afternoon we drove to Exit Glacier, one of forty glaciers flowing
out of the massive Harding Icefield above Seward (the ice field is about 50 miles long
and 30 miles wide).
It is the only place visitors can
drive into any part of Kenai Fjords National Park and one of the few
glaciers in Alaska that are easily accessible to most visitors by road
and trails. In addition, there is no entrance fee to see the glacier,
hike the nearby trails, and browse in the nature center.
What a deal!
In this zoomed-in view of Exit Glacier from the road,
you can see the edge of the Harding Icefield in the distance.
Rugged Kenai Fjords National Park covers
almost 670,000 acres of ice, snow, fjords, and temperate rain forests
wedged between the frigid coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska and the tips of
jagged mountain peaks poking above the Harding Icefield.
Throughout the year storms drop
hundreds of inches of snow on the higher elevations, feeding the
ice field and glaciers. The landscape is constantly changing as Mother Nature
Here's part of a
Kenai Fjords National Park that shows the Harding Icefield -- all
the white is ice or year-round snow and includes the larger glaciers. The ice field is mostly
in the park (thick green boundary line) and partly in the adjacent Kenai National Wildlife Refuge:
If you click on the link above you can see the whole map --
and large enough to read it.
Despite the harsh environment,
wildlife flourishes in the narrow slice of forest that paints the low
elevations bright green -- moose, bears, wolverines, mountain
goats, marmots, bald eagles, songbirds, and other species live there.
Native Alaskans hunted and fished
in the fjords for many years, and Russian fur traders and gold seekers
passed through. The National Park Service
preserves both natural and cultural resources in Kenai Fjords.
Another glacier in Kenai Fjords
NP that is visible from the trail to Exit Glacier
This is one of more difficult parks to access in the entire U. S. national
park system. Except for Exit Glacier you'll need either a plane or boat
to see anything else at Kenai Fjords.
Authorized commercial guide services offer camping, fishing, and
kayaking trips. Air charters fly over the coast for sightseeing and
access to the fjords. Boat tours ply the coast observing calving
glaciers, seabirds, and marine mammals on day trips. Boat charters also
offer overnight fjord and fishing trips.
Tall white flowers in the
rainforest near the Exit Glacier nature center
The park has no food service. It maintains a few summer-use coastal
backcountry cabins that can be reached by boat, kayak, or
float plane. Exit Glacier also has walk-in summer-use campsites.
In addition to the park website, you can also learn more about visiting Kenai Fjords National Park at the
visitor center in Seward and the nature center at Exit Glacier.
Both have maps, publications, and ranger information. The visitor center
has several films and the nature center offers ranger-led hikes.
VISITING EXIT GLACIER
The 8.6-mile paved road to the Exit Glacier Nature Center intersects
with the Seward Hwy. about three miles north of Seward.
Itís a good road to drive, walk, run, or cycle.
Itís flat and very scenic along the Resurrection River with beautiful
mountain views to the south and west:
We started seeing Exit Glacier (below the red arrow) about two miles before we reached the
Between that overlook and
the nature center we saw these two signs indicating how far Exit
Glacier extended into the valley in 1815 and 1894:
The glacier has receded significantly in the last century.
of Exit Glacier on the approach to the nature center
Our first stop was
the handsome nature center,
where we browsed the
exhibits and interpretive panels, picked up the park brochure and a more
detailed trail map, and asked the rangers some questions.
We also had some fun
with the moose antler bench outside . . .
. . . and the "canned" moose
and bears inside:
By the way, the cans hold little
stuffed bear and moose toys!
FOUR TRAIL CHOICES
trails offer different views of the
View" is a relatively flat, one-mile roundtrip
wheelchair-accessible loop that leads to a panoramic view of Exit
Glacier from the creek that flows from it through the valley. Part of
this trail is paved; the rest is smooth crushed rock.
It is shown as a solid yellow line on the trail map below.
"Toe of the
Glacier" is a one-mile trail out and back (= two miles total, or more) to the
leading edge or "terminus" of the glacier. This trail is also fairly flat but has trickier
footing once it leaves the forest. It requires crossing the rocky outwash plain through which
the glacial melt drains into Exit Creek, then the Resurrection River. This area is not
always accessible due to shifting streams or flooding and there is no
defined trail once you're down in the outwash. We didn't walk there
today but we could see the whole area from higher up on "Edge" trail (described next).
The "Toe" and "Edge" trails are the dotted yellow lines on the map
Part of an
interpretive panel showing the trail system at Exit Glacier
The "Edge of
the Glacier" trail is 1.2-miles to the right (north) side of the glacier on a
moderately strenuous trail that is partly rocky and hilly (= 2.4 miles total). It
crosses bedrock and moraines, leading to a wall of blue ice at the
edge of the glacier. As the glacier recedes park staff must adjust the
trail to allow visitors to get as close as possible to the ice without
being in danger. There is a loop near the end of this trail.
The "Edge" trail is shown in
the dotted yellow lines above. Beyond the Glacier View
trail the Edge trail goes up and down about 100 feet. The glacier
itself ascends 2,700 feet to the Harding Icefield over its three-mile length.
Icefield" trail (4.1 miles one way) is a steep trail that follows the
glacier's flank to an overlook of the huge ice field at the top of Exit
Glacier. The lower portion is shown in the white dotted lines above.
Ranger-led group at Glacier View overlook
There are several ranger-led hikes each day in the summer. We opted out
of the one at 2 PM because it went only to the Glacier View area and we
wanted to see a lot more than that.
I ran into the group later.
trails begin at the nature center on the paved Glacier View Trail, then
veer off at various points.
Note the date: Exit Glacier extended to this
point in 1917.
the paved trail (shown above) about 1/3 mile, then continued on the dirt-and-rock Edge
trail as we hiked outbound today.
On the way
back we completed the Edge loop near the glacier. When we got back to the Glacier View
loop (solid yellow line below), Jim returned to the nature center the
way we went outbound. I turned right to see the rest of the Glacier View loop and a different
perspective of the glacier and outwash plain.
Jim walked about 2.5 miles and I did a little over 3 miles. My route is
TRAIL TO THE GLACIER'S EDGE
After we got off the paved Glacier View trail we followed the signs for
the Edge trail. It was wide and flat with smooth crushed rock to
begin with, then got more narrow, rocky, and hilly as we got closer to
These photos are in order as we approached Exit Glacier:
The toe (leading edge) of the glacier was out to
here in 1961.
There are lots of interpretive panels like this one along the trails:
They explain all sorts of things about the formation and movement of
glaciers, the concept of "succession" (how plants take hold
over the years in the moraine soil and
rocks after glaciers recede), and other topics.
Continued on the next page . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil