Kenai Fjords National Park
PO Box 1727
Seward, AK 99664
Kenai Fjords National Park, close to Seward in southern Alaska, gives visitors a glimpse of the rough landscape carved by receding glaciers. Rocky fjords and peninsulas define the coastline of this park. Easily accessible by road from Anchorage, Kenai Fjords National Park attracts all sorts of outdoors enthusiasts, including kayakers and hikers.
Entrance fees: $5/vehicle for seven days or $3/individual for seven days
Visitor centers: Kenai Fjords Visitor Center is open daily from mid-April through September and on weekdays in October. Exit Glacier Nature Center is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Other services: Two ranger stations, four cabins, and one campground
Accommodations: Exit Glacier Campground is open year-round and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Three cabins are available for public use during the summer months (907-271-2737). Willow Cabin is available from mid-to-late-fall through early April (907-224-7500).
Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords reflects the essence of Alaska's southern coast. The park's dynamic geology includes spectacular mountains with great glaciers flowing down between them to the sea, as well as awesome fjords that provide a habitat for thousands of nesting seabirds and seafaring mammals. The land has a rough, unfinished look to it.
The rocks of the coast here are so jagged, sharp, and uneroded that land and sea seem to be locked in a fearsome struggle for dominance: The sea challenges the land with deep, lovely fjords and hundreds of inlets and coves, while the coast abuts the Gulf of Alaska with great, rocky headlands and clawlike peninsulas.
At least 20 species of seabirds nest by the thousands on the rocky crags of the fjords. Clown-faced puffins make their homes among the rocks. These stubby birds with short wings fly only with difficulty, but they are as graceful underwater, when diving for fish, as they are ungainly in the air. Peregrine falcons hunt for small mammals on the rocky islands that dot the coastline, while bald eagles soar among the cliffs of the fjords.
Black bears and wolverines, along with moose and lynx, roam a narrow zone of lush rain forest between the coast and the icy mountainsides, which is home to mountain goats that climb on rocks so exposed they would give pause to an experienced mountaineer.
Visitors are drawn to Kenai Fjords National Park's rugged landscape and to its diverse wildlife. On the next page, learn more about the sights you'll see while in this scenic park.
Sightseeing at Kenai Fjords National Park
Stretching more than 100 miles from Seward, Alaska, very nearly to Point Graham, Kenai Fjords National Park is distinguished by its many rocky narrow inlets or fjords, much like the fabled coasts of Norway and Sweden.
In these deep, cold fjords live an amazing profusion of sea mammals, including sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, Pacific dolphins, harbor porpoises, orcas, and humpback and gray whales. On the rugged cliffs above the water, enormous colonies of sea birds, most notably horned puffin, can be seen.
Many Alaskans believe this to be their most beautiful park, containing as it does the immense Kenai Mountains, which run for 75 miles through the park, as well as wonderfully diverse maritime landscapes. But the park's best feature may be that the immense wilderness is easily accessible from the road system south of Anchorage, with sea trips departing daily from the docks at Seward near the park visitor center.
The park, not surprisingly, has become a sort of mecca for sea kayakers, most of whom hitch rides on tour boats and are then picked up at predetermined locations many days or weeks later. Elsewhere, hikers enjoy long invigorating treks through the coastal rain forest, which includes such species as western and mountain hemlocks and Sitka spruce, as well as jaunts up the trail to Exit Glacier near Seward.
Kenai Fjords National Park Photo Opportunities
Kenai Fjords National Park offers several scenic spots for taking photographs. You can train your lens on the rugged and beautiful fjords or on the diverse wildlife that populates the area. Here are a few ideas:
- Harding Ice Field: The Harding Icefield covers more than half of the park and conceals an entire mountain range under several thousand feet of ice.
- Exit Glacier: A visit to Exit Glacier is like a trip back in time. Accessible by road and a short trail, this glacier shows visitors the landscape a retreating glacier left behind.
- Kenai Fjords: The rocky fjords that give the park its name make for a majestic photo opportunity, but they are accessible only by boat.
- Resurrection Bay: A boat trip out on the bay gives you a great view of the coast, and you can do a little fishing at the same time.
Exploring the Kenai Fjords The inlets, coves, fjords, islands, and even glaciers of Kenai Fjords offer hikers and boaters many opportunities for exploring and seeing wildlife in a spectacular natural setting.
The barren Chiswell Islands, serviced by ferry boat, are an excellent place to see giant Steller sea lions basking, playing, and fighting on the rocks. Females, which give birth to pups in June or July, may weigh as much as 600 pounds, while the bulls can weigh more than a ton.
McCarty Fjord, in the southern end of the park, slices deeply into the mainland for 37 miles with great cliffs towering nearly a mile above the water. Here and in adjacent Nuka Bay is a fascinating array of terrain, including a 900-foot waterfall and several historic gold-mining camps. Along the shores you are likely to see black bears, moose, martens, and river otters, while in the icy inlets protruding into the landscape you might see a humpback whale jumping almost completely out of the water in a dramatic display of power and joy.
The unusual landscape that draws visitors to the park was formed over tens of thousands of years. Learn about the ice field that formed the Kenai fjords.
History: How the Kenai Fjords Were Formed
The Harding Ice Field, occupying nearly 700 square miles and as much as a mile thick, crowns the mountains of the Kenai Fjords in south-central Alaska. This is a raw, ragged land that has not yet recovered from the great Pleistocene ice sheets that flowed over most of Alaska 10,000-12,000 years ago.
A vast sea of whiteness, the Harding Ice Field feeds more than 30 glaciers that reach out from it, flowing down through the mountains like great tentacles. This glistening field of ice is covered here and there by great dunes of snow that move constantly with the vagaries of the wind.
In places, the peaks of mountains buried by the ice since the Pleistocene Era rise above the icy plain. In stormy weather, these peaks, called nunataks, seem to float like castles on a sea of white. They are awesome reminders of an age not so long ago, when vast sections of the world were cold, frozen, and lifeless.
Vast as it seems today, the Harding Ice Field is a relatively small remnant of the much larger ice cap that once covered the entire region. As the ancient ice advanced, then retreated, then advanced again over the centuries, it carved out the rugged coastline of the Kenai Peninsula and gouged out the fjords. Finally, as the earth's climate warmed, the ice began melting, leaving in its wake a spectacular landscape and habitats for throngs of wildlife.
As visitors discover, this easily accessible park offers excellent vistas and a wide range of outdoor activities. Kenai Fjords National Park -- with its mountains, bays, rain forests, and diverse wildlife -- is filled with natural beauty.
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