The best things to do in Seward, Alaska
Are you looking for more information on what to do in Seward, Alaska? Then look no further. When going to Alaska you just cannot miss going to Seward. Seward is a small town located on the Kenai Peninsula and the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Many tourists arrive here by cruise ship and then move onto Anchorage, however I’d definitely suggest to spend at least a couple of days here to make sure to see it all. Over the past 10 years I have been here 4 times and have tried out most of the Seward activities. Here are my top picks for things to do in Seward, Alaska.
The Harding Icefield Trail
As an avid hiker, there are plenty of hikes in Seward. The one I can truly recommend though is the hike up to Harding Icefield. It’s an intense and strenuous trip but those who have enough stamina and don’t mind being sweaty for a while, will really enjoy this a lot. In fact, I’ve hiked all over the world and this hike still belongs in my top 5 with best hikes on the planet. The trail is a 8.2 mile return hike inside Kenai Fjords National Park and takes you up to the Harding Icefield. This is one of Alaska’s biggest icefields and once up at the end of the hike, you will totally feel like you have reached the end of the world.
The Harding Icefield Trail starts at the Kenai Fjords Visitors Center at the end of Herman Leirer Road just outside of town. Make sure to check with the park rangers at the Vistors Center if there have been recent wildlife sightings because this trail is known for the bears that hang around here. You may also get a chance to grab a chunk of ice from the glacier here and there are toilets and water facilities. The first part of the trail will take you along a paved road and after about 15 minutes you will reach the trail register.
Make sure to sign in (and back out upon your return) and then veer off to the right, into the woods and up. From here, it will take you about an hour to reach the first viewpoint on the Exit Glacier, the major attraction of this hike. Here the forest changes into bush and you may spot some wildlife. During my last visit I saw two moose on the ridge which is actually quite uncommon, I’d not seen them before on this trail. Make sure to take a break here and if you feel like you’re up to it, move further up to Top of the Cliffs. It’s another sturdy hike up but you will be rewarded because from here the views on Exit Glacier only get better.
From the Top of the Cliffs it’s another hour and a half up to the end of the trail. You will have to cross some streams and ice here but don’t give up, it’s well worth it. Soon you will reach a shelter and from here, it’s just about another 15 minutes until you reach the end of the track. Here, the most stunning panorama awaits you: all you will see is ice, ice and more ice. I’ve not been here on a clear day yet (clear days are a rarity in Seward) but it’s truly stunning nonetheless. Take a break, soak up the view and then begin your way down again.
It usually takes me about 6-7 hours to complete the hike, having said that I think I’m a pretty fast hiker. If you’re unexperienced, you may take a bit longer. You will gain nearly 1.000 feet with every mile so make sure to take it slowly. However, trust me when I say it will be totally worth it. Bring plenty of water, snacks and sturdy boots to cross the streams and snow that may be left on the track. The best time of the year to hike to Harding Icefield is summer. In June you may only be able to make it up to Marmot Meadows, depending on the amount of snow left, so there for July and August are the best months to go!
Want to continue reading? Then see this post about the Harding Icefield Trail for more information and this one about safe solo hiking in Alaska
Other hikes near Exit Glacier
If you don’t feel like you’re up to hiking all the way to Harding Icefield, you may just make it to Marmot Meadows or maybe even Top of the Cliffs. However if you don’t want to hike too many steps, there are various other options here, too. The easiest hike to do is the wheelchair accessible Glacier View (0.5 miles) which takes you to a glacier view. A spotting scope is provided for amazing views.
If you want to head a bit further, you can hike to the Toe of the Glacier, a 1,0 mile trip. You will have to hike across the rocky outwash of the glacier and it may not always be accessible due to shifting ice and rivers. Your best option in getting close to Exit Glacier is the Edge of the Glacier (1.2 mile) which takes you up close to the blue ice. The picture below was taken by me in 2011 so it may be that it looks a little different now, but I’ve heard it’s still well worth doing this trail. You will have to walk a bit up and down though. A map and further information about the hikes can be found here. The best Exit Glacier hike however is still the Harding Icefield Trail.
Kenai Fjords Cruise
Another great way to explore the Kenai Fjords National Park is by taking a Kenai Fjords Cruise. There are various options but my recommendation would be to take the 6 hour cruise. This one will take you out on a motorboat and tour around the coastline with you. There’s a big chance of seeing whales and/or orcas and other marine wildlife, such as bald eagles, sea otters and seals.
The highlight of the day will definitely be a visit to either Aialik or Holgate Glacier, which have their terminus in the waters of the bay. Seeing a glacier calve from close by is something that will remain in your memory forever. Make sure to book ahead because this cruise tends to sell out, especially in high season. Oh and don’t forget to take a motion sickness pill, even if it makes you a little groggy. You wouldn’t be the first to spend your day hanging across the railing instead of enjoying the cruise …
Kayak between the icebergs of Bear Glacier
For the more adventurous I can definitely recommend taking a tour with Liquid Adventures and paddle between the icebergs of Bear Glacier. You will take a boat towards the glacier and once close, you will step onto your sit-on-top kayak. You will be wearing a drysuit and Crocs as you may have to wade through the ice cold water to get into the kayak. Once on top, you will start your paddle and make your way between the massive icebergs.
Of course the ice conditions may vary and when I did this in 2015, there had just been a major earthquake which caused a large chunk of the glacier to break off and make a lot of icebergs. However, we did not get close to the toe of the glacier because of that. I’m sure that whatever the conditions will be, it’s going to be an amazing day!
Other things to do around Seward
For those who love fishing, go ask around for a fishing trip. I’ve not done this myself but spoken to many who did and they all loved it. If you don’t want to get out on the water, make sure to take an extended walk across the harbor. Seals can be seen here occasionally as well as sea otters, trying to find some food left behind by the fishermen. They are adorable to look at and will gladly pose for your camera.
In case the weather gets really bad, you may also visit the Sea Life Center. Here you will find all kinds of marine animals such as puffins, seals and otters. When you are hungry at night, make sure to have dinner at Ray’s Waterfront. It’s the best place in town for seafood (the Halibut fish and chips are my fave!) but they have a ton of other great dishes too. It tends to get quite busy so I’d suggest making a reservation to avoid having to wait for a table. Check more activities in Seward below:
Where to stay in Seward
Seward is a popular place to stay as there are no nearby towns. Accommodation fills up quickly in the high season, especially around the 4th of July Mount Marathon race, the biggest event of the year. Always make sure to book ahead because your next town away would be about an hour drive. If you are on a budget, camping is your best option.
There’s a nice campsite near Exit Glacier and those who want to stay at the waterfront can stay at Miller’s Landing. If you’d rather stay in a cabin or hotel, your cheapest option would be to get a cabin at Exit Glacier Lodge. Their rooms are a bit more expensive but good value for money. Another great option is Seward Windsong Lodge, just a bit further down the road. This place has various large buildings and a great cafe and restaurant for dinner (I’d recommend the cafe though because the restaurant was a bit too fancy for my taste, make sure to check the crab cakes!). If you’d rather stay in town, Breeze Inn is a great option. They are located right at the waterfront and their rooms are very neat. All of those accommodations have been tried by me over the past years and I can recommend all of them, depending on your budget.
For more options on where to stay in Seward, go here for availability and prices.
Other useful information about Seward
The best way to get to Seward is to drive down from Anchorage, which will be about 3 hours if you go straight. However the views along the way are stunning so my suggestion would be to take all day, so you can make some stops along the way. Alaska Rail Road also provides a daily service between Anchorage and Seward and it’s a very scenic way.
If you want to visit Exit Glacier you will need a car though, because it’s about a 10 minute drive out of town. But you may also find a ride because there are plenty of people heading there in the morning and back in the afternoon. The Seward Visitors Information Center is located right on the main street to your right as you drive into town, as well as a Safeway where you can store up on supplies and buy a lunch for your hike. When driving back to Anchorage, make sure to fill up on gas because the next gas station is quite a drive away!
About the weather in Seward
I hope to have given you some suggestions for things to do in Seward. Like I said, don’t just leave when you are arriving or departing with a cruise ship, but make sure to spend a bit of time here. Seward is known for its rainy days but having said that, out of my 4 visits I had rain only seldom, overcast twice and sunny days twice as well. So it’s really not that bad as people make you believe.
Book your trip to Alaska!
Being from Holland where it’s flat and very little wilderness, I always love coming back to Alaska. I used to work as a travel agent selling trips to Alaska but have now become a full time travel writer. I’ve traveled all over the planet over the past years but will always return back to Alaska because it’s one of the most stunning place in the world. Having visited Alaska 7 times from Europe over the past 10 years, I can assure you that I can give you the best information about planning your trip on my blog.
Make sure to check my Alaska page for all information I wrote about other parts of this state. However if you’d like to talk to a local about your trip and want them to help you out planning an itinerary, make sure to contact my friends at Alaska Travel Connections. They have ample experience in arranging a super awesome trip for you. I am not affiliated with them and will not receive any commission from them if you book, but I just would like to point you in the right direction finding the best agency around! I’m not receiving any commission from them but just truly recommend them from my own experience.
If you wish to book everything yourself, the following links can be useful:
– Skyscanner for checking the cheapest flights to Anchorage
– Compare your rental car rates here (I recommend booking Herz!)
– Accommodation in Alaska can be found here. Book well in advance since Alaska is popular and has limited availability in summer season.
Also, do not forget to order your copy of Lonely Planet Alaska here for a complete overview of things to do in Seward.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this guide with things to do in Seward useful. Feel free to leave any comments below in case you have any questions. Note that this article has affiliate links. If you make a purchase or reservation through any of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra fee to you!
Alaska seems to have such a beautiful and raw landscape. Seward seems like a great place to take some of that in. Plus I had no idea there was a railway in Alaska (makes sense, just never thought of it before). Sounds like that would be a pretty interesting train journey to take.
Yeah there’s a variety of train rides you can take in Alaska, I’ve done a few and they are lovely and very relaxing!
I just visited Alaska for the first time and I was blown away by the gorgeous scenery. Your photos are stunning.
Great! It’s impossible to not be impressed by Alaska I’d say 😉
Ooh this place looks incredible. I’m not sure I’d want to hike for so long but it sounds impressive
I can totally see that, it’s not for everyone. But you can luckily see the glaciers from closeby even without hiking too much …
Alaska is beautiful and I have not been to Seward. My nephew worked on a charter fishing boat for three summers while in college and had a blast. He said the tourists loved the experience. I think you need to plan that on your next visit.
Yeah I totally should. I’ve not been fishing in Alaska before but heard so many good stories about it. Can’t wait to go again!
We drove into Seward to take a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park, and it was epic! SUCH stunning scenery, and we kept pulling over to the side of the road because we’d spot an eagle soaring by, or a whale in the bay. The snow capped mountains were so breathtaking, and the town had a really cool positive, upbeat vibe about it. The Harding Icefield Trail is something I would love to head back and do, thanks for sharing your experience on the trail. Those wild flowers are something else!
Thanks for the tip on Kayaking between the icebergs of Bear Glacier with Liquid Adventures – sounds like something you would get to do in like Antarctica – how incredible!
Yeah I saw your Antarctica pics and loved them. It’s sure amazing (although more ice in Antarctica I reckon). Seward is indeed an amazing place and I love the drive down from Anchorage. I could do it each day and still not get bored because there’s always so much to see and new trails to discover!
I’ll admit, I absolutely hate the cold, so Alaska has never been real high on my bucketlist. I’ve heard people say that it’s beautiful, but reading your post was the first time I’ve seen pictures of it, and I may just be missing out! Not to mention that kayaking between glaciers sounds like a really cool experience.
Yeah it’s quite cool but well worth it. Just remember to bring lots of warm clothes and you will be just fine 🙂
Seward, Alaska has been on my wish list for years. Every summer myself and a few friends make these grand plans to road trip from Fernie, BC to Alaska. The hikes, the fjords, the waterfalls, the mountains, everything looks like a photographer’s dream destination.
Ahh that would be an amazing road trip indeed. Can I come? Haha!
An 8.2-mile hike sounds tough but if a hike to Harding Icefield is one of your top 5 it would be worth the trek. I used to work at the Columbia Icefield so I’m such a huge fan of glaciers. I’d like to stay at Exit Glacier, too. What a trip.
Ahhh I’d love to see Columbia Icefield once again. It has been years and am curious what it looks like these days. Must have been a great job!
Sandy N Vyjay
Alaska is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of for us.Seward looks like a thrilling destination and there is so much to see and experience. Would love to get there and as you suggest, one should spend some days there soaking in the atmosphere.
I hope you can make it there one day!
I love to see the flowers and the ice at the same time. I know it sounds stupid, but it like magic to me.
Great list! I’m so glad you enjoyed our little town in the fjords. I just wanted to add a couple of things:
1. There is a great, affordable shuttle that runs from downtown Seward and the harbor to Exit Glacier every 30 minutes. It costs $15 (r/t I believe). Contact Exit Glacier Guides for more info. They also offer glacier hikes, where you get equipped with crampons and get to actually walk on the glacier. Another company that offers these types of hikes is Adventure 60 North.
2. The company your linked to for the Kenai Fjords Tour is great, but if you’d like to support a locally-owned company who does the same tour check out Major Marine Tours. If you’d like to see the wildlife and not fight 150-250 people to do it, check out the locally owned, small business Seward Ocean Excursions.
Thanks for all your additional suggestions Kelli! It’s great to hear there’s a shuttle going to/from Exit Glacier because that totally helps the independent traveler. I’ve actually cruised with Major Marine Tours but then from Whittier and it was great. I did not hear of Seward Ocean Excursions before but I can totally see this would be a great option for people looking for something small sized and locally owned. I can’t wait tot go back to Seward one day! Cheers from Holland.
Beautiful blog. Very well written.
This brings back wonderful memories. Our tour of resurrection bay was amazing. We cannot wait to go back. We rented an RV this time we will drive.