A visit to Kenai Fjords is an microcosm of what Alaska is all about – big, wild, rugged and beautiful. The landscape of Kenai was formed by the same mammoth force that created many other beautiful landscapes of Alaska – ice – and lots of it – in the form of glaciers. Just like Alaska’s famous Glacier National Park, there are no roads leading into Kenai Fjords National Park. The only way to visit the park is by going out onto the open sea. Trips of all types into the park can be chartered out of the nearby town of Seward.
Many cruises to Alaska begin and end in Seward. If this is your method of travel, be sure to check the shore excursions available from your cruise ship company to see what types of tours cover the park. If there are no shore excursions, then use the Internet to find a private tour company out of Seward harbor to book a day trip to the park on the day you plan to visit. If you are in the Anchorage area and are looking for a great side trip to fill two days, Seward might be the place. The trip down from Anchorage offers spectacular scenery and, once you get into Seward, there are several places to enjoy, such as Exit Glacier. Plan on spending at least two full days poking around Seward and spending a night or two there.
As discussed, Seward is the starting and ending point for many Alaskan cruises. However, since the improvements to the tunnel leading to the port town of Whittier were completed in 2001, many cruise lines have switched over to Whittier because it is closer to Anchorage. If Seward is where your cruise starts/ends, you may look into making arrangements to spend an extra night in Seward so that you have two full days to explore the area and take tours. There are plenty of tour operators available to choose from in Seward, but make reservations before you go.
If Whittier is where your cruise starts/ends, Seward is located roughly 90 miles to the south. Because of the tricky scheduling of traffic through the Whittier tunnel (it is a one-lane tunnel that shares a railroad track and waits can be up to two hours), it may be difficult to arrange transportation to Seward. Renting a car is your best bet. Driving from Anchorage to Seward is a wonderful way to experience a whole lot in a short distance, relative to other Alaskan road distances. Seward is roughly 125 road miles south of Anchorage. Plan on spending 3-4 hours on the one-way trip. You begin by taking SR 1 (New Seward Fwy) south out of Anchorage. Continue south for 88 miles to the junction with SR 9. Continue straight through the junction following SR 9 for another 37 miles and you will be in the middle of downtown Seward. You can also reach Seward using the Alaska Railroad via the Coastal Classic. There is daily service between Anchorage and Seward. Much of the rail line goes through wild country not accessible by any road. The trip takes just over 4 hours. Check the Alaska Railroadwebsite for schedule and rates.
Below are some pictures of what you will see along the way.
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Whether you choose to take a chartered day-cruise or arrange to hire a personal guide for kayaking and camping in the fjords, your trip will most likely start at the harbor in Seward. There are several tour operators that operate out of the harbor. Before your visit, be sure to research which tour operators are available in Seward and make reservations for the day you plan to be there.
All tours starting in Seward will begin by sailing south down Resurrection Bay. All along this open stretch of water, your ship’s captain will most likely be on the lookout for wildlife. When we made our trip, we ran into just about every form of ocean wildlife Alaska has to offer, from thousands of jellyfish to humpback whales. Our trip took us down the long length of Resurrection Bay. We thought the views from on-deck were pretty spectacular until we passed by Callisto Head and saw Bear Glacier, along with the gigantic Harding Icefield hanging atop the tall-pointed mountain peaks. The views were now beyond spectacular. We sailed further south along the rocky coastline of Aialik Peninsula. This portion of the trip revealed all types of wildlife. The ship’s captain knew all of the right places to go. This is an important attribute to remember when shopping for a day-cruise in Seward – how knowledgeable is the ship’s crew of the area? Our captain has been living in Seward since 1960.
The goal of many day-cruises and outfitter trips are the fjords and glaciers on the mainland. Our cruise took us to Holgate Glacier located in Aialik Bay. There are three other large glaciers in this bay which cruise operators take their tours to. Typically, the ship captains use their best discretion on which places to visit depending on the daily reports of wildlife, floating ice (“bergy bits”) and weather conditions. All of Alaska is infamous for bad weather. We visited Seward and Kenai on a day when the weather was fantastic. Ironically, the three previous days consisted of typical Alaska weather: cold, cloudy and rainy. So hopefully you can time your trip to the Kenai Fjords area with a spell of good weather.
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