Awsome 'Ice Hiking' on Exit Glacier with Exit Glacier Guides. Unbelievable scenery, great guides and just the best thing we did in Alaska. They also have a shuttle to and from the glacier from Seward for only $9 RT! Truly a must do in AK.
I did not take the time to visit the Alaska Sea Life Center but it certainly is an impressive looking facility. I notice from its website that it also has impressive admission fees. In the summer, adults are $20, students (12-17 or with ID) are $15, children (4-11) are $10, and infants (0-3) are free. Please note that reservations are not required for general admission to the Alaska SeaLife Center; however, reservations are strongly recommended for the Octopus Experience, Puffin Encounter, and Behind-the-Scenes tours. Reservations are required for all other special programs and tours. The Reservation Hotline is 1-888-378-2525, or email email@example.com.
Downtown Seward is the old part of town. It is basically located at the south end of Fourth Avenue. There are several shops and restaurants, and even murals on buildings. The old railroad depot and the Alaska Sea Life Center are down the hill at the water's edge. See also separate tips on the old railroad depot, Alaska Sea Life Center, Apollo Restaurant, Kawabe Park and my travelogue on the historical walking tour, which includes Brown and Hawkins, and the Van Gilder Hotel.
VT member Extremist recommended highly that I visit the Exit Glacier. She was right. As you can tell from my many tips on it, the Exit Glacier is an interesting place and it's not that hard to reach. Exit Glacier is just one of the many glaciers making up the Harding Icefield. Explorers crossing the icefield from the south named the Exit Glacier when they found it to be a good place to "exit" the icefield. The glacier is presently 3 miles long but may have extended all the way to the ocean at Seward when climatic conditions were not as mild as now.
Exit Glacier is open year-round. Upon the arrival of snow, usually in mid-November, the road is closed to cars but is still open to snow machines, dogsleds and cross-country skiers. The road often remains closed through early May, so be sure to check current conditions if you are visiting during the shoulder seasons (Spring or Fall). Several companies provide taxi/shuttle bus service from Seward. Although some references say there is a fee, I did not see where one had to pay to park or walk the trails.
The Exit Glacier Nature Center includes hands-on exhibits and an Alaska Natural History Association book store. Flush toilets, near the Nature Center, are operable from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The rest of the year pit toilets are available. Exit Glacier has a 12-site, walk-in campground. There are guided walks on the nature trail; however, I started with one but it was going so slowly that I decided to take off on my own. Although some references say there is a fee, I did not see where one had to pay to park or walk the trails.
The turnoff to the Exit Glacier is at Mile 3 on the Seward Highway, a little north of Nash Road. It is 8.6 miles to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. Just before the access road turns west to cross the bridge at the Resurrection River to get to the Nature Center, there is a pullout near where Exit Creek runs into the river. It is a good place to see the Exit Glacier from a distance.
The Overlook Loop Trail is a moderately difficult 0.75 mile trail. There are some steep spots and in some places you may have to walk through small streams. It is actually a loop with three excursions. One connects to the Main Trail, one to the Outwash Plain Trail, and one goes up near the glacier itself (see the map).
From the Exit Glacier Nature Center there are several short trails that together lead to the foot of the glacier: Main Trail (0.5 miles, easy), Nature Trail (0.75 miles, easy), Outwash Plain Trail (0.25 miles, easy), and Overlook Loop Trail (0.75 miles, moderate). The first 0.25 mile of the Main Trail is paved and handicap accessible. The pavement ends at a kiosk with benches and interpretive signs about the area's geology. At that point you can continue along the main trail on a gravel path to the Glacier, or pass through the kiosk and follow a piece of the Nature Trail to a panoramic viewpoint of Exit Glacier, the surrounding peaks and the outwash stream. There is an excellent aerial photograph map of all the trails.
I walked all of the trails when I was there in Aug 07, except for the Outwash Plain Trail. At the time, Exit Creek was running deep and swiftly right where the Overlook Loop Trail met the Outwash Plain Trail and it looked too dangerous to wade. There are signs along the trails showing where the glacier was in 1917, 1926 and 1951. I'll do separate tips on the Overlook Loop Trail and the Exit Glacier itself.
In 1906, John Ballaine wrote his own account of how Seward was founded... Accordingly, in March, 1903, I bestowed upon the new town to be the name of Seward, in honor of William H. Seward, President Lincoln’s Secretary of State. I advised Frederick W. Seward, now a resident of New York. That I had chosen the name of his father as the most worthy for the future metropolis of Alaska... It was on that date [August 28] in 1903 that the steamship Santa Ana arrived with the first cargo of construction material and a force of about thirty men to commence the preliminary construction of the Alaska Central Railway, such as building the wharf, setting the saw mill to work and clearing right of way, in preparation for permanent construction the following spring... I went personally to President Teddy Roosevelt and explained to him the basis of my desire to have the new place named Seward, pointed out to him that the other post offices of that name were canneries or temporary camps which could easily be changed to another name... After he had read it he said to me, as nearly as I can remember. “You are quite right. This railroad should give rise to an important city at the ocean terminus. That city deserves to be named in honor of the man responsible for making Alaska American territory.”
The Iditarod National Historic Trail is one of a number of trails designated by Congress in recognition of their significance as scenic, recreational or historic transportation routes. Designated by Congress in 1978, the Iditarod National Historic Trail celebrates the vital role sled dog transportation played in America’s last great Gold Rush. The main route from Seward to Nome was first mapped and marked in 1908, with road houses springing up to shelter and feed two- and four-legged users. Downturns in mining and the introduction of the airplane for mail and freight service caused a decline of trail use in the mid-20th century. After being reborn with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the trail today is home to three internationally recognized long-distance winter races, and is used annually for winter recreation, subsistence, and inter-village travel.
Mile 0 of the Iditarod National Historic Trail is in Seward. An old sleigh marks the original trailhead near the Founders' Monument at the south end of Waterfront Park. The bike path that starts at Fourth Avenue and Ballaine Boulevard and continues along the shoreline was the original beginning of the Iditarod Trail. The end of the trail, Mile 926, is in Nome. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race first ran from this trailhead to Nome in 1973, after two short races on part of the Iditarod Trail in 1967 and 1969. However, the race has started in downtown Anchorage since 1983.
The Seward Small Boat Harbor was established in 1964 after the Good Friday earthquake demolished the old boat facilities. The harbor is situated on the north end of Resurrection Bay, with easy access to Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, fishing, hunting, camping, skiing, flightseeing and many other activities. The Small Boat Harbor provides full service with 50-ton and 250-ton Travelifts, a 5000-ton Syncrolift, boat repair shops, hardware stores, novelty and gift stores, grocery stores, art galleries, restaurants, hotels and many other amenities. There are over 100 charter boat operators and a dozen day tour operators in the harbor.
The Benny Benson Memorial welcomes you to Seward. It is in a small park as you come into town on the Seward Highway. The University of Alaska tells us the Benny Benson story. Basically, Benny's whole life changed when he entered a contest to design the Alaska State Flag. His mother had died when he was four and his dad sent him and his brother, Carl, to boarding school at the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska. His sister, Elsie, was sent to Oregon. The home was moved to Seward in 1926 (but closed in 1966).
Benny was in the seventh grade when he created the winning design in March 1927. He wrote the following explanation of his design: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strenth (sic).”
The best, and really, only way to see Kenai Fjords is by boat. The Adventure Center at Seward Harbor has all kinds of half, full and multi day cruises which combine sightseeing, kayaking and camping. The options range from a leisurely sealife watching cruise to a multi day backpacking excursion. The tours are seasonal and depart rain or shine (should that actually happen.)
I opted for a full day cruise and kayak tour. The scenery looked so much nicer in the brochure photos. It was a long 10 hour day, the first part being spent in rough seas. As we departed Resurrection Bay, there was a definite feeling of queasiness but it got better when we reached a cruising speed en route to Aialik Bay and Holgate Glacier.
Even in the rain, the scenery was incredible. The clouds actually enhanced it. The entire area was, at one time, glacial. The glaciers slowly eroded and left in their wake the tiny fjords. And there's lots of marine life to be found. We saw puffins, sea lions, sea otters and a group of whales very close to our boat. Early on, we spotted a couple of bald eagles, which are a pretty rare sight.
Since it went from raining to pouring, I figured an indoor activity might be in order. The Sealife Center was a surprisingly good find. It has so much information about marine life that you could easily spend a day here.
The center was built with reparations money from the Exxon Valdes oil spill and is dedicated to research on marine life and to rehabilitating injured mammals and birds. The admission fee is pretty high- $12.50 back in 2002 and its surely gone up since then- but the proceeds go towards research and conservation. Or so the sign says.
Be sure to watch the sea lion feeding. It's amazing the tricks these animals have learned. And the cubs are really cute!
If you have more time, you'll want to take the Harding Icefield trail. It is 8 miles roundtrip with a substantial elevation gain. In wet conditions, which are frequent, it can get slippery and may require some scrambling. But I'm told the views are worth it.
I didn't have enough time to do the entire hike, but figured I'd start in and do a portion of it. I was told you could get a nice view about 1.5 miles in. During this part of the journey, I encountered two rangers who warned me that there was a black bear with her cubs on the trail. They assured me that it was ok to keep going because it was "just a black bear" and everything would be fine as long as I didn't "get too close."
As much as I wanted to see bears on this trip, I didn't want to run or hike right into one. Especially not with her cubs. So I decided that not too close, for me, meant heading in the opposite direction and I followed the rangers back to the ranger station. They were extremely kind and friendly and answered lots of questions about the area. One of them even carried my daypack for me on their wheelbarrel. I am not sure why they were on the trail with a wheelbarrel and I just didn't think it was right to asl