Hike to one of the largest icefields in North America, spot humpback whales and orcas on a wildlife cruise, kayak in front of glaciers, go ice climbing or glacier hiking, and soar over the fjords in a helicopter…these are all things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park.
This is one of the few national parks in Alaska that you can drive to, but to really experience this park, you will need to hike, kayak, cruise, or see it from the sky. Most of this park is ice and water, so it is not the type of place where you drive from viewpoint to viewpoint.
But that is what makes this park such a wonderful place to visit. If you are seeking adventure, you can find it here. With kayaking, ice climbing, and glacier hiking, many wonderful adventures await. And if you prefer to sit back, relax, and view this park from a boat, you can do that too.
In this guide, we cover the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, with essential tips so you can have the best experience.
Table of Contents
While in Kenai Fjords National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Interesting Facts about Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park preserves and protects the Harding Icefield, which is the largest icefield that is located entirely within the United States. This icefield is what “feeds” the glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula and there are at least 38 glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Exit Glacier is the most accessible of these glaciers. It’s the only glacier that you can drive to. You can hike several trails to viewpoints of this glacier, as well as hike on it or go ice climbing, with an experienced guide.
To see the Harding Icefield, you can either hike to it (over 8 miles round trip) or see it on a flightseeing tour.
About 50% of this park is covered in ice. The Harding Icefield gets 60 feet of snow a year!
Kenai Fjords National Parks is one of the best parks for wildlife spotting. On land, you can see moose, black bears, brown bears and wolves. Sea lions, seals, dolphins, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and fin whales can be spotted in the sea. In the sky, look for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and tufted and horned puffins.
Kenai Fjords officially became a national park on December 2, 1980. In 2022, 390,000 people visited this national park, making it the 18th least visited national park that year.
Exit Glacier Road | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Overview and Map of Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is located on the Kenai Peninsula. The town of Seward sits just outside of the park, and it makes a great home base for exploring Kenai Fjords. Fjord cruises and flightseeing trips start here. Plus, this town has many great hotels and restaurants, making this the best place to stay when you visit the park.
On the National Park Service map below, you can see that most of the park is either ice or water. The fjords are still being actively carved out by the glaciers that come down off the Harding Icefield. There are numerous fjords to visit on a glacier cruise, and I’ll discuss those later in this guide.
Only one road heads into the park. From Seward, the Exit Glacier Road (aka Herman Leirer Road) dead-ends at the Exit Glacier Nature Center and the hiking trails for the Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield Trail. All other areas of the park are only accessible on foot, by boat, or by air.
How to Get to Kenai Fjords National Park
From Anchorage, it takes about two and a half hours to drive to Seward. This drive is on the Seward Highway, and we have a great guide for things to see and do along the way.
You can also get here on the Alaska Railroad from May to September. In the summer, cruise ships visit Seward, and you can also get here by bus or shuttle. If you do not have a car (for example, you arrived by train), once you are in the area, you can get around by a shuttle or taxi service.
Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
Below are the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park. This list starts with the Exit Glacier and things you can do on land, followed by boat and flightseeing tours.
#1 Drive Exit Glacier Road
Exit Glacier Road, which is also called Herman Leirer Road, connects Seward with the Exit Glacier.
This road is 8.5 miles long. Once you cross the Kenai Fjords National Park boundary, you will see road signs with four-digit numbers on them. These signs mark the locations of the Exit Glacier terminus, and the numbers indicate the year the terminus was at that location. You can really get a good idea of how much this glacier has shrunk in the last 100 years. This is largely believed to be a result of climate change.
From this road, you also get a great view of the Exit Glacier. The Harding Icefield sits at the top of the glacier.
The view from Exit Glacier Road | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Exit Glacier Road dead-ends at a parking lot and the Exit Glacier Nature Center. This is where several hiking trails start, which are listed next.
#2 Glacier View Loop Trail
This short, easy trail is about one mile long and starts at the Exit Glacier Nature Center. For most of the hike, you are in a forest, but it leads to viewpoints of the Exit Glacier outwash plain.
Glacier Loop Trail | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
On the map below, you can see the Glacier View Loop Trail and the Glacier Overlook Trail. Once you get to the far end of the Glacier View Loop Trail, you can either walk back to the Exit Glacier Nature Center (completing the loop) or continue to the Glacier Overlook Trail.
#3 Glacier Overlook Trail
This trail is a little hillier than the loop, as you hike up onto the hills near the terminal moraine. On this trail, you will see more number signs indicating the year when the terminus of the Exit Glacier was at this point.
From this trail, you get the best view of the Exit Glacier, unless you plan to go glacier hiking or ice climbing.
The Exit Glacier from the Glacier Overlook Trail | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
If you combine the Glacier View Loop Trail and the Glacier Overlook Trail, it is a 2.2-mile round-trip hike with roughly 300 feet of elevation gain.
IMPORTANT: Do not leave the Glacier Overlook Trail to hike on the Exit Glacier moraine. This is very dangerous and there are ropes and signs discouraging this. You should only hike on a glacier and its moraine with an experienced guide.
#4 Glacier Hiking or Ice Climbing on the Exit Glacier
Glacier hiking or ice climbing is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park.
There are several tour companies that lead tours onto the Exit Glacier. We went ice climbing with Exit Glacier Guides and it was a blast!
The day starts off with a short but tough hike up a portion of the Harding Icefield Trail. Once at the Exit Glacier, you will put on a harness and helmet, strap on some crampons, and head off onto the glacier. For the next few hours, you will hike on the glacier, get a lesson on ice climbing (if you are a newbie, like we were), and then test out your new skills on the ice.
This excursion is perfect for those who are active and adventurous. You will rappel into deep, blue crevasses, feel a sense of achievement as you climb back up onto the glacier, and all the while, enjoy magnificent views of the Exit Glacier and Kenai Fjords National Park.
This is a 10-hour tour, so it is a long day, but it was one of our favorite things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Learn more about what to expect, how much it costs, and see more photos in our article Ice Climbing on the Exit Glacier.
Exit Glacier | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
The view from the Exit Glacier | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Exit Glacier Tours by Exit Glacier Guides:
- Glacier Hiking Tour: 7 to 8 hours, minimum age 13
- Exit Glacier Ice Climbing: 10 hours, minimum age 15
#5 Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
Distance: 8.2 miles out-and-back | Difficulty: Strenuous | Total Ascent: 3,500 feet | Time: 6 to 8 hours
Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Top of the Harding Icefield Trail | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
If you want to see the wide expanse of the Harding Icefield without hopping into an airplane or helicopter, this is the best way to do it.
This hike starts near the Exit Glacier Nature Center. The trail heads up alongside the Exit Glacier, offering views of this glacier, the valley, and the surrounding mountains along the way. The higher you go, the better the view.
The trail ends at the Harding Icefield. From here, you have a great view of one of the largest icefields in the United States, the massive chunk of ice that feeds all of the glaciers in Kenai Fjords.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
#6 Take a Wildlife Cruise
Cruising the fjords is one of the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park. The landscapes are extraordinary, to get up close to glaciers is an unforgettable experience, and this is one of the best national parks for wildlife viewing.
When choosing a fjord cruise, there are several different options. These take a half to a full day, depending on the tour. You can take a shorter tour, staying close to Seward, or spend a full day, cruising to more remote fjords. From our experience, the farther you go from Seward, the better the experience.
Companies Offering Cruises
There are three main companies offering fjord cruises:
We chose Kenai Fjords Tours for their great reviews. When we did this, their price for the Northwestern Fjord Cruise was cheaper than Major Marine, another very popular cruise company. Also, we got a discount through the Alaska Collection by bundling together this fjord cruise with our stay at the Seward Windsong Lodge.
Most tours are offered from June through mid-September. You can get exact dates and pricing by clicking on the links to the tour companies above.
Resurrection Bay: 5 hours. This is the shortest tour, which stays in Resurrection Bay and goes as far as Fox Island. You will see Bear Glacier, the largest glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, and have a chance to see sea otters, whales, sea lions, eagles, and puffins. The Kenai Fjords Tours cruise includes a visit to Fox Island. It’s a good option for those who get seasick since you stay in the calmer waters of Resurrection Bay.
Kenai Fjords National Park Tour: 6 hours. This is the most popular cruise. Sail through Resurrection Bay, into the Gulf of Alaska, and then into Aialik Bay to Holgate Glacier or Aialik Glacier.
Sea stacks, seen on the cruise to Aialik Bay | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Northwestern Fjord Cruise: 7 to 8 hours. On this cruise, travel farther into Kenai Fjords National Park than on any other fjord tour. Not only do you get to see three different glaciers, including the remote, active Northwestern Glacier, but there is also a very good chance that you will see orca whales, humpback whales, sea lions and more.
Northwestern Glacier | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Orcas | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
Harbor Seals in Northwestern Fjord | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
View from the Northwestern Fjord cruise | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
PRO TRAVEL TIP: I recommend either the Kenai Fjords National Park cruise or the Northwestern Fjord cruise. The cruise into Resurrection Bay is nice, but once you get out into the Gulf of Alaska, you have a great chance of seeing whales and orcas. Plus, to cruise up a fjord to see a glacier is awesome. The Kenai Fjords National Park tour is just an hour longer than the Resurrection Bay tour, and that extra hour makes a big difference in just how much better the experience is, in my opinion. For the best experience, take the Northwestern Fjord cruise.
We cruised both the Northwestern Fjord and Aialik Bay to Aialik Glacier and the Northwestern Fjord was our favorite. Not only are the landscapes better, but we saw tons of wildlife on this cruise.
Our Experience on the Northwestern Fjord Cruise
We took the Northwestern Fjord Cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours and loved every minute of it.
Before we did this, I was a little bit worried…7 hours seems like a long time on a boat. But the ship is large, roomy, and has a small restaurant and bar (I sipped on coffee with Bailey’s for the first few hours). The captain was excellent, both with his commentary and pointing out wildlife throughout the day.
For the most part, the cruise was very smooth. A few people on board got seasick but the staff was great, keeping everyone comfortable.
We saw several pods of orcas, a few humpback whales, fin whales, sea lions, seals, tufted and horned puffins, sea otters, and numerous species of birds. Getting up close to the Northwestern Glacier was awesome. And the landscapes are breathtaking.
On a separate day, we also cruised Aialik Bay to go glacier kayaking (the next thing on our list), which is nice, too. But if you have the time in your schedule and want the best cruise experience in Kenai Fjords, put the Northwestern Fjord Cruise on your list. And I highly recommend taking the cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours.
#7 Go Glacier Kayaking
In addition to simply cruising the fjords, you can also take a cruise + kayaking combo tour.
We went glacier kayaking at Aialik Glacier with Liquid Adventures. This 10-hour tour includes the cruise through Resurrection Bay and past the sea stacks, into Aialik Bay. Near Aialik Glacier, we traded the water taxi for kayaks, where we spent about three hours paddling in Aialik Bay.
If you want to see Kenai Fjords National Park from the water and want to do something more adventurous than a wildlife cruise, adding on glacier kayaking is a great option.
Kayaking in front of Aialik Glacier | Best Things to Do in Kenai Fjords
#8 Go Fishing
In Kenai Fjords National Park, you can go both freshwater and saltwater fishing. You can fish for salmon and Dolly Varden in the rivers and streams. In Seward and Resurrection Bay, you can fish for salmon, halibut, rockfish, and lingcod.
There are numerous state regulations, and you will need an Alaskan state fishing license. Learn more on the Alaska Fish and Game website.
#9 Take a Flightseeing Tour
If you want to see Kenai Fjords National Park from the sky, you have several options.
Exit Glacier Guides offers a backcountry helicopter hiking trip. Fly into a remote area of Kenai Fjords National Park and spend a few hours hiking with an experience guide.
Seward Helicopters offers scenic helicopter flights and glacier landing experiences.
Alpine Air Alaska runs flightseeing tours from Seward with views of Resurrection Bay, the Kenai Mountains and Harding Icefield.
Things to Do Near Kenai Fjords National Park
There are two things our guides with Exit Glacier Guides recommend that we do while in Seward. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time in our schedule to get to these, but I am listing them so that you know about them.
Mount Marathon looms over Seward. It is a 4-mile round-trip hike, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain, to get to the top of this mountain. Our guides said that the views from up here are incredible.
Every July, there is a race up Mount Marathon. It’s a very challenging run, on a steep incline on a gravelly, rocky trail. It’s touted as the toughest 5K in the world. The race is open to less than 800 people and so popular that there is a lottery selection process.
Mount Marathon Race. If you look closely, those little white dots are people. The race was held on the same day that we did the Northwestern Fjord cruise, and (with a zoom lens), we could see the racers on Mount Marathon as our boat pulled into the harbor.
Lost Lake Trail
Our Exit Glacier guides raved about this hike. It’s 14 miles long, moderately strenuous, and goes through beautiful mountain scenery. This hike is located just north of Seward.
How Much Time Do You Need in Kenai Fjords National Park?
I recommend spending at least two full days in Kenai Fjords National Park. This gives you enough time to take a fjord cruise and hike the trails near Exit Glacier or go ice climbing or glacier hiking.
With more time, you can also hike the Mount Marathon trail or Lost Lake Trail, spend some time in Seward, go fishing, glacier kayaking, or go flightseeing.
How to Plan Your Time
Day 1: Scenic drive on the Seward Highway to Seward/Kenai Fjords National Park
Day 2: Kenai Fjords cruise
Day 3: Hike the Exit Glacier trails, the Harding Icefield Trail, and/or go ice climbing or glacier hiking on the Exit Glacier
Day 4: Flightseeing, Lost Lake Trail, Mount Marathon, or a cruise + kayaking combo
What We Did:
- Day 1: Arrive in Seward (we drove here after visiting Homer)
- Day 2: Ice climbing on the Exit Glacier
- Day 3: Northwestern Fjord Cruise, in the afternoon/evening Tim and Tyler hiked the Harding Icefield Trail (good thing the days are long in July!)
- Day 4: Aialik Wildlife Cruise and Glacier Kayaking
- Day 5: Drive to Anchorage
Best Time to Visit Kenai Fjords National Park
The best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park is in the summer (June, July and August). This is when fjord cruises, glacier hiking, and ice climbing tours are offered.
We visited Kenai Fjords National Park in early July.
You can visit Seward all year but Exit Glacier Road closes to vehicles once it gets snow covered. And many tours are not offered between October and mid-May.
Where to Stay
Seward Windsong Lodge. This lodge is part of the Alaska Collection. It is located just outside of Seward, on Exit Glacier Road. There are numerous lodges here plus a restaurant and complimentary shuttle into Seward. This is where we stayed and highly recommend it. Plus, you can bundle a stay here and a cruise on Kenai Fjords Tours for a discount.
Box Canyon Cabins. This property offers a variety of cabins that can accommodate between three and seven people. Each has a fully equipped kitchen and there is an onsite laundry facility. It is located just outside of Seward.
Resurrection Lodge on the Bay. This lodge is located south of Seward right on Resurrection Bay. From the terrace, you can look out over Resurrection Bay, for one of the best views from the properties on this list. Rooms range from queen rooms to three-bedroom apartments. Some rooms have a kitchenette and some rooms have views of Resurrection Bay.
The Vue B&B. This relatively new bed and breakfast is in Seward. It is an adult only property, rooms are beautifully decorated, and prior guests love the location and the shared kitchen.
Seward’s Guest House. If you are on a budget, this guesthouse is very highly rated. It is in Seward and has double rooms and suites that can accommodate up to six people.
Important Planning Information
Entrance Fee: Free
Hours of Operation: Open all year. Exit Glacier Road is generally closed to vehicles from fall through spring (this road is not plowed when it snows). Most tours operate May through September.
Pets: Pets are allowed in the parking lot at the Exit Glacier Nature Center, but they are not allowed on the hiking trails, in any building, or the backcountry.
Cellular Service: There is no cellular service in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Get updates on road conditions and trail closures, as you plan your trip and just before your visit, on the National Park Service website.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Alaska
KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Kenai Fjords National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
ALASKA ITINERARY: Take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Alaska with our Alaska road trip itineraries.
DRIVING IN ALASKA: The Seward Highway connects Anchorage and Seward is one of the most popular scenic drives in Alaska. We also have a detailed guide to driving from Anchorage to Valdez, yet another amazing road trip.
COLUMBIA GLACIER: The Columbia Glacier is one of the most active glaciers in the world and can be visited from Valdez. Learn how to see in our Guide to the Columbia Glacier.
BEST OF DENALI: Eielson is one of the most spectacular areas in Denali to visit since it offers some of the best views of Denali. Taking a Denali flight seeing trip is also a great thing to do, as are hiking one of the many trails in the park. Get the full list in our article Best Things to Do in Denali.
UNITED STATES: We have TONS of information about places to visit in the United States in our USA Travel Guide. In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
Read all of our articles about Alaska in our Alaska Travel Guide.
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