Seward oozes charm with its perfectly laid out pretty harbor and cute storefronts perched on the boardwalk. As the sun sets over the beautiful quaint harbor, otters play between the gently rocking boats in the cool waters of Resurrection Bay.
One of Alaska’s most picturesque towns, Seward is known as the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park and located some 126 miles from Anchorage. Home to the Alaska Sea Life Centre, an ocean wildlife rescue centre and public aquarium, it is an area rich with marine wildlife. Hiring a car in Anchorage and doing the ridiculously scenic three hour drive is the most enjoyable way to reach Seward and have a travel experience you will never forget.
Walking the boardwalk along the harbor affords views of the boats and skyline to the left and colorful pretty stores to the right filled with fish, food, coffee, warm clothes and even some souvenirs.
The town itself is small enough to walk around if you are somewhat fit, have the time, and rain isn’t knocking. But rain didn’t stop us walking around the harbor, up the boardwalk and trudging through the snow in gortex shoes to hike to Exit Glacier.
A short drive from Seward leads to the Exit Glacier car park where a range of alternative trails lead the way to this mammoth wall of blue-white ice bringing you close enough to almost touch it. Walking this one mile easy trail in late May took us through sections of knee deep snow with Ranger reports of bears in the vicinity.
Although it is far too dangerous to actually walk on the glacier yourself, guided ice hikes are available for those wanting a unique experience. For the really adventurous, the Harding Ice Field trail offers a full day strenuous hike with incredible views, but is usually only accessible from July to September.
There are ways to experience the treasures of Alaska without difficulty though, and Seward affords visitors easy access to sparkling jewel of this icy State; the Kenai Fjords National Park.
Boarding Kenai Fjords National Park Tours boat, we take the eight and a half hour day trip through Resurrection Bay to Ailak Glacier. Being prepared with layers of warmth, beanies, gloves and waterproof garments means we’re able to have the boat deck to ourselves, while the crowd takes refuge from the chilling wind inside the cabin.
Cruising through Resurrection Bay we are rewarded with a pod of orcas racing alongside the boat, their sleek black and white bodies proving they are designed for the chase. Abundant wildlife thrives in these icy waters fringed by rocky headlands, lush mountainous forests and gushing waterfalls.
Passing a rocky ledge, I see a creature that looks like a cross between a small penguin and a parrot. Sporting a striking black horn above its eye, clown like face and a yellow beak with an orange tip, the horned puffin is unlike anything I have ever seen. The puffins don’t like being close to the boat, and awkwardly lift themselves out of the water into flight.
Further up on the rocks, there are different puffins with two tufts of yellow feathers on top of their heads - the ridiculously cute tufted puffins. They are seasoned Alaskan travelers.
The majority of horned puffins in the world arrive in the Gulf of Alaska in May to breed through the summer. Inhospitable Alaskan winters see the puffins flee Alaska to spend the season in the open seas of the Pacific Ocean where they are difficult if not impossible to find.
Using binoculars, along the shores we spot a black bear and a mountain goat with a kid. Waterfalls rush down green laden cliffs straight into the bay and shining black whales emerge gracefully from still waters. The Kenai Fjords is studded with precious wildlife along its shores and strewn throughout its nutrient rich waters. We hear the distant rumbling of Ailak Glacier as it releases chunks of ice into the sea.
As we get closer to the Glacier, chunks of ice begin to appear in the waters, rapidly increasing until they dominate the view. We spot seals resting comfortably on icebergs bobbing away in the sea. Curious creatures, the seals wake as the boat gets closer. They raise their heads and turn to stare lazily at the boat with their liquid brown eyes. A red bloodstain on the ice is all the evidence that remains of a recent seal birth.
Ailak Glacier calves and the sound of blocks of ice crashing into the waters is unmistakeable. The land is truly alive and it is hard to choose where to look: the seals on icebergs, the crashing ice, the kilometres of ice filling the bay or the snow covered mountainous shores. The boat crew haul out a massive ice berg and I get the pleasure of holding it with both hands for a photo opportunity.
On the return trip back to Seward, the boat makes a stop at Fox Island for an early dinner. Peppered with pretty black and blue Stellar Jays resting on bare branches along the lake, Fox Island is home to an exclusive Wilderness Lodge. We are all fed rib eye steak and salmon and walk the rocky shores afterwards to admire the views. Returning to Seward just after 6.30pm, it is easy to see why the 120 mile day cruise of Kenai Fjords is the most popular ‘must do’ trip in Seward.
Although we’re exhausted and the warmth of our room beckons, we cannot resist walking the boardwalk at Seward Harbour again to get lost in the dreamy views and gush about gorgeous Seward and the mesmerising Kenai Fjords.
TOP TIPS FOR THIS TRIP:
- For a more personalised Kenai Fjords experience, book the Captain’s Choice Tour which begins around late May through mid August (small boat for up to 16 people for the Kenai Fjords Trip but not much sitting room). The Captain will take into account the groups wishes for this trip, allowing a degree of customisation to suit passengers.
- Do a minimum eight hour Kenai Fjords tour to experience all marine wildlife
- Bring gloves, beanies and four layers of clothing including a waterproof coat, thick quality warm fleece and a thermal top for the Kenai Fjords boat tour. Many people stayed inside the boat missing the wildlife at crucial points because all they had was a t-shirt and fleece. Layer up and bring more warm clothes than you think you will need as the weather and cold can be unpredictable.
- Stay outside on the boat deck to get the best views of wildlife
- Bring binoculars (small travel ones will suffice)
- If you have time, visit the Alaska Sea Life Centre in Seward
- Keep on alert for bears around the trails to Exit Glacier