Kenai Fjords National Park: A user's guide
As if the scenery isn't enough, the wildlife on land and sea will leave you breathless.
Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 08:04 AM
Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska is three fingers of Mother Nature poured over ice. A place where glaciers creep to the sea and the Harding Icefield, which accumulates 400-800 inches of snow each year, feeds the flow.
Kenai Fjords National Park is a place where whales and seals, porpoises and puffins feed in the cold, fish-rich waters.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act established Kenai Fjords National Park in 1980.
Things to do
Most visits to Kenai Fjords National Park start on a dock in nearby Seward. Park rangers provide narration on cruises offered by Major Marine Tours. A full-day cruise sails for 120 miles through the Kenai Fjords National Park and the Chiswell Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The half-day cruise covers 55 miles and sails through Resurrection Bay and past bird rookeries and sea lion lounging areas.
Some visitors take a self-propelled cruise, kayaking with an experienced guide. Most kayakers take a water taxi or charter boat from Seward to Aialik Bay or Northwestern Lagoon.
The Harding Icefield Trail is a challenging 7.4-mile round trip day hike that begins amid the cottonwood and alder forests of the valley floor and climbs 1,000 feet to above tree line to a breathtaking view of the icefield. Rangers lead guided hikes on the Harding Icefield Trail leaving the Exit Glacier Nature Center on Saturday mornings in July and August.
A number of short trails starting near the Exit Glacier Nature Center provide a closer view of the glacier.
Why you’ll want to come back
What better way to enjoy a 20-degree F morning than learning to mush a dog sled team down Resurrection River Valley to Exit Glacier? Jack London will have nothing on you.
Flora and fauna
Black bears are often seen padding about the valley below Exit Glacier or along the shoreline. Brown bears, mountain goats and moose are sometimes spotted. But the real action when it comes to wildlife is in the water.
Orcas, or killer whales, hunt the fjords and waters beyond for salmon and seals and sea lions. Elegant black and white Dall’s porpoisefish can be seen at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and often come close to ride the bow wake of tour boats. Pacific whitesided dolphins leave the water to turn complete somersaults. Huge, hungry humpback whales (pictured above) feed throughout Resurrection Bay, as do fin whales.
Comical-looking puffins nest in the rock cliffs. Beehive Islands I and II are so named because they are abuzz with puffins flying and feeding and fussing.
By the numbers:
- Website: Kenai Fjords National Park
- Park size: 669,984 acres or 1,047 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 297,596
- Funky fact: Pack rain gear — the nearby town of Seward gets 117 days of precipitation a year.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of a male humpback whale breaching: jdegenhardt/Flickr