Park Name: Kenai Fjords National Park
Year Established: Sequoia: 1980
Annual Visitors: 356,601
Entrance Fee: $0
Established in 1980, Kenai Fjords National Park is an icy Alaskan wonderland full of majestic glaciers, coastal fjords, and deep forests. Located just outside of Seward and about 126 miles south of Anchorage, the park hosts one of the largest ice fields in the United States: Harding Icefield, which is the source of around 40 glaciers.
Beyond hosting enormous glaciers, the park is home to a variety of wildlife, many of which have migrated and recolonized over the years as the park’s glaciers recede due to global warming. Many large mammals roam the park, including moose, timber wolves, and black and brown bears. You may also spot coyotes, beavers, and river otters during your visit.
In addition to land mammals, the park’s significant marine environment houses a variety of marine mammals as well, such as sea lions, sea otters, and harbor seals. And if you head out on a boat, you might catch a glimpse of the humpback whales, porpoises, and Pacific white-sided dolphins that live in the park.
The park's maritime climate also lends itself to diverse plantlife, ranging from small shoots of fireweed to enormous ancient spruce trees. And thanks to the expanse of cliffs, peaks, and valleys, you’ll often find lush rainforests just a mile or so away from desolate mountain ranges with sparse alpine vegetation.
The plants in the park have also been affected by climate change. The slow retreat of glaciers has led to new ecosystems and areas of colonization, which means the park is likely to continue to change shape and evolve as time goes on.
People who are lucky enough to visit this unique park can take advantage of all kinds of memorable activities, like hiking along the trails of Exit Glacier. The only glacier in the park accessible by road, Exit Glacier offers a variety of relatively easy trails that will take you to various lookout points. You can also book a ranger-led walk to learn more about the glacier, or hop on a snowmobile, ride a dogsled, or put on a pair of snowshoes to explore it on your own.
Seasoned hikers and adventure enthusiasts can challenge themselves to the Harding Icefield Trail, a tough 8.2-mile trek that starts on the valley floor and ends far above the treeline, offering killer views of the park. But be aware that when we say the hike is tough, we mean it. Hikers gain about 1,000 miles of elevation with every mile, and it typically takes 6-8 hours to complete.
If you’d prefer to rest your feet, then you can hop aboard a boat tour, which offers a great opportunity to see some of the park’s marine wildlife. You can book a full-day tour that heads out to the park’s tidewater glaciers, or participate in a half-day tour of the more protected waters of Resurrection Bay.
Given the park’s unique, scenic locale, chances are you’ll want to spend more than an afternoon there, in which case you can book one of Exit Glacier’s 12 campsites. The sites are first-come, first-served, and they don’t have any registration fees. They also offer central food storage, cooking shelter, and dining shelter.
Not too keen on the idea of camping in the chilly Alaskan wilderness? Then you can book a much warmer stay in one of the park’s public use cabins. During the summer months, you can book one of two coastal public use cabins, which sleep up to four people and cost $75 per month. During the winter, you can book the Willow Winter public use cabin, which costs just $50 per night and comes with propane heat to keep you nice and warm throughout the night.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your time at the majestic Kenai Fjords National Park, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an unforgettable trip.
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