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Why Kenai Fjords National Park Should Be on Your Alaska Bucket List

Why Kenai Fjords National Park Should Be on Your Alaska Bucket List

Kenai Fjords National Park was originally created as a national monument in 1978. In 1980, to further protect the Harding Icefield, which makes up most of the landscape, it became a U.S. National Park. Its majestic glaciers, coastal fjords, and stunning landscapes amidst a remote setting make for an authentic Alaska bucket list item.

Where Is Kenai Fjords National Park?

Kenai Fjords National Park is located on the Kenai Peninsula just over 100 miles south of Anchorage near Seward, Alaska. It is pretty simple to drive to the park on the Seward Highway during the summer. Although this scenic byway is open year-round, it’s far less visited in the winter months.

If you’re up for an adventure, you can also get into Kenai Fjords via the Alaska Railroad or a charter flight during the summer. Seward is a major starting and ending point for many cruise ships as well. However you travel, we have five reasons why this national park should make your bucket list.

Trying to decide the best way to travel? This article can help: Alaska Cruise or Land Tour: Which Should You Do?

Up Close with Katmai National Park Bears - Adventures in Homer & Seward, Alaska | Go North Ep 15

5 Reasons Why Kenai Fjords Should Be on Your Bucket List

Kenai Fjords National Park is a bucket list item for several reasons. The 40 glaciers that flow here, the abundant wildlife, and the stunning scenic vistas may make this your favorite trip yet. 

Kenai boat tour
Seeing the national park is best done by boat plane or foot. Daily boat tours run out of Seward all summer.

Year-round Whale Watching

Not everyone gets the chance to go whale watching. Seeing these magnificent creatures jump out of the water is surreal. If you’ve never experienced this, at Kenai Fjords National Park you may catch sight of a whale year-round. Take a wildlife boat tour for the best opportunities. You can choose from several marine tours in Seward to get you started on your whale-watching journey.

People most often see orcas and humpbacks, but you can also catch sight of a gray whale during the spring months. Though rare, people may spot fin and minke whales.

You’ll more than likely catch a glimpse of an orca as they live here year-round. However, the best time to see them is during May and June. You can find humpbacks from May through August.

And March through May, you might see a gray whale. And for those elusive sightings of the fin and minke whales, sometime between May and September will hopefully reward you with a glimpse. 

Two whales breeching in Kenai
Keep an eye out for whales while in Kenai.

700 Square Miles of Glaciers

The Harding Icefield is the Kenai Fjords crowning joy. One visit here, and you’ll understand why. It has around 40 glaciers spreading out over 700 square miles. Fifty-one percent of the landscape that makes up this unique national park is covered in ice. This is a stunning sight to experience, and over 356,000 people visit annually.

boat with glacier kenai

You Can Take a Kayak Tour

Imagine seeing a national park from the water on a kayak or while camping along the shoreline. Taking a kayak tour along the Kenai Fjords is something to remember. The surf, the sun, and the invigoration of kayaking in a tidewater glacier is a bucket list item all on its own. 

However, because of this, if you are not an experienced kayaker or backcountry camper, take a guided kayak trip. Summer storms can move in unexpectedly and swiftly causing ocean swells of three feet or greater.

You can access the park via water and air taxis. The guides will help you in the kayaks and during the backcountry camping. The land here is beautiful but harsh and unforgiving, so come prepared to camp in a remote setting, even if you get lucky enough to camp in one of the two backcountry public-use cabins.

Kayaking fjords in Alaska.
Soak up the serene surroundings of Kenai Fjords by kayak!

Pro Tip: Need some help finding an RV for your Alaskan adventure? We put together a Complete Guide to Alaska RV Rentals.

Incredible Landscapes

Kayaking, hiking, boat tours, whatever you choose, you’ll experience incredible landscapes. With elevation starting at sea level and rising to 6,600 ft at the peak of Mt. Truuli, you’ll see diverse beauty.

Experience beauty such as nunataks, exposed peaks not covered in snow, icefields, fjords, bays, steep cliffs, and more. Exit Glacier offers the most popular access points to the many landscapes. It is the only part of the park accessible by road and is also home to the only two maintained trails.

Try driving, boating, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and cross-country skiing. Whatever mode of transportation you choose, the incredible landscapes throughout the park will not disappoint.

camping on water in sewerd
We camped right on the water in Seward when visiting the park.

Wide Array of Wildlife

You can have the magical opportunity of seeing wildlife in their element. And while both black and grizzly bears call Kenai Fjords National Park home, so do many other animals. 

You may see beavers, river otters, mountain goats, lynx, moose, wolves, and 191 species of birds. And we can’t forget about the sea animals. You may even catch glimpses of sea lions, killer and humpback whales, sea otters, and much more.

The constant movement of the glaciers here creates a diverse ecosystem within the tidal zones along the varying shorelines. The ice ultimately feeds into the Pacific Ocean, providing nutrients and water for a wide array of wildlife. You won’t see any of it if you don’t visit.

puffins on a rock kenai
You will most likely see these adorable birds in the water.

Is There an Entrance Fee for Kenai Fjords National Park?

Most national parks in Alaska do not require an entrance fee or national park pass, including Kenai Fjords. Because it is more difficult to get to however you will most likely need to pay for a boat, plane, or guided tour.

There are some free easy access options, however, so what’s stopping you?

visiting fox island kenai by boat
Most people make a stop at fox island while on a boat tour of the fjords. They have a diner and lodging accommodations on fox island.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Kenai Fjords?

Maybe the weather has you a bit concerned, as it should. The weather in the winter at Kenai Fjords can become severe. However, if you visit during June, July, and August, the weather can be quite pleasant, with average temperatures ranging in the mid-40s to low 70s. 

Trails are generally free of snow in the late summer, and most places in the park are open. But beware, the weather can change quickly without notice. Even in the summer, it can often be overcast and rainy.

Though it has nice summer weather, dress for cold temperatures too. And if you love winter’s beauty of snow and ice-capped mountains and invigorating adventures such as dog sledding or cross-country skiing, you can visit then too.

Kenai Fjords and ice glaciers
Make memories in the stunning Kenai Fjords.

How Many Days Do You Need in Kenai Fjords?

Creating memories and stories takes time. Two days spent here is an excellent start to experience all that Kenai Fjords National Park offers. This way, you can explore Exit Glacier and hike the 8-mile trail that starts at Harding Icefield, which can take six to eight hours. 

You can spend the second day exploring the park from a different perspective, maybe on a boat tour or kayaking. If you’d like, you can go on a backpacking trip, but you may need more time. 

With only one campground in the park, your time decisions may be based on where you plan to stay. You have several campground options in nearby Seward. And if you go backpacking, you have more options for longer stays.

Pro Tip: Want to make your trip special by fishing while in Alaska? This is How to Go Salmon Fishing in Alaska.

Should Kenai Fjords National Park Be on Your Bucket List?

So, is it worth it? If you have to ask this question, you haven’t read this article. The surreal beauty of the ice-capped lands and the abundant wildlife make for an experience like no other. Kenai Fjords National Park is a work of wonder that constantly changes. So, yes, Kenai Fjords National Park should be on your bucket list.

Are you ready to head to Alaska? Drop a comment below!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
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