Tips from an expert: things to do in Seward, Alaska
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 was here 4 times, most recently last summer. Here are my top picks for things to do in Seward, Alaska.
Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail
As an avid hiker, I can truly recommend 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. Exit Glacier is well known and if you have seen Barack Obama with Bear Grylls in Alaska, you may recognize it from this episode. The first view of the ice can be seen from Marmot Meadows. Here the wood changes into bush and you may spot some wildlife. During my last visit (I hiked this trail 3 times) 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. The vegetation slowly fades and just before the end you will reach the alpine terrain which I always refer to as Mordor: it’s empty, grey and cold, with the occasional patch of snow left, even in the end of the summer. 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!
Other hikes at 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.
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 in 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.
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!
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. If anyone else has some suggestions for other things to do in Seward that I forget to mention, make sure to drop them in the comments!
About my passion for 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! Also, do not forget to order your copy of Lonely Planet Alaska here for a complete overview of things to do in Seward. Have a great trip!
Want to read more about my Alaska adventures? You may also like the following posts:
– About the Magic Supertramp Bus from Into the Wild
– Solo hiking in bear country Alaska as a female
– 5 Really cool (and cold) things to do in Alaska
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Thanks for sharing!