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Kayakers, whale watchers and glacier fans beat path to coastal reserve
The big attractions at Kenai Fjords National Park are glaciers, a shoreline that beckons kayakers and bays that harbor humpback whales and sea lions.
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Charters and tours
Birds are everywhere -- puffins, cormorants, murres and bald eagles -- on cliff-flanked Resurrection Bay. Its Harding Ice Field, spreading atop the mountains west of Resurrection Bay, sends down glaciers, including the easily accessible Exit Glacier.
Daily boat excursions launch during the summer to see wildlife and to view glaciers.
Kenai Fjords encompasses 587,000 acres, or 917 square miles, of the mountainous Kenai Peninsula. It lies to the west and south of Seward, a 2,800-person harbor town highway 127 miles south of Anchorage. There is a visitor center in town and a ranger station along the only road entrance to the park; turn west three miles north of town and follow an eight-mile asphalt road to the glacier. Rangers at Exit Glacier lead nature walks in the summer.
Seward was founded in 1903 by surveyors plotting the route of the Alaska Railroad to Interior Alaska. It was a trail head for miners and suppliers heading up the Iditarod Trail to the Interior gold fields. The city was named for William H. Seward, who helped arrange for the territory's purchase from Russia in 1867. Resurrection Bay was named by Alexander Baranof, a fur trader who found shelter from a 1791 storm on the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection. In 1964, the docks, tracks and part of the city were washed away by a tsunami caused by the 9.2-magnitude Good Friday earthquake.
Exit Glacier, the park visitors center downtown, Bear Glacier and Aialik Bay. In Seward are the Alaska SeaLife Center, shopping, museums and restaurants. The Fourth of July celebration in Seward features a race up and down 3,022-foot Mount Marathon. Exit Glacier fees are $5 for a seven-day vehicle pass, $2 for a seven-day pass for walkers and cyclists, or $15 for an annual pass.
The park and Resurrection Bay are known for their seabirds, sea lions, seals, sea otters and whales -- killer (orca), humpback and gray. Black and brown bears live in the park.
Wildlife tours by boat, fishing from charter boats, kayaking, hiking. There are fishing derbies for halibut and silver salmon. Resurrection Bay gets a lot of snow in the winter, but it's ice-free. Wildlife boat tours of Resurrection Bay are available all year. Some of the boats have naturalists aboard, and some feature narration by National Park Service rangers.
Go by car, bus or train from Anchorage. You can also arrive by cruise ship or by ferry from Homer or Kodiak (or Juneau, once a month). A small airport is on the outskirts of town. It takes 2 to 2.5 hours to drive the 127 miles from Anchorage to Seward, taking the Seward Highway (Highways 1 and 9).
Be prepared for rain; Seward gets 117 days of precipitation a year. Heavy weather moves in during autumn, when travel to remote fjords may be unpleasant. High winds can be expected any time of the year. The average July low-high temperature range at Seward is 49 to 63.
Camping is available almost anywhere in Kenai Fjords, as well as in Caines Head State Park and at campgrounds near the park. The park has four summer public-use cabins; they are accessible by boat, kayak and small plane. There's a winter cabin at Exit Glacier. Reservations are necessary, and permits must be obtained in Seward. Lodging is available at hotels, motels, B&Bs, hostels and tent and RV campgrounds in Seward. Two military recreation camps are also in town.