I have a lot of blog posts backlogged, and I’m hoping to post regularly and catch up in the next few weeks!! Let’s start with the fact that we checked off another national park: Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.
Quick note: Some might remember we have a goal of visiting all the national parks, and the number of designated national parks keeps changing (now 63!). Since we’ve already been to some of the newer designations, this most recent visit brings us to 55/63 national parks. Also, Justin had actually already visited Kenai Fjords back in 2003 (twice) when he first came up to Alaska. However, we don’t count it until we both visit together …
Anyway, Kenai Fjords NP is all about the glaciers, fjords (pronounced fyord) and an icefield!
The Harding Icefield (one of only four remaining ice fields in the US) crowns the park. An icefield is a ginormous stretch of large accumulations of snow that compresses and freezes; this one covers 700 square miles. When ice flows from the edges, glaciers form. The Harding Icefield is actually the source of 35 surrounding glaciers! When glaciers retreat, they carve out a rocky alpine valley with steep sides. This is a fjord. I hope you enjoyed your lessons for the day.
The Exit Glacier area is the only part of Kenai Fjords NP accessible by car. Justin’s memory might not be the best, but the one thing he can remember: Exit Glacier was A LOT wider and came down further in the valley in 2003 versus in 2021.
A popular 9-mile out-and-back trail gives you a closer look at Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield. We did the whole Harding Icefield hike, and it’s as much of a butt-kicker to the top as described. With an elevation gain of 3,000+ feet, you’re basically gaining 1,000 feet per mile. My thighs and calves were screaming at me for days!! First, you wind through the forest, then through a beautiful tundra meadow, and lastly, rocky terrain. But as you are ascending, and even if you don’t make it to the top, the stunning valley views easily impress even within the first mile, giving a good excuse to stop and catch one’s breath! Being it was late summer, we didn’t need any traction, as the trails were completely clear of any snow/ice.
At the top, it’s a horizon of ice and snow as far as the eye can see, with a few peaks sticking out. I had a hard time narrowing which pictures to share, and just prepare to let your jaw drop.
We took a 6-hour boat tour to see more of Kenai Fjords NP, which cruises south through Resurrection Bay past a few more glaciers, coastal rainforests and remote Alaskan islands. We saw stellar sea lions, sea otters and whales (no puffins!). The finale is dipping into Aialik Bay for an up close look at Aialik Glacier.
It was also fun to spend a few nights in Seward as our basecamp. This cute coastal town fueled by tourism and fishing is a completely different ecosystem than where we live, so it was a nice change of scenery!