Where is Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is located 126 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska near the town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Seward town has a population of just under 3,000 people and is just a short 15-minute drive from the main national park road, Exit Glacier road.
The national park visitor center is located within Seward town. Harding Icefield Trail and Exit Glacier Campground are the only accessible areas by car, located about 13 miles northwest from Seward. The most popular and best way to explore the national park is by boat tours along the coastline viewing marine wildlife and the glacier coastlines.
How Big is Kenai Fjords National Park
Although Alaska’s smallest national park, Kenai Fjords US National Park covers a massive 607,000 acres holding one of the largest ice fields in the United States, Harding Icefield with over 38 glaciers. The Harding Icefield is 714 square miles and up to 1 mile thick. 60% of the national park is covered in snow and ice.
The highest point in the national park is 6,450 feet. The lowest elevation is at sea level along the coastline. The park has over 545 miles of coastline to explore via kayak and boat tours.
Kenai Fjords National Park Weather
Located in Alaska on the Pacific Ocean with steep mountains and glaciers in a temperate rainforest, the weather here can change drastically and be unpredictable from storms blowing in off the ocean.
Winter season is from November through March with cold temperatures and increased snowfall. The winters are cold and snowy with an average of 200 inches of snowfall annually. Temperatures in the winter can be as low as -20 and as warm as into the 30’s. Massive winter storms blow through the area often dumping several feet of snow.
During the summer, temperatures range from the 40’s to 70 degrees and days are commonly rainy and overcast. The summer season from May through September is the most visited time of the year with summer boat tours, kayak tours, and the nature center and visitor center open to visit. The warmest month to visit is July. The summer also offers great wildlife viewing opportunities, from summer humpback whales and orcas, to bears, moose, and mountain goats.
When Did Kenai Fjords Become a National Park
For thousands of years, the region around Kenai Fjords has been home to Alaska natives living off of the land and ocean. With a long history of gold miners, fishermen, farmers, and hunters exploring out west into Alaska, the have all left traces of their presence throughout the area.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, early studies of possible new park service units in Alaska brought attention to preserving land in Alaska. In 1971, the land from Seward to Exit Glacier was proposed as the Seward National Recreation Area, allowing mining and logging in the area.
Over the next several years, proposals to preserve more land were created and altered until 1980 when Kenai Fjords was turned into a national park. The word Kenai is the name of the Athabaskan indigenous people who lived in the area. Fjord is an old Norse word meaning glacier carved inlet.
Things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park offers a visitor center in Seward town, nature center with exhibits, unique hiking trails to overlook the infamous Harding Icefield and Exit Glacier, backpacking opportunities, and kayak and boat tours to get up close to the glaciers in the water. Our National Park Visitors Guide outlines below some of the exciting activities you may enjoy.
Go to the Visitor Center
Located in Seward small boat harbor, the visitor center is open during the summer season is provides great information, maps, guided tours, a park film, and bookstore.
Visit the Exit Glacier Nature Center
Open during the summer season, the nature center is the only accessible part of the park by road and the main trailhead to access Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield trail. The center includes exhibits and a bookstore.
Hike the Harding Icefield Trail
A very popular and difficult hike is the 8.2-mile Harding Icefield Trail. The trail gains 1,000 feet of elevation and takes about 6-8 hours to hike. The view form the top is a stunning overlook of the massive Icefield.
Hike to the Exit Glacier Overlook
Start at the nature center on the 1 mile Glacier View Loop trail, then continue .6 miles to the Exit Glacier Overlook providing excellent views of the Glacier.
Go on a Glacier and Wildlife Boat Cruise
There are over 10 tour outfitters who offer guided boat tours along the coastline. The tours will take you up close and personal with the glaciers and into the fjords, viewing wildlife along the way such as humpback whales, sea otters, and puffins.
Go on a Kayak Tour
There are a variety of outfitters that offer half day and full day kayaking tours up close and personal to marine life and the glaciers.
When to go to Kenai Fjords National Park
The national park is open year-round, however during winter accessibility is limited and tour operations are closed. Boat tours, kayak rentals, fishing, and hiking trails are open and operating from May to late September.
Summer from May through October is the best time to visit the national park as the weather allows the road to Exit Glacier to stay open and the weather is more pleasant to view the fjords and icefield. The winter does offer a unique visit as the park is still accessible only by snowmobile or skis.
Wildlife viewing opportunities are most plentiful in the summer months. There are black and brown bears, mountain goats, river otters, marmots, moose, gray wolves, and wolverines. Marine life that can be viewed in the summer are humpback whales, sea otters, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, orcas, and gray whales.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Kenai Fjords National Park
Before heading into the national park, bring everything you need from water, food, emergency supplies, and proper hiking gear from the local town of Seward. The national park does not have any services to purchase necessities.
List of Parks advises to stay hydrated and continue to drink water in the higher elevations.
Stop in the town of Seward to pick up food as there is no food or snacks available in the park.
Sea Sickness Medication
If you plan on doing a kayak or boat tour, bring some sea sickness medicine to prevent getting sick on your tour!
Physical Park Map
With amble backcountry hiking opportunities, bring a map of the park with you as to not get disoriented and lost in the massive landscape.
Proper Hiking Boots
The unpredictable weather in the area can make the rocky trails muddy and icy. Have solid hiking boots and check the weather before you go. Renting crampons to put onto your boots will help provide traction in snow and ice conditions.
Rain is frequent and unpredictable in this area being located in the mountains and on the ocean.
Temperatures in the summer can drop down to the low 40’s, so bring warm layers to stay warm in the unpredictable weather. During the winter, temperatures can be as low as -20 degrees with massive snowstorms. Being prepared with heavy winter gear is necessary to enjoy the park.
Sunglasses and Sunscreen
On a clear sunny day, the sun reflects off of the glaciers and icefield and can cause sunburns. Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat to protect your skin.
With lots of wildlife viewing opportunities on land and in the sea, you will want binoculars to get an up-close view of the wildlife. Mountain goats frequently scale cliffsides and whales and sea otters enjoy playing in the ocean around the coastline.
There are black and brown bears that are frequently around the area. If you plan on going hiking, bring bear spray to protect yourself from overly curious bears. Never leave your belongings unattended and keep food and water locked in your back. Pack out what you pack in and leave no trace.
Where to Stay in Kenai Fjords National Park
Located about ¼ mile before the Exit Glacier Nature Center is a tent-only campground offering 12-sites. The sites are available by reservation and it is recommended to make the reservation as soon as possible as the campground does fill up in the summer.
Other lodging options are in the town of Seward, just a 15-minute drive away from Exit Glacier Nature Center. Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, Resurrection Lodge on the Bay, and Hotel Seward are just several options of many in Seward.
Food Nearby Kenai Fjords National Park
There is no food in the national park itself, but Seward town has a grocery store, cafes, and many restaurants and bars to get food from. There is a Safeway in Seward to shop and get all of your snack and food supplies. Try local food from Sea Salt Alaskan Grill & Bar, Seward Brewing Company, Gold Rush Alaskan Bistro, Discovery Café, or The Sea Bean.
Airports Near Kenai Fjords National Park
Fly into Anchorage and drive to the national park, located about a 2 .5-hour drive away from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. You can rent a car or catch one of the buses or charter flights to Seward. From May through September, the Alaska Railroad offers train rides from Anchorage to Seward. There are also a variety of private bus and van services from Anchorage to Seward.