A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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Locals and visitors alike love Seward.
Many Alaska residents make an annual trip or two or more to Seward to enjoy fishing, hiking or Kenai Fjords National Park.
For many tourists, Seward is either the beginning or the end of a cruise along Alaska's coast. If they don't spend a little extra time in the town at the head of Resurrection Bay, they're missing out.
Seward has enough activities to fill a long weekend and still provide reason to come back for more. It is one of Alaska's beautiful communities where the land meets the water.
One place many people start is Kenai Fjords National Park, which has popular water-based and land-based interests. There are several day-cruise boats that operate from Seward to take passengers into the glacier-studded fjords.
Lisa Kruse, sales and marketing manager for Alaska Heritage Tours, which runs Kenai Fjords Tours, said a trip into the park is a must. "If you don't see Kenai Fjords it's like going to San Francisco and not going to Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge, or it's like going to Disneyland and standing outside the gate all day," she said. "There is so much out there to see.
"We guarantee they'll see wildlife; of course, we can't guarantee which type. But there are thousands of seabirds, and the Dall's porpoise like to play in the wake of the ship. We'll see land mammals like mountain goats and black bear on the beach."
Kenai Fjords Tours (www.kenaifjords.com ) will send 12 boats, including a new 82-foot catamaran, into the national park and around Resurrection Bay on regular trips this summer.
The Resurrection Bay Tours ($59 to $79 for adults) are three to five hours depending on the departure and can include a stop at Fox Island. The National Park Tours ($129 to $139) are six or 8.5 hours and take visitors to see Holgate or Aialik glaciers. The full-day Northwestern Fjord Tour is a 9.5-hour trip to Northwestern Fjord with visits to three tidewater glaciers and the opportunity to see more wildlife. Two meals are included in the $159 cruise.
Other tour operators offer similar cruises. They include Major Marine Tours (www.majormarine.com ), Renown Tours (www.renowntours.com ) and Alaska Coastal Tours (www.sewardalaskasightseeing.com ).
Kruse said even visitors disembarking a big cruise ship should turn around and get on a cruise into the park.
"Even people who've been on a cruise ship for a week will really enjoy it," she said. "You can smell the saltwater and feel the wind on your face. You're only about 12 feet above the water. The cruise ship passenger is 12 decks above the water.
"This is much more up close and personal. You can watch a raft of otters floating and see their eyes as they blink or see them eat a piece of crab or see them with a baby, which is even more precious." Many visitors enjoy the park thanks to the tour boats, but those who want to walk around a bit can do so at Exit Glacier, just a few miles outside Seward. It is one of the state's more easily accessible glaciers.
If conditions are safe, visitors can walk up to the face of the glacier. Rangers lead walks three times daily, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The hike is less than a mile on a level trail and lasts about an hour.
"We've built a new spur trail up to the side of the glacier so that people can walk right up to the face of the glacier," said Jim Ireland, chief ranger at Kenai Fjords National Park (www.nps.gov/kefj ). "It really enhances the experience. People love being able to get right up next to the ice."
Exit Glacier is one of more than 30 glaciers that flow out of the Harding Icefield. The ice field covers about 300 square miles and is the largest ice field completely contained within the United States. For hardy hikers, the Harding Icefield Trail is an eight-mile round-trip excursion. Rangers will lead a hike on Saturdays, but hikers can make the trip unguided whenever they like. The trail gains about 3,000 feet in elevation and can have snow on its upper portions well into summer. Kenai Fjords National Park is more than 600,000 acres.
Dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails in the park.
Back in Seward, one of the highlights is the Alaska SeaLife Center (www.alaskasealife.org ).
The research and rehabilitation facility is open daily for visitors. Once inside, visitors can see puffins, Steller sea lions, harbor seals and a variety of other sea life. At the Discovery Pool, guests can touch sea stars and other animals.
"The SeaLife Center is the one place in Alaska where you can take in all of Alaska's unique ocean environments," said spokesman Jason Wettstein. "Our most popular area is the bird habitat. People would have to travel for thousands of miles to see all these animals. Here, they can get really close to them.
"Woody is a big star here. He's an always impressive representation of the SeaLife Center and his species."
Woody is the 2,000-pound Steller sea lion swimming around one of the center's main exhibit habitats.
New this year is an exhibit that focuses on the journey of the salmon. "It's going to be very interactive," Wettstein said.
Regular admission is $15 for adults and $12 for children ages 7 to 12. The center also offers several special tours. They include a behind-the-scenes tour into the research and rehabilitation labs ($12); the Octopus Experience, where visitors can learn about the unique anatomy and behavior of a giant Pacific octopus ($49); and the Puffin Encounter, where visitors can help feed the seabirds inside their avian habitat ($49).
Once again outside, there are many hiking trails in the area, including a trip up Mount Marathon. Most visitors will take it a little slower than the 800 or so competitors that will sprint up and down the 3,022-foot mountain on the Fourth of July. More than 40,000 people pack Seward for the big holiday weekend, which is centered around the race.
Other hiking trails include one starting at Lowell Point and the Lost Lake Trail north of town.
Whether your adventure is on a boat, watching sea lions or lacing up your hiking boots, Seward is the place to be.
Special sections editor Steve Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4316. Visit his Alaska travel blog at www.alaska.com/alaskology.
- See the fjords: Kenai Fjords National Park attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually. Many of them take a sightseeing cruise into the park, seeing wildlife and calving glaciers. If it's sunny, there is no better way to spend a day.
- Hit the trails: Seward has lots of great hiking trails. One of the best is the Lost Lake Trail, which begins about five miles outside Seward. It's a 15-mile hike to the other trail head at Primrose Landing Campground. Even if you don't want to put in that many miles, make a day hike out of it.
- Indoor sea life: You'll never get a better look at a Steller sea lion than you will of Woody at the Alaska SeaLife Center right on the waterfront. You also can touch sea stars and the like.
- As you're leaving: They call it Exit Glacier, so as you're headed out of Seward, stop by and walk right up to the ancient ice.