From towering tidewater glaciers to pods of orcas and breaching humpback whales, Kenai Fjords National Park is the highlight of many visitors’ trips to Alaska. This stunning landscape of mountains and ocean boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems of all of the national parks.
Kenai Fjords National Park encompasses more than a thousand square miles of land and water in Southcentral Alaska. But unlike most national parks, you can’t simply drive your car to see the top sights. The view from a boat is the best way to fully experience the park’s wildlife and scenery.
Accessible by boat with Major Marine Tours, the glacially-fed waters of the fjords create an abundance of nutrients for the region’s many wildlife species. Cruising through the fjords to view whales, puffins, and calving glaciers is an experience like no other. Cruises operate daily from March through October, with several half-day and full-day cruise options available. Read on for the top 5 reasons why you should visit Kenai Fjords National Park on your next trip to Alaska.
Kenai Fjords National Park offers some of the best whale watching opportunities in Alaska. Whales can be seen in the area year-round, but the best time for whale watching is March – October. In the spring (March and April), gray whales migrate along the entrance to the Gulf of Alaska on their annual migration from Baja to the Arctic. Next come the humpback whales in May. They migrate from Hawaii and Mexico to spend the summer feeding in Alaska’s nutrient-rich waters until October. Orcas can be seen year-round, but the best time to see them is mid-May through mid-June. Fin whales and minke whales also call this area home and are seen less frequently.
Some whale-specific cruises are available during the peak viewing times for those species. For those who a want to maximize their chances of seeing any type of whale, the longer you are on the water, the better. Tours into Kenai Fjords range from 3.5 hours to 8.5 hours, with the best chance of seeing whales on cruises over 6 hours long.
The Harding Icefield covers more than 700 square miles in Kenai Fjords National Park and is the source of over 35 named glaciers. Several different types of glaciers can be seen from cruises into the park, including tidewater, piedmont, hanging, and cirque glaciers.
The most spectacular of these glaciers is the tidewater glacier. This towering wall of ice cascades down from the mountains and terminates in the ocean. The terminus lies below sea level and usually has an almost vertical face (often over 1,000 feet high) that sheds off huge chunks of glacial ice. Full day tours in Kenai Fjords National Park visit one to three tidewater glaciers. The tour boats spend 20-30 minutes in front of the glaciers so you have plenty of time to soak up the grandeur and watch for spectacular calving.
While whales are typically the stars of the show when it comes to wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park, the park is also home to a diverse array of marine wildlife. Sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and Dall’s porpoises are frequently seen. The park is home to many bird species, including puffins, eagles, cormorants, kittiwakes, and common murres. And let’s not forget about the land animals. Even from the water, mountain goats can be seen deftly navigating the rock faces of the coastline, and black bears can be spotted foraging along the shore.
Vast mountain ranges, stunning fjords and coves, rock spires, waterfalls, islands, and rugged coastlines all provide a stunning backdrop to the wildlife and glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park. Rain or shine, the scenery in the park does not disappoint. Cruises into the park immerse you in this wild landscape and give you up-close experiences of the sights. The experienced captains maneuver the boats between rock spires, into remote coves, and close enough to waterfalls to feel the mist on your face.
The quant harbor town of Seward is often called the Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, and it’s definitely worth spending time there before or after your adventures in the park. Situated between the Kenai Mountains and the waters of Resurrection Bay, Seward is a picturesque town with a population of less than 3,000 people.
Though small, there’s no shortage of restaurants, shops, and lodging options to help you fuel up and recharge between your Alaska adventures. Most restaurants feature locally-sourced seafood and there’s something for every taste, from fine dining to breweries to food trucks and quaint coffee shops.
Seward has two main shopping/dining areas: the Small Boat Harbor and Downtown. These two areas are connected by the Seward Waterfront Trail, a beautiful multi-use paved trail that provides views of Resurrection Bay and the harbor. Other must-see attractions in Seward are the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center and the Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska’s only marine research and wildlife rehabilitation facility.
No matter how long you have to spend in Kenai Fjords National Park, you are sure to be amazed by the area’s abundant wildlife, towering glaciers, and stunning scenery.