A winter wonderland of glacial pools and soaring cliffs, Kenai Fjords National Park spans nearly 670,000 acres of mostly ice-covered terrain. Perhaps the polar nature of the park explains why it’s just the fifth most-visited in Alaska, but those who do make the trek are rewarded with breathtaking views and natural beauty.
Popular glaciers flow from Harding Icefield, including the rapidly retreating Exit Glacier, which has become a striking symbol of climate change. Diverse wildlife found only in glacial environments fill the seas and surrounding grounds, including 20 species of seabirds and nearly 40 species of mammals. Along the coasts you might catch puffins, eagles, peregrine falcons, sea lions, porpoises and sea otters. Further in, you may spot a lone moose or a herd of mountain goats.
But as Alaskans can attest, Kenai Fjords National Park is best explored on the water. Adventurers new to glacial terrain can rent a boat for a guided tour, while experienced kayakers can explore the fjords on their own. You can even drive close to Exit Glacier, but once you see the rest of the park, you might agree that this famous attraction is the “tip of the iceberg.”
Whatever your experience with the Great Outdoors, here are our recommended adventures, including where to stay, what to do, and what to bring.
Kenai Fjords National Parks Highlights
Exit Glacier remains the most prominent attraction at Kenai Fjords National Park, and for good reason. It’s one of the park’s most accessible features, and it’s also one of its most significant. Learn about climate change at the Exit Glacier Nature Center, ask a ranger your questions about the area, or browse the bookstore. The nature center also sits at the trailhead of the Harding Icefield trail, an 8.2-mile round trip day hike that climbs above alder forests and high alpine meadows to offer panoramic views of the surrounding icefields. Give yourself a full day (about 8 hours) to make the hike. You’ll thank yourself for the extra time on top.
Here are other highlights to add to your Kenai Fjords bucket list:
- Book a wildlife cruise with Seward Ocean Excursions
- Take a guided scenic snowshoe tour with Adventure Sixty
- Try your hand at dog mushing with Ididaride Dog Sled Tours
- Sharpen your backcountry skiing skills with Alaska Backcountry
Kayaking Kenai Fjords
Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Kenai Fjords, with options for every ability level. Expert kayakers will delight in the challenge of the Aialik Cape, lucky paddlers might spot whales, porpoises or even a sunbathing bear. Families can enjoy the calm waters of Resurrection Bay, a misty stretch of soaring cliffs, curious wildlife, and “floating” trees. For anyone with less-than-expert level kayaking experience, a local guide will provide the safest, and most enjoyable experience.
If you’re a national park pro and want to head off the beaten path for a more rugged adventure, consider these quirky experiences unique to Kenai Fjords National Park:
- Stay in a public use cabin. Depending on the season and availability, you might have the chance to stay in one of Kenai’s three charming cabins. Each cabin is equipped with heat, simple furnishings, and wooden bunks. They do not have electricity or drinking water, so bring your inner camping enthusiast.
- Pan for gold at Cedar Creek. Adventure Sixty North will have you panning like a pro in nearby Seward. You can even add a guided hike through Exit Glacier to your experience for an immersive day of nature, history and culture.
- Fly fish on the Kenai River. Fish for rainbow and steelhead trout, dolly varden char, and four kinds of salmon on the Kenai River with expert guides. Be sure to buy a fishing license before your trip.
Visitors who want to support eco-friendly lodging near Kenai Fjords National Park will find plenty of options. Here are some of our favorites:
- Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. Surrounded by the park, this charming lodge is only accessible by boat. The grounds feature nature trails and calm lagoons, ideal for beginner kayakers.
- Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge. Part of the Alaska Collection, Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge sits on Fox Island, a narrow peninsula close to Seward that relies on renewable energy sources. The lodge is certified by Adventure Green Alaska.
- Orca Island Cabins. A collection of eco-friendly yurts just outside Seward, this charming option makes glamping comfortable — and sustainable. Each solar-powered cabin has a propane range and fireplace, basic cookware, and a private bathroom with a compost toilet.
What to Pack for Kenai Fjords National Park
Regardless of season, come prepared for cool temperatures. Summer days can dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high point may only reach 70. Layer up with long-sleeve shirts and jackets that easily roll into a bag. Since the water features heavily in most activities, we also recommend coming prepared to get wet. Even if you don’t plan to kayak, bring waterproof boots and outerwear, and a water-tight bag for your valuables. and If you choose to camp, you may also need a water purifier. Above all, bring a sense of adventure and an open mind.