Kenai Fjords National Park Hiking Overview

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Hiking on Fox Island (Photo by John Page, Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking)

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

  • From Exit Glacier Nature Center, several short trails lead to the foot of the glacier. The first mile of the main trail is paved and is wheelchair accessible. The pavement ends at a kiosk with benches and interpretive signs about area geology. At that point, you can continue along the main trail on a gravel path to the Glacier, or you can pass through the kiosk and follow the accessible trail to a panoramic viewpoint of Exit Glacier, the surrounding peaks, and the outwash stream.
  • Once at the glacier, you can wander along the relatively flat outwash plain, or head up the moderately strenuous Overlook Loop Trail that leads up to an area of recently glaciated terrain, with a spur trail continuing to the edge of Exit Glacier. You can return by the main trail or take the Nature Trail back to the parking lot. This slightly longer, more wooded route includes interpretive signs describing the progression from pioneer plants to temperate rainforest that occurs after a glacier recedes.
  • The eight-mile round-trip Harding Icefield Trail is a spectacular day hike. Starting on the valley floor, the trail winds through cottonwood and alder forests, passes though heather filled meadows, and ultimately climbs well above tree line to a breath-taking view of the Icefield. At times gaining 1,000-feet per mile, this trail is strenuous, and you should allow six to eight hours to complete the route.
  • This rugged wilderness requires good physical condition, proper equipment, and reasonable precautions. If planning a backcountry trip without a guide, get current, specific information from park staff before starting out. To tackle the Harding Icefield, be prepared to face sudden storms, high winds, blinding sunlight, and extreme temperature changes.

    Exit Glacier is the most accessible park area. A gravel road at mile 3.7 of the Seward Highway leads nine miles to the Exit Glacier Ranger Station. The area offers exhibits on the glacier and the Harding Icefield, interpretive programs, and hikes. Rangers provide information daily in the summer. An easy half-mile walk will take you to the glacier's terminus—the first quarter-mile is fully accessible, then a steeper trail continues across moraines and bedrock. You may return to the ranger station by a nature trail. Exit Glacier descends 2500 feet over its nearly three-mile length.

    The three-mile Harding Icefield trail, which follows the glacier's flank to an overlook of the icefield, offers a difficult ascent on a steep trail. It's for day use only—overnight backpacking is prohibited. The glacier is active and calving, and falling ice is dangerous. The area beyond the warning signs is strictly off limits. Before attempting this hike, check Park Service bulletin boards for current trail conditions.

    Backcountry Travel
    This rugged wilderness requires good physical condition, proper equipment, and reasonable precautions. If you're planning a backcountry trip without a guide, get current specific information from the park staff before setting out. If you're challenging the Harding Icefield, be prepared to face sudden storms, high winds, blinding sunlight, and extreme temperature changes. Winter travelers to Exit Glacier may face deep snow and cold temperatures. Know the symptoms of hypothermia and their treatment.

    Bears are dangerous. Keep a wide distance from black bears and brown/grizzly bears. Make noise when hiking, so you don't startle them. Keep food supplies separate from your campsite and equipment. Food and scented items, such as toothpaste, must be hung or stored in bear-proof containers. Feeding wildlife is unsafe and sets up behavior patterns that may endanger future travelers.

    Winter travel to Exit Glacier and the cabin is by cross-country ski, snowmobile, dogsled, or snowshoe. Scenic flights give views of the vast Harding Icefield, and landings can be arranged for day-skiing or expeditions. Obtain Park Regulations for more information on Exit Glacier.


    Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
    Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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