snow covered mountains and tidewater glacier flowing into the ocean

Kenai Fjords National Park and What’s the Deal with Those Day Cruises?

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Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park which is on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. The park is named for the fjords which are long, narrow inlets with steep coastlines carved by glaciers millions of years ago. The park is dominated by the Harding Icefield from which over 40 glaciers flow. The only area of the park you can visit by car is Exit Glacier, the rest of Kenai Fjords National Park can only be seen by water via tour boat or kayak by way of water taxis and tours.

So what can you see on these cruises?

Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed but you do have a good chance of seeing humpback whales and less commonly minke and fin whales. Sea otters are plentiful and entertaining to watch as they float on their backs, often with a snack resting on their bellies. Steller sea lions haul out on the rocks along the coast in large groups and harbor seals can be seen floating on icebergs. Orcas (or killer whales as they are commonly known) are often seen in pods. There is a large variety of birds including horned and tufted puffins, black oystercatchers, black-legged kittiwakes, auklets, murres, and bald eagles.

And then there is the scenery. As you might expect, long fjords with steep cliffsides and glaciers abound. Glaciers on mountain tops called alpine glaciers can sometimes be seen weather permitting. The largest of these is Bear Glacier. But the real stars are the tidewater glaciers like Northwestern, Holgate, and Aialik Glaciers. These massive ice formations terminate into the sea forming icebergs that provide habitat for harbor seals. The boat stops giving you the opportunity to watch the glacier calve into the sea, then listen for the cracking thunder that comes seconds later.

Cruise Company Offerings for 2022 Season

Major Marine Tours has the most variety of cruises to choose from ranging in price from $99 to $249 per adult. Their fleet of vessels ranges from 150 to 250 passengers and the cruises range from four hours to eight and a half hours in length. A deli lunch is included in all cruises over six hours. Most of these cruises operate from the end of May to early September.

  • The shortest cruise is four hours and only gets into Resurrection Bay so you won’t get to see a tidewater glacier. There’s a chance to see wildlife but you are less likely to see whales in the bay.
  • The six hour cruise goes out of Resurrection Bay to Aialik glacier where you spend time watching for it to calve.
  • The seven and a half hour cruise gets you to both Holgate and Aialik Glaciers.
  • The eight and half hour cruise gets you the furthest into the Kenai Fjords National Park, up Northwestern Fjord to Northwestern Glacier.

Kenai Fjords Cruises currently offers one type of cruise. The boat is a 286 passenger high-speed catamaran. Their five hour tour takes you to both Holgate Glacier and Ailiak Glacier. This cruise comes with a hot meal included and is $162 per adult. Kenai Fjords Cruises operate from mid-June through mid-August.

There are a few other small boat tour companies out of Seward, some offering combination fishing and sightseeing trips. Most of these boats have less than 30 person capacity and cost up to $350 per adult.

Which Cruise is Best?

Well, it depends on how much time you have and what you want to see. If seeing a massive glacier crash into the ocean is top of your list then go for at least the five or six hour cruise. The longer you are out on the water, the more chances you will have to see wildlife. So there’s no right answer. Go with the cruise that best fits your budget, timing, and sight-seeing bucket list.

If you have a tendency toward seasickness, keep in mind that the longer tours will get into the Gulf of Alaska where the waters can get rough. The larger boats will handle the waters better than smaller boats and remember to take preventative medications before the tour starts.

Exit Glacier Area

Exit Glacier is the only area of the park that can be seen from the road system. A short trail leads you to the glacier overlook and a little further gets you near the toe of the glacier. Be sure to stay on the marked trail, remember this is an active glacier and falling ice has caused deaths to those who have strayed. You can not get onto the ice without a guide. Exit Glacier Guides offers guided hikes onto the glacier itself as well as ice climbing and multiday tours.

The longer, more strenuous Harding Icefield Trail is 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet. As the name implies, this trail takes you to view the massive icefield that is the source of all the glaciers in the park.

What’s your favorite way to see Kenai Fjords National Park?

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I fell in love with Alaska in 2007 when I took my first trip there. Planning that first vacation was very overwhelming and I found myself looking for help. Since then I've spent countless hours researching, reading, and watching anything and everything Alaska. I started this website to help you find the fun in the planning and get your dream Alaska vacation.

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