1. Travel

Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park - An Overview

By

Pederson Lagoon & Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Pederson Lagoon & Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

© mjhbower via Flickr

Contact Info:

P.O. Box 1727, Steward, AL 99664

Phone: 907-224-7500

Overview:

Although Kenai Fjords is Alaska's smallest national park, it still packs just as big a punch as the massive Denali or Gates of the Arctic. It's as if all the beauties of the land and sea – glaciers, peninsulas, and fjords – have combined at one small, yet rich spot.

Ancient ice carved out Kenai's fjords and created a perfect habitat for many sea animals. About 20 species of sea birds nest along the coastline so visitors are sure to see the popular clown-face puffins, and perhaps even a bald eagle. The park is also home to 23 species of mammals including harbor seals, sea otters, moose, black bears, wolverines, and lynx.

From unbelievable views and stunning landscapes to active wildlife on the lands and in the sea, Kenai Fjords is a serene national park with much to offer.

History:

In 1741, Captain Vitus Bering was the first known European to see the Kenai Peninsula while European discovery came in 1778 by Captain James Cook. After Cook's visit, the area became the scene of competition among rival fur companies for natural resources. The area was controlled by the Russians until it was purchased by the United States - The first American settlement in the Seward area was in 1884.

Kenai Fjords derived its name from the long, glacier-carved valleys that are now filled with ocean waters. What were once alpine valleys filled with glacier ice are now deepwater mountain-flanked fjords. The area was proclaimed Kenai Fjords National Monument on December 1, 1978 and established as a national park on December 2, 1980.

When to Visit:

Summer is the best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park. At that time, the days are longer and the seas are calmer. Winter brings the option to ski some roads into the park and flights land in the park at any time of year.

Getting There:

There are a few options to get to the park. For a more direct approach, you can charter a flight from Seward or Homer into the park. Also, the Alaska Railroad travels to Seward from Anchorage with connections to Fairbanks and Whittier – in the summer only. (Find flights to Fairbanks.)

To get to Seward, you may also drive along the Seward Highway (Alas. 9) south from Anchorage. Though the drive is 130 miles, the views are spectacular.

Another option are buses and small commuter planes connecting Anchorage and Seward, and the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) linking Seward with Homer, Seldovia, Kodiak, Valdez, and Cordova.

Fees/Permits:

There are no entrance or camping fees in the park.

Major Attractions:

Harding Icefield Trail: Branches off the Main Trail (located near Exit Glacier) and climbs 3,000 feet in 3.5 miles ending on an icefield. The views are unbelievable but be sure to check with a ranger about trail conditions before heading out.

Resurrection Bay: Check out the regular boat tours that travel down the bay passing the beautiful Caines Head and Callisto Head, then entering Aialik Bay – the most visited fjord in the park.

Northwestern Lagoon: Located at the head of Harris Bay, visit this lagoon via canoe at high tide. Once in the lagoon, you will find excellent hikes to Northwestern, Southwestern, and Sunlight Glaciers.

McCarty Fjord: This fjord slices 23 miles into the coast and its steep walls tower more than 4,000 feet high on either side of the McCarty Glacier.

Accommodations:

There is one walk-in campground located at Exit Glacier. Three cabins are available from May through September in the fjords. A permit is necessary for overnight use and they are accessible by boat or plane only.

Seward offers many hotels, motels, and inns for visitors. (Get Rates) The Breeze Inn is a great place offering 86 units for $139-$199. Also try the Van Gilder Hotel which offers 24 unites with shared baths for about $109, along with 21 units with private baths for around $216.

Areas of Interest Outside the Park:

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge: Located in Homer, this refuge was established to conserve marine mammals, seabirds and other migratory birds. There are 4.9 million acres to explore which include the spectacular volcanic islands of the Aleutian chain and the seabird cliffs of the remote Pribilofs. Call 907-235-6546 for more information.

Chugach National Forest: America’s most northerly national forest is conveniently located in Anchorage and a ranger district is located in Seward. It stretches across southcentral Alaska, from Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula - covering an area the size of New Hampshire. Activities include hiking, fishing, hunting, climbing, horseback riding, and water sports. For more information, contact 907-743-9476.

Alaska Sealife Center: Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center is located is Seward. Visitors can enjoy close encounters with puffins, octopus, sea lions, and other sealife. Tours, special events, and guided programs are available all ranging in prices. Call 907-224-6300 for more information.

Related Video
Tour Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  1. About.com
  2. Travel
  3. National & State Parks
  4. US National Parks
  5. Alaska
  6. Kenai Fjords
  7. Kenai Fjords National Park - Overview of Kenai Fjords National Park

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.