Seward, Alaska: Hiking Exit Glacier & Sightseeing in the Town of Seward
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
Summary: We spent our first full day in Alaska in the little town of Seward, located on the Kenai Peninsula. We started with a short, 2.3 mile, hike to Exit Glacier located in Kenai Fjords National Park. Here, we came across a baby Moose and its mother grazing right up next to the walking path. The hike itself it easy and accessible to most people, including families with small children. The views are outstanding, especially considering the very modest effort to see them. Afterwards, we had lunch on the harbor in town and then went on a walk through Waterfront park and shopped in downtown Seward.
About Seward. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, this town of 2,700+/- inhabitants was founded in 1903 by John E. Ballaine, who was also the founder of the Alaska Railroad Company. Ballaine had established Resurrection Bay, upon which Seward sits, as the beginning stop of his railroad company. In naming the town Seward, in honor of William H. Seward, President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, Ballaine is cited as saying "That city deserves to be named in honor of the man responsible for making Alaska American territory." Today, Seward has two main industries, fishing and tourism. In the main harbor, you will find both private, small boat fisherman, as well as large commercial operations. Seward is also a main stop for several cruise ships, though when we visited, all operations had ceased due to the COVID pandemic.
What Gear To Bring. Whenever hiking in Alaska, come prepared with your day pack stocked with bear spray, water, and snacks. Bear spray ($50), can be purchased in Seward's Ace hardware store. It does not really matter whether you hike a highly trafficked trail or not, bear danger is real no matter where you go. Also, when we traveled in June the weather can change quickly. Bring layers including rain jackets and/or ponchos, gloves, and knit caps.
Getting to Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is just 10 miles outside of Seward off of Hwy 9 in Kenai Fjords National Park. There is no fee to enter but note that the parking lot was already filling up when we arrived around 10:00 a.m. Right at the parking lot is a visitor center and bathrooms, along with rangers available to answer questions. Immediately adjacent to the visitor center is the beginning of the 2.3 mile Exit Glacier trail. There is also a longer hike, Harding Icefield Trail (8.2 miles), available for those that want to add to their hike.
About Exit Glacier. The first thing we noticed about the Glacier is the fact that it seems to be almost gone. Okay, it's not THAT bad but really, the Park does a great job of showing just how much the Glacier has melted in the last Century, with the last few decades being remarkably fast. Posted along the walk are signs simply labeled with the year, to demonstrate where the Glacier sat in that year. This physical reminder of the impacts of global warming would be hard to ignore.
The Views. If you are unimpressed by the Glacier itself - after all the melting - you will be at least awestruck by the views on the way to and from the Glacier. This hike takes you through a perfect sampling of the beauty of Alaska, with open fields, forest, waterways, and towering, snow-caped mountains. We took a some time to rest here and take in the views.
Wildlife. If you are lucky, you will run into some wildlife like we did on this hike. We were here in June and were met with a mother Moose and her adorable baby, right along the trail. We could not have asked for a better wildlife encounter.
Town of Seward Walking Loop. After our hike, we drove back to town and parked in the South Harbor Parking Lot ($10 day parking). Parking here allowed us to do a big loop on foot that hugged the harbor and waterfront for the first half, then came into town at the Sealife Center. From there we made our way on 3rd Avenue through downtown until we ended up back at the South Harbor Parking Lot.
Lunch. Before we started our loop, we stopped at Alaska Seafood Grill for lunch. A bit on the pricey side, it nonetheless satisfied our hankering for fresh, local seafood.
Walking Loop. After lunch, we headed out to the harbor to watch the fishing boats and also view locals fishing off the rocks right there in the harbor.
Waterfront Park. From there, we walked through Waterfront Park, stopping at the Seward Mariner's Memorial (dedicated to mariners lost at sea or those that shared a lifelong passion for the sea) and Mile 0 of the old route of the Iditarod Race (Alaska's famous 938 mile dogsled race). After Waterfront Park, we enjoyed a little souvenir shopping in downtown Seward, before making our way back to the South Harbor Parking Lot.
Cabin in the Woods. If you stay at the AirBnB we chose, we suggest picking up some firewood and fixings for s'mores. We enjoyed a quite evening back at the cabin, roasting marshmallows on an open fire.
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