Kenai Fjords National Park – What to See, Camping & Best Tips

Petr Novák

The smallest yet most visited national park in Alaska is situated on the Kenai Peninsula in the south of the state, which contributes to its name. The nearest city, Anchorage, is a 2.5-hour drive away, rendering Kenai Fjords the ideal place to appreciate the magnificent fjords and glaciers.

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska | © Bureau of Land Management Oregon/Washington

Table of Contents
  1. Kenai Fjords National Park Information
  2. What to See and Do in Kenai Fjords National Park
  3. When to Visit Kenai Fjords National Park
  4. Entry to Kenai Fjords National Park
  5. Directions to Kenai Fjords National Park
  6. Accommodations in Kenai Fjords National Park
  7. Advice and Tips for Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park
  8. Pictures of Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park Information

The Kenai Fjords National Park spans only 1,047 mi2, which is notably small for Alaska, yet it receives an annual visitation of 411,782 people (as of 2021). This is largely due to its fairly easy access: the park can be reached by road from Anchorage and by rail during the summer. Close to the Kenai Fjords are two other national parks, Katmai and Lake Clark.

Kenai Fjords National Park was established, alongside other Alaskan parks, on December 2, 1980. The objective was clear – to safeguard the untouched nature and wilderness. Certain areas, marked by the mines scattered around Nuka Bay, are of particular interest. The park’s highest point, reaching 6,463 ft, is an unnamed nunatak (the term for a mountain peak protruding from a glacier) at Harding Icefield.

The allure of unspoiled nature and wilderness are the primary reasons people journey to Alaska. Among the animals living in the Kenai Fjords, you’ll find grizzly bears, black bears, moose, chamois, beavers, and otters. The surrounding chilly waters are home to sea otters, sea lions, killer whales, and dolphins.

The cold and glacial characteristics of the landscape yield a relatively limited range of plant species. Visitors to the Kenai Fjords will likely see poplars, spruces, birches, alders, and willows.

What to See and Do in Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is all about glaciers, fjords, and breathtaking nature.

The most accessible part of the park is the Exit Glacier area, which can be reached by car via the Herman Leirer Road, often known as “Exit Glacier Road.” It is typically only open during the summer. Visitors can park at the information center and then embark on one of the trails that provide scenic views of the park. The trail to the Edge of the Glacier is especially noteworthy. It can be quite demanding, but it rewards hikers with a stunning view of a deep blue glacier at the end.

For experienced hikers, the 8.08 mi Harding Icefield Trail offers a unique experience. Walking through an icy valley might sound appealing, but bear in mind that there’s a 984 ft elevation gain per 0.62 mi. It’s certainly not a hike for everyone. Also, hikers need to be prepared for potential year-round surprises, like avalanches, storms, and bears, which are sighted along the trail almost daily.

Kenai Fjords is also an attraction for mountaineering or rock-climbing enthusiasts. April is the best month of the year for these activities, when the days are longer, but there’s still plenty of snow and ice. The most popular routes run from Tustemena Glacier to Exit Glacier and from Chernof Glacier across the Fox River to Exit Glacier. Allow between six days to two weeks for these adventures.

Kayaking is a perfect fit for the Kenai Fjords NP experience, much like sausage and mustard go together. However, the waters here are not for novice paddlers! Unless you’re experienced, I recommend hiring an instructor. Fishing is another popular pastime involving the waters around Kenai Fjords. A variety of freshwater and saltwater fish can be caught here, with salmon being the most common.

During the summer months, boat tours are a popular way to explore a substantial part of the park within a relatively short time. In winter, dog sledding is a popular activity. The organization of the program can be left to the experienced experts.

When to Visit Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is open year-round, but the most suitable months for a visit are June, July, and August. Some services are still available during the fringe months of May and September.

Summer temperatures range from 39°F–68°F, but rainy days or generally cool weather are quite common. At higher altitudes, snow cover is frequent even in June or July.

In winter, temperatures usually fall between 30°F and -22.00°F. Snowstorms often occur, with an annual snowfall of 508 cm in the Kenai Fjords.

I always recommend checking the current weather forecast and dressing in multiple layers before traveling. Be ready for both sunny and rainy days.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers in Kenai Fjords National Park

The average temperatures in Kenai Fjords National Park are given below. Visitor numbers are based on a 2017-2021 average, with data sourced from the National Parks Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 32°F 23.00°F 17.2 23 🟩
February 34°F 23.00°F 14.3 33 🟩
March 37°F 27°F 14.4 32 🟩
April 45°F 32°F 14.7 70 🟩
May 52°F 39°F 13.0 26 524 🟨🟨
June 59°F 46°F 11.9 83 302 🟥🟥🟥🟥
July 61°F 50°F 12.9 109 980 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 61°F 50°F 14.9 85 802 🟥🟥🟥🟥
September 55°F 43°F 16.4 37 539 🟧🟧🟧
October 45°F 34°F 16.3 4 660 🟩
November 36°F 27°F 15.1 19 🟩
December 32°F 23.00°F 16.7 38 🟩

Entry to Kenai Fjords National Park

Entry to Kenai Fjords National Park is free of charge, which is the case for all parks in Alaska. No fees apply for overnight camping either.

The only expense involved in typical activities is the cost of staying overnight in one of the local lodges.

Directions to Kenai Fjords National Park

Anchorage, a city of three hundred thousand people, serves as the primary starting point for trips to Kenai Fjords National Park, which is 124 mi away. For transportation, I suggest renting a car, preferably an off-road four-wheeler. Before setting off, it’s wise to check the current road conditions of the Seward Highway (AK-9), as it is the only road leading to the park.

The town of Seward is conveniently located close to Kenai Fjords National Park. Here’s the necessary information:

From / To Distance Driving Time Map
Anchorage 126 mi 2 hours 30 minutes View Route

Several paid shuttles and buses operate from Seward directly to the park. For the most recent information, look on the park’s website or on the City of Seward’s website. The city has won the All-America City Award for Outstanding Community Service three times.

While not the most convenient, the most scenic option is to travel to the park via the Alaska Railroad. The Coastal Classic trains run from Anchorage to Seward. They operate only from May to September, and a round-trip ticket will cost you $203. However, the unforgettable experience is worth every penny.

Accommodations in Kenai Fjords National Park

🏨 Hotels

For accommodations near the park, Seward is your best bet. It hosts a range of hotels, motels, and lodges. Options vary from inexpensive motels to luxurious hotels that offer lake views.

Within Kenai Fjords National Park, you can opt for accommodation in lodges managed by the park administration. Both the Aialik Cabin and Holgate Cabin are accessible only by boat. They require advance reservations but promise a tranquil stay in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of civilization.

⛺ Campsites

If you prefer camping, the 12-site Exit Glacier campground, located 8.39 mi from the main road leading into Seward, welcomes you. Camping here is free, but spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Advice and Tips for Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

The primary source of information and guidance is the Kenai Fjords National Park Information Center in Seward. It’s open all year round, from morning to afternoon every day. The Exit Glacier Nature Center also operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day, from morning to late afternoon.

👍 Good to Know

You can find more information about Kenai Fjords National Park on the park’s website.

Pictures of Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park | © Brian
Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska | © Brian
Kenai Fjords National Park | © National Park Service, Alaska Region
Kenai Fjords National Park | © National Park Service, Alaska Region
Taroka Arm, Kenai Fjords National Park | © National Park Service, Alaska Region
Kenai Fjords National Park | © Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire
Kenai Fjords National Park | © Gusjer
NP Kenai Fjords | © Gregory Slobirdr Smith

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