Visiting Exit Glacier: Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Located south of Anchorage in Seward, Alaska is one of the least accessible and most remote National Parks in the United States, Kenai Fjords National Park. Located on the Kenai Peninsula this harsh and rugged terrain is best suited for a visit by boat to the beautiful fjords that line the coast. There is however, just one way to access the park by road and that is by paying a visit to the Exit Glacier.
Located just a few miles outside of Seward, Exit Glacier provides visitors with the unique opportunity to get up close and witness how a Glacier can shape a landscape. Here visitors can see the vivid impact that this retreating Glacier is having on the surrounding area while witnessing some of the most amazing natural scenery that Alaska has to offer.
Exit Glacier is one of up to forty Glaciers that feed off of the Harding Icefield. Named for Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, the Harding Icefield makes up a large portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Interestingly, President Harding never actually visited Kanai Fjords NP or Alaska.
As the largest solely contained icefield in the United States the park covers over three hundred square miles and over eleven hundred square miles when taking into account all of the Glaciers. The icefield measures approximately 4,000 feet thick and receives over 400 inches of snow every year.
Getting to the Exit Glacier is easy as there is but one road that takes visitors into the park. Located just outside of Seward, the park is about 127 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The ride from Anchorage takes travelers down the Seward Highway, which is one of the most scenic byways in the world and appears on most travel lists of most scenic highways. To get to Exit Glacier simply turn off of the Seward highway at mile maker 3 and follow Exit Glacier Road for 8.6 miles to the visitor center.
When to visit
The Exit Glacier Nature Center is open daily from 9 am to 8 pm, from the Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Although the nature Center is not open year round the Exit Glacier area is open to visitors throughout the year. Visitors arriving after the snow arrives and closes the access road can get to Exit Glacier by cross country skiing, snowmobile, or by dog sled.
As the weather in this part of Alaska is very unpredictable it is best to be prepared when paying a visit to the Exit Glacier. Summer time temperatures can range from the 40’s to the mid 70’s but you should always be prepared for any weather conditions. If you plan on doing some hiking while visiting Exit Glacier please come prepared with layered clothing, water, food and good sturdy footwear.
If you have made the decision to visit Exit Glacier then presumably you are here to see the Glacier up close. The best way to do this is to follow one of the many short trails that lead from the Nature Center. The trails will provide you with some great views of the Glacier but to get up close you will have to cross the wash plain which can provide a challenge depending on the water levels. We found it to be great fun searching for the best locations to hop, skip and jump over the small Glacier fed streams.
When you arrive at the Glacier terminus you will be confronted with an amazing wall of dirty blue and white ice. Although it may be difficult to tell, the Glacier is constantly in motion and if you listen long enough you will hear the strains of the ebb and flow of the ice. A word of caution to all you adventurous souls out there is to not get too close to the ice, especially overhanging ice. The caution signs around the Glacier are there for a reason and you don’t want to become a casualty of falling ice.
If you have the time and energy there is a great day-long hike here that will take you from the valley floor up to the Harding Icefield. This day long 8.2 mile hike rises over 3,500 feet through cottonwood forests and meadows to a stunning view of the Harding Icefield. If you prefer some company, on Saturdays during July and August you can take a ranger led hike to the Icefield.
As always, when hiking in Alaska be aware that you are in bear country and be sure to make plenty of noise, stay on the trail, and be aware of your surroundings. If you are hiking to the Harding Icefield without a ranger escort it is a good idea to check in at the Nature Center before you depart so that they are aware that you are out on the trail.
A visit to Alaska can be an amazing trip of a lifetime. No matter what takes you to the land of the midnight sun you will be amazed and in awe of the natural beauty that abounds. If your travels take you to Seward and the Kenai Peninsula plan on spending some time at Exit Glacier for a truly unforgettable and unique experience.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio