails in Kenai Fjords National Park or on the boat tours. Leashed dogs are allowed in the parking area only at Exit Glacier.
Cell phone coverage: It varies depending on where you are in the park and your service provider. There is no cell service at Exit Glacier. Some companies have some service in parts of the Harding Icefield Trail, but some do not. On the boat tour, you’ll have cell service near Seward, and the signal comes and goes depending on your provider once you’re out of town.
Restrooms: There are restrooms at the Exit Glacier Parking area. There are marine heads on the day boats.
The Exit Glacier area near Seward is the only part of the park you can drive to. This is a great starting point for hiking! Most of the park is accessible only by boat or plane, which you can pick up in Seward.
If you have a car, drive to Seward on the gorgeous Seward Highway from Anchorage. It’s about a 2.5-3 hour drive, but give yourself more time if you can to make stops along the drive. Just before getting into Seward, there’s a well signed turn to the right to go to Exit Glacier. Head into town to pick up boat tours of the park.
If you don’t have a car, no problem! You can take the Alaska Railroad or a motorcoach service from Anchorage to Seward. There’s a shuttle you can take from there to Exit Glacier and you can pick up boat tours in town, walking distance from the train and bus stop.
For most visitors, summer is the best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park. During the summer, the boat tours are operating and there are more lodging and food options. It’s also warmer with more hours of daylight. Summer in Kenai Fjords National Park is chilly and wet (50s or sometimes 60s) so make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes and rain gear.
The park is technically open year round. The road to Exit Glacier is closed in winter, though it is a popular route to ski or snowmachine. Most other parts of the park are not accessible in winter.
How many days do you need in Kenai Fjords National Park?
You can visit Kenai Fjords National Park on a day trip from Anchorage or if you are already in Seward.
I recommend spending two days in the park. This will give you the chance to explore Exit Glacier, take a wildlife and glacier cruise and get out for a hike or kayak adventure.
Later in this post, you’ll find one and two day itineraries to make the most of your time in the park!
Camping and Lodging in and near Kenai Fjords
The only lodging available in the park is the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, a beautiful luxury lodge that you can only get to by boat! Technically it is not actually in the park, but it is surrounded by it. This is not the most practical thing for most visitors. I recommend getting a hotel, vacation rental or camping in or near Seward. There are lots of options available, but book early and make sure to have a reservation before you arrive, especially during the busy season.
Seward has a municipal campground in town which is a great option for camping. You can walk to the boat docks and take the shuttle or drive to Exit Glacier. The surrounding area has several forest service campgrounds in Chugach National Forest.
There is a small walk-in tent campground at Exit Glacier. It only has 12 sites and is not reservable so I don’t recommend planning on that since you might be disappointed. If you do want to camp there, I recommend contacting the park to ask what time of day it usually fills up.
Backcountry camping by kayak is also a possibility. The park service recommends taking a water taxi to more protected waters for kayaking and kayak camping.
Finally, there are two public use cabins located in the backcountry of Kenai Fjords. You can only get to these using one of the water taxi companies in town. They must be reserved ahead of time and usually fill up many months before!
Eating in and near Kenai Fjords
There are no services and no food available in the park. There are a limited number of food options available for purchase on the boat cruises.
I recommend bringing your own food for your time in the park. There are grocery stores and restaurants in Seward to stock up on.
Wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park
Wildlife are abundant in Kenai Fjords and I highly recommend taking a wildlife cruise or a wildlife and glacier cruise during your visit.
On wildlife cruises you have a good chance of seeing whales (including Orcas and Humpback whales), sea lions, seals, sea otters, eagles and puffins and other shorebirds.
In addition to marine animals, if you go for a hike in the park you have a good chance of seeing mountain goats on the hillsides. Keep your eyes and ears open for marmots scrambling around on rocks above the treeline. You might even see a bear on your hike! Make sure to travel in groups and make plenty of noise and I recommend carrying bear spray on all hikes in Alaska just in case.
Keep your eyes out for bears and moose on shore as well as goats on the hillsides above the fjords and eagles in the trees near the water.
Wildlife and Glacier Cruises in Kenai Fjords National Park
There are several companies that operate day boat tours in Kenai Fjords National Park. All of them do an excellent job. I have personally traveled with Major Marine Tours and they are highly professional with very knowledgeable guides. I have not personally taken the other boat tours but I’m certain they also do an excellent job, as all boat tour operators in Alaska do!
Most tour operators offer a half day cruise focused on wildlife including whale watching, as well as a longer full day cruise which goes deeper into Kenai Fjords and takes you to more open water and gets you closer to a tidewater glacier.
If you only do one thing in Kenai Fjords National Park, definitely make it one of these tours! This is an incredible wildlife viewing opportunity as well as a chance to see the amazing scenery that defines the park. If you’re debating between the longer tour and the shorter one, I recommend doing the longer version if you want to see glaciers and increase your chances of seeing more wildlife. More time on the water = more chance of seeing more marine animals!
If you’re not keen on boats or worried about seasickness, you might want to consider the shorter cruise which stays in more protected water. There are still some sections that are open to ocean swell, so I highly recommend taking seasickness prevention medication before you leave the dock, just in case! If you do the shorter cruise, you won’t get as close to the glaciers, although you will likely still see other glaciers from the boat at a distance. If you pair this with stopping at Exit Glacier on your way into or out of town, you can still see glaciers as well as wildlife in Kenai Fjords.
Tours generally cost between $100 – $250 per person depending on the length of the trip and the month you are visiting.
Flightseeing in Kenai Fjords National Park
I don’t normally encourage people to do flightseeing because it is often subject to cancellations and delays due to weather and can be very expensive! I usually encourage people to take a boat tour instead, but if your budget allows and have some flexibility in your schedule then Kenai Fjords National Park is a great place to do flightseeing.
Flightseeing gives you a unique vantage point on the ice and glaciers of the Harding Icefield and elsewhere around Kenai Fjords National Park. Some tours are just flightseeing and other trips actually land on a glacier and let you explore a bit. Some offer dogsledding or glacier trekking once you get there.
Cost: At least $300 per person (more if you are going to do some glacier trekking or dog sledding as part of the trip)
The Best Outdoor Activities in Kenai Fjords National Park
Visit Exit Glacier
The Exit Glacier area is another must-do for anyone visiting Kenai Fjords National Park! You can drive or take the shuttle from Seward to Exit Glacier. Start with a stop at the Exit Glacier Nature Center to get a feel for glaciers and their scientific importance, especially as scientists study climate change.
From there, you can head out on the one mile wheelchair and stroller accessible loop trail to a viewpoint of Exit Glacier over it’s outwash river. If you want to go a bit farther, you can add another mile and 300 feet of elevation gain to get slightly closer to Exit Glacier for an even better view.
Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
If you’re a hiker and you can spare the time, I highly recommend the Harding Icefield hike. In my opinion this may be the most spectacular hike I’ve done in Alaska. I have to tell you that this hike is HARD and LONG. I don’t recommend it for people who are not experienced hikers because this is a tough one. For those who love hiking, you will love this trail! In my opinion, this hike is not worth it when you can’t see the view. Save this for a sunny day or even a cloudy one where there is still decent visibility.
If you decide to take on this hike, make sure to bring lots of food and water. You’ll also need plenty of extra layers for sudden changes in weather.
The Harding Icefield Hike is a total of 9 miles round trip with 3500 feet of elevation gain. Most of the hike gains 1000 feet per mile which is STEEP. If you don’t want to do the whole thing, you can turnaround at various points along the trail. Here are the different sections of the trail, so you can decide for yourself how far you want to go!
Harding Icefield Trail: Exit Glacier Nature Center to Marmot Meadows
Starting from the Exit Glacier parking lot, start on the paved and wide trail for the first half mile. Along the way, you’ll pass signs showing you where the glacier was at different points in time. Look for a sign and a trail on the right that is well signed for Harding Icefield.
Once you turn on the Harding Icefield trail, you’ll be climbing steadily through the forest. There aren’t many views in the first couple miles, but you’ll appreciate the shade as you climb! You’ll encounter some big rock steps and steep trail sections along the switchbacks with mud here and there.
About two miles from the start, you’ll come into an open area called Marmot Meadows. Here is your first really impressive view of Exit Glacier. This is a good place to turn around if you’ve had enough climbing or aren’t an experienced hiker.
Harding Icefield Trail: Marmot Meadows to “Top of Cliffs”
If you keep going, you’ll now head up very steep switchbacks with better and better views of Exit Glacier and the other surrounding mountains. As you climb you’ll enter a gorgeous wildflower meadow. Keep you eyes out for goats on the surrounding mountainsides (or possibly on the trail). You might see or hear marmots in this area as well. In just under a mile, you’ll come to another wide and open area with fantastic views of Exit Glacier. It is referred to as “Top of Cliffs” on the national park service map. This is my favorite spot on the trail for viewing Exit Glacier and makes another excellent turnaround point if you’re feeling ready to stop climbing.
Harding Icefield Trail: “Top of Cliffs” to the edge of the Harding Icefield
You may well be in snow from this point on through July. If you are not prepared for snow travel that’s a good reason to turn around here. If you keep going, you’ll start another relentless climb, this time a long and steep traverse along a slope that is quite rocky at times. Just over 3.5 miles from your car, you’ll arrive at another open and rocky area that provides your first incredible view of the Harding Icefield above Exit Glacier. This also makes a good turnaround point.
You can continue on another mile from here to the end of the trail at the edge of the Harding Icefield. The trail continues to climb across open ridges and some creeks, but is not quite as steep at this point. Once you see the emergency shelter and the icefield at your feet, you know you’ve reached the end of the Harding Icefield hike! After spending all the time you want soaking up the view, return the way you came.
Don’t forget to enjoy the view going the other direction on the way down!
Kayaking in Kenai Fjords
Kenai Fjords National Park is a kayakers paradise! With abundant wildlife all around you, protected coves, tidepools and wild remote and rocky beaches, it’s an incredible experience.
Getting into Kenai Fjords by kayak on your own is challenging. The park service recommends going with a guide to make sure you can navigate the currents and areas of rough water. Another option is to get dropped off near where you plan to camp with your kayak and kayak around protected areas once you arrive. You can also get dropped off with a kayak at the public use cabins.
There are lots of wonderful companies in Seward ready to rent kayaks or lead guided tours. They can get you to protected kayak friendly waters by water taxi.
Cost: Starts at around $80 per person for a half day trip, more for all day or multi day trips.
Ranger programs in Kenai Fjords
Like all national parks, Kenai Fjords has some wonderful ranger programs! Check at the Exit Glacier Nature Center for their current offerings, or check their website before your trip.
Best Itineraries for Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is an excellent place to spend one or two days. Here’s how to do it:
Perfect Day trip
If you’re already in Seward, you can do this day trip with a more leisurely morning. If you’re in Anchorage, get up early to give yourself ample time to drive to Kenai Fjords. If you’re taking the train or bus, they’ll let you know what time to be there in the morning.
Arrive in Seward in time for your day boat cruise into the park. Usually the departure time is late morning or early afternoon, depending on the length of your cruise.
After your boat tour, stop at Exit Glacier and walk the Glacier Loop view trail. Return to your car to drive back to Anchorage. If you have time, you can also go to Exit Glacier on the way to Seward.
Two Day Itinerary
If you have two days to spend in Kenai Fjords, you can relax and see a bit more. I recommend spending the first day driving to Seward and then taking the day boat tour. If you’re already there have a leisurely morning with a breakfast burrito from Firebrand BBQ and coffee from Resurrect Art and Coffee House! If you’re on the full day tour, find dinner and relax for the evening, possibly strolling along the docks in Seward to check out the day’s catch. If you do the half day cruise, then you can also head over to check out Exit Glacier (or you can save it for tomorrow).
One your second day, I recommend either a hike or a kayak trip. This will give you the chance to fully experience the outdoor wilderness that Kenai Fjords National Park is all about! If you don’t want to do the whole Harding Icefield hike, you can go a shorter distance to one of the viewpoints and turn around for a shorter hike. If kayaking is more your jam, then book a tour with one of the local guide companies and get out on the water for a paddle among whales and seals.
If you have more time
If you have more time, you could fit in kayaking AND hiking, or you could get deep into the backcountry on a guided kayaking multi day adventure or stay at one of the public use cabins.
What to pack for Kenai Fjords National Park
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In addition to my general list of what to pack for Alaska, here are a few especially important items for Kenai Fjords:
Rain gear: This is absolutely essential. Plan on it raining the whole time and if it doesn’t you can be pleasantly surprised! This is the rain jacket that I wear and love. I also recommend rain pants because even if you’re like me and hate wearing them hiking, you’ll still want them for sitting on wet things and bug protection. These REI ones are the most comfortable ones I’ve found. REI’s rain jacket is also an excellent option (and comes in plus sizes like the rain pants do).
Boots: Waterproof boots are a necessity. For wet places, I prefer to use rubber boots like these, which are totally waterproof, comfortable to walk in, durable and warm. You’ll see people wearing them everywhere in Alaska! Hiking boots would also work well.
Warm clothes, including a hat and gloves: temperatures are chilly compared to most of the US during the summer, you don’t want to be cold!
Lighter weight clothes: it is possible for it to be sunny! If this happens, you’ll want some lighter layers, this is extra important if you plan to take on some of the harder hikes where you’ll be working up a sweat
A hat with a brim: this is for sun protection, but also so that you can use a bug net with it
Bug Spray: this is also easy to buy in Alaska!
Sunscreen, sunglasses and lip protection: If the sun comes out, it’s intense! And, if you’re on the water, even more intense.
If you’re going hiking, the 10 essentials. This is particularly important here as you’re in a very remote area.
Binoculars (the day boat provides ones you can use, but you may want them for hikes and looking at the water for whales as well)
Phone Accessories for photography Kenai Fjords is a remote location and finding places to charge your phone is a challenge if you’re out all day. I highly recommend bringing a back up power source like this one, which has three full chargers for my iphone
Bear Spray – buy this in Alaska, you can’t fly with it! You only need this if you’re going to be hiking. You don’t need it for the day boat or for checking out Exit Glacier.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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