One of the most popular hikes in Seward, Alaska, is Exit Glacier. No matter what level of hiking you are capable of, there is some sort of hike for you in this portion of Kenai Fjords National Park. And you definitely don’t want to miss catching a glimpse of this ever-shrinking beautiful glacier.
Kenai Fjords National Park Information
Kenai Fjords National Park is free to the public. So you don’t have to worry about getting passes to get into the park. While the park is open year round, the road to have easy hiking access is only open from about early May until November (depending on the snow fall for that year). Just search Exit Glacier Visitor Center, and your maps program should take you straight there – it is about ten miles outside of Seward. In our experience, there is no cell phone reception once you are in the park so be sure to plan accordingly. As you drive into the park, you will be both amazed and saddened to see just how far the glacier has receded in the last 100 years. It is beyond astonishing. I wish I had seen it even 15-20 years ago. It’s that big of a difference.
Exit Glacier Visitor Center
When you pull into the Exit Glacier Visitor Center, there is a large parking lot for cars and RVs, as well as a small visitor center and flush-toilet bathrooms. There are not any facilities along the trail, so be sure to use these ones! Plus – flush toilets along Alaska trails are not common. Take advantage of these ones. The visitor center is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is a very popular place for tourists and locals to visit during the summer. In order to have the best parking experience during the summer, it is recommended to come in early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Preparing for the Trail Conditions
It is highly advised that you carry bear spray for this hike, as well as spray yourself down with bug spray! And if you go on any of the longer hikes, be sure to bring rain and wind gear. The closer you get to the glacier, the cooler it gets. There is a noticeable difference between the temperatures near the parking lot and closer to the glacier (even on the shorter hikes).
Hike 1: Glacier View Trail
The easiest hike to take is the Glacier View Trail. This is an approximately 3/4 mile stroll that is handicap accessible and much of it is paved. It is almost entirely flat. If you have very little kids who don’t wish to be carried, this is likely the best trail for you. There is only one slightly sketchy spot along the river where we had to watch our kids to make sure they didn’t get too close. But for the most part it is a very safe and easy trail. You can accomplish this trail in a very leisurely manner in about 45-60 minutes.
Hike 2: The Outwash Plain
Our kids absolutely love going to the Outwash Plain. Here they can play along the river bed and toss rocks into the water. And as parents, we get to enjoy their outdoor happiness while taking pictures of both the kids and the glacier. Win, win. As expected, the river is low or high in different seasons, so there are times when this is a perfectly good play area and sometimes it is not. But if your kids are anything like mine and like to toss rocks into the river, it is well worth the slight detour off of the Glacier View Trail or Exit Glacier Overlook trail to check this area out.
Hike 3: Exit Glacier Overlook
We have taken this trail multiple times, and it is one of our favorites. It is about 1.5miles round trip. There is some elevation gain, but I’d rate it moderate for our kids. It’s a beautiful hike through the woods and up on to the hills where not too long ago the glacier resided. This is my favorite place to take pictures of Exit Glacier. I would budget about 2 hours for your family to accomplish this hike; 3 hours if your family really likes to take it leisurely and enjoy everything around.
Hike 4: Harding Icefield Trail
This trail is definitely a trail for families who have older kids. We have not attempted this hike as a family, nor do we plan to anytime soon. This is an 8.2mile round trip, and you gain about 1,000 feet of elevation for every mile you hike. It is, obviously, an all day hike and you will want to do research to make sure you are well prepared for the trip. That being said, when our kids are older, we will definitely be doing this hike! The Harding Icefield Trail takes you onto the icefields above Exit Glacier and all of the pictures we’ve seen are absolutely incredible. If your family is ready for this hike, you should absolutely try to do it – and then let me know how it is!!! (Anyone want to write a guest post??)
Every time we head to the Exit Glacier trails and I see those signs flashing by of how far the glacier receded I wonder, “When my kids are my age, will they be able to see this amazing glacier? Or will it be gone?” So next time you are in Seward, be sure that you stop by. Chances are, it won’t be along much longer.
Headed to Seward or new to Alaska? Be sure to check out our Guide to Visiting Seward with Families. It’s packed full of fun activities for families with younger kids!