Kenai Fjords

After venturing through the remote Copper River Valley and exploring the city of Anchorage, I had just one day left in Alaska. I wanted to make it count. 

Kenai Fjords is national park located just two hours south of Anchorage. The main attraction is a 6-hour boat tour of the fjords and glaciers. The tours are run daily by the park´s concessioner, Kenai Fjords Tours, in the summer. September was very late season, but they were still running. At $153, the tour was not cheap (spoiler alert: nothing in Alaska is cheap), but I decided to book it because the cheaper alternatives were not nearly as good. 

September 27, 2021: Kenai Fjords

I woke up in my Anchorage hostel at 6:00 to head out to Kenai Fjords. The drive south was absolutely stunning as the sun began to rise over the Cook Inlet.  

Sunrise on the Cook Inlet

After circumnavigating the inlet, I drove across the snowy Kenai Peninsula. I was shocked by the amount of snow at such a low elevation here. 

Crossing the Kenai Peninsula

Eventually, I cut onto Alaska Route 9 and headed towards the town of Seward. Just outside of of Seward, I took a short detour to see the Exit Glacier. The Exit Glacier is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by road. As I approached the parking lot, I passed by signs with years 1955, 1956, 1978, etc. The signs marked the location of the end of the glacier in the year. The recession of the glacier is shocking. In under 70 years, the glacier has receded well over 2 miles. The Exit Glacier is one of the clearest examples of the effects of global warming. 

The woods near the Exit Glacier

After parking in the lot, I took the short half-mile loop trail through the gorgeous autumn scenery. Eventually, I reached a viewpoint of the mighty Exit Glacier. The viewpoint was built in 2000 at the then foot of the glacier. Today, the glacier is about a half-mile further and inaccessible. Although the Exit Glacier has receded, there are still many miles of ice still intact. It is not disappearing quite yet. 

The Exit Glacier, September 2021

I did not have the time, but a spectacular full-day hike goes up the side of the glacier where you can get views of the mighty Harding Icefield which feeds many glaciers. 

I then drove into the town of Seward. This is normally the busiest cruise port in Alaska. However, the town clears out after Labor Day. By the time I arrived, almost every restaurant and business was closed. It felt like a ghost town. Luckily, the National Park Service´s office was open where I was able to obtain my Kenai Fjords park stamp. 

Seward harbor

Next, I checked in for the boat in their busy shop in the harbor.

At 10:45, they called for everyone to board the boat for the 11:00 departure. To my surprise, the boat was packed! The boat consisted of a 2-level interior cabin and outside decks. Since the weather was cold, most people including myself decided to stay inside and admire the scenery through the windows.

After the safety briefing, we took off. They then served us a box lunch- an unappetizing turkey sandwich. 

The boat zoomed through Resurrection Bay. Forested peaks could be seen everywhere. As we sailed, the captain gave commentary. 

Approximately 45 minutes after leaving, we reached our first stop, a rock with about a dozen seals. The captain gave us plenty of time to walk outside and take pictures. 

Look at the sea lions camouflaged in the rock

Next, we zipped out of the bay and headed west to officially enter the National Park. There, we saw porpoises playing alongside the boat.

We continued into Aialik Bay. At the far end of the bay sat the mighty Aialik Glacier. The foot of the glacier is 2 miles wide and 600 feet tall. The formidable wall of ice creates its own weather. The winds were so strong it was hard to stand outside on the deck. 

Aialik Glacier

We spent about 30 minutes here admiring the majesty of nature. 

Wow!!!

It was now time to start the return trip to Seward. However, we were far from done with the sights. We next visited some impressive sea stacks and sea caves. 

Sea stacks

For the grand finale, we sailed to the mighty Bear Glacier. This glacier is far bigger than the Aialik Glacier- 3 miles wide vs 2. However, you cannot sail all the way to the foot. 

Finally, it was time to sail back at 17:00. It was a long cruise, but it flew by. I then drove back to Anchorage, stopping for dinner in Girdwood before going to the airport for my midnight flight home.

Final Thoughts:

Kenai Fjords is the real deal. There is nothing more spectacular than seeing a glacier from a boat from so close. The scale of the glacier is beyond depiction. Don´t skimp on the 3-hour Resurrection Bay cruise, the extra hours are worth it to see the Aialik Glacier. 

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