At 670,000 acres, Kenai Fjords National Park is no small playground. Its vast icefields, with ancient glaciers scouring the land and deeply carved bays teeming with wildlife offer just a glimpse into its allure. Very few places host killer whales and mountain goats within the same boundaries, yet this icy wonderland is full of stunning anomalies.
From Resurrection Bay to Exit Glacier visitors discover life at sea and life on land are vastly different and dramatically astounding. From the world’s largest mammals to the planet’s smallest, Kenai Fjords is a park of exclamation points, and one well worth exploring to the fullest.
History of Kenai Fjords National Park
The first inhabitants of this region where the Alutiiq people, a somewhat nomadic tribe who hunted and traveled the Kenai Peninsula coast for more than 1,000 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that they ventured along the shoreline here, capturing fish and game, and eating off the land during summer months. An earthquake in 1170 AD lowered the coast by almost six feet, possibly inundating many campsites.
There were no settlements within the park until Alexander Baranov set up a fur trade post on Resurrection Bay in 1793. A small community grew around the bay, and by 1903 the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad was built in what would become the town of Seward.
A few gold mining camps were established in the Nuka Bay area of the park in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1970 that locals put forth a suggestion to include the Kenai Fjords region in the national park system. In 1978, it was named as a national monument to protect its unique natural resources and wildlife. Finally, in 1980 the monument became Kenai Fjords National Park.
Why Visit Kenai Fjords National Park in Your RV?
Only a very small portion of Kenai Fjords is accessible by vehicle, but the jumping-off spot for the park (Seward) is very friendly to RVs. The town has set aside hundreds of RV dry camping spots along the shoreline just for motorhomes and travel trailers.
Is there a more amazing view to wake up to than Resurrection Bay out your front window, with sea otters playing in the water just offshore? Glaciers line the mountaintops across the bay, and you can cast a line into the water from your front yard. This place is what RVing is all about!
Places to Go
Here’s a look at all the places you can go while visiting this amazing national park.
Kenai Fjords Visitor Center
Located in Seward on the small boat harbor, the visitor center houses a bookstore, film about the park, and rangers are available to answer questions.
Open year-round, the Exit Glacier is at the end of the only road in Kenai Fjords National Park. With winter snows, the road closes to cars, but visitors can snowmobile, dog sled, cross-country ski or snowshoe up to the glacier. In summer, take a short hike from the parking lot to the glacier’s edge.
Exit Glacier Nature Center
Located at the base of Exit Glacier, the Nature Center has rangers on staff to answer questions, there are exhibits of the glacier and an Alaska Geographic Bookstore is onsite. The trailhead for the Harding Icefield Trail is located here, as well.
Things to Do
There’s plenty to do inside the park. There’s no chance you’ll feel like you’re without much to do. Here are some of the best activities to do.
Since a good deal of Kenai Fjords is only accessible by water, a boat tour is a great way to get your feet wet when it comes to understanding this immense park. Many tours leave from the small boat harbor in Seward and are run by private vendors. Park rangers provide geology presentations at the Kenai Fjords Tour’s lunch stop on Fox Island.
Half-day tours normally stay within the protected region of Resurrection Bay and full-day tours may take visitors out into the Bay of Alaska, where marine life and a wide variety of birds can be seen.
The Harding Icefield Trail leaves from the Exit Glacier Nature Center and is a strenuous eight-mile hike from the valley floor to overlook this extensive icefield and the terminus of the Exit Glacier. In many years the last several miles of the hike are still covered in snow during the summer season, so hikers should be prepared for ice, avalanches and intense sunlight.
Bear Glacier Lagoon is a stunning location for experienced sea kayakers to view this tidewater glacier as it calves icebergs into the Bay of Alaska. However, because the lagoon is 12 difficult miles from Seward, a water taxi to the area is suggested.
Once there, kayakers need to stay at least a half mile away from the edge of the glacier and be mindful of glacier lake outburst floods that can quickly raise the water level near these icefields. Fog is also a concern, along with high surf on a coast with few landings. Taking a guided tour is a good option for many.
There are many opportunities for freshwater and saltwater fishing in Seward, along Resurrection Bay and in backcountry lakes and streams. Salmon, halibut, Dolly Varden, and rockfish are plentiful in this area, and fishing licenses are required.
The Harding Icefield is an exceptional place for experienced mountaineers. Icefield explorers should have extensive crevasse rescue training and glacier travel skills. Groups should be connected by rope when moving together, and all participants must be proficient skiers.
Snowshoeing on the glaciers is also a great way to experience the icefields. The best time of year to explore is in April when daylight is getting longer and the temperatures are warming up.
Land adventurers will find black and brown bear, moose, and mountain goats in great numbers throughout the region. Sealife in the area consists of birds like cormorants, puffins, and bald eagles, along with mammals ranging from stellar sea lions, sea otters, humpback and killer whales, harbor seals, and porpoises.
When to Visit Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords is accessible year-round but by different means of travel. If you enjoy winter sports like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and mountaineering, make this park your destination during March and April.
Sea kayaking can be enjoyed any time of year, as can fishing and flightseeing. Summer will offer warmer temps for those activities, as well as boat tours to view certain sea life that migrates south in the winter.
Where RVers Can Stay
The town of Seward has dedicated several miles of shoreline for RV camping. RVers can wake up with Resurrection Bay out their front windows, walk to the small boat harbor and hop on a boat tour in 15 minutes, or walk into town for lunch or dinner in 10. The sites are dry campsites located on paved parking lots but sit right on the bay. Many even have their own picnic tables.
If you can’t find a campsite available, there are many RV campgrounds around Seward. Here are just a few options:
- Stoney Creek RV Park – Located six miles north of town, this campground has full hookups, and a free shuttle to town.
- Silver Derby Campground and RV Park – This campground has 54 dry camping sites for RVs and tents and is located on a beach just south of Seward.
- Bear Creek RV Park – Located seven miles north of Seward, this campground has full-hookups, and RV maintenance and repair available onsite.
Getting to and Around Kenai Fjords National Park
Getting to Kenai Fjords by car is relatively easy. Travel to Seward, located on the Kenai Peninsula, via the Seward Highway. Small planes can fly into Seward’s airport, located just outside of town. Also, many visitors arrive by cruise ship.
Once you arrive, there is only one road in Kenai Fjords National Park. It extends about 12 miles from Seward to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. So, exploring the rest of the park is done by boat, plane, hiking, and mountaineering.
A visit to Kenai Fjords National Park will open eyes to the wonder of extremes. From peaceful fishing along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay to the heart-pumping exhilaration of a mountaineering trip across crevasse-filled glaciers, travelers here will have a difficult time returning to the mundane when they leave. Whale breeching, glacier calving, and sea kayaking are hard to compete with back at home!
Have you ever been to Kenai Fjords National Park? What were your experiences there?