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. But there are some amazing sights to see in Seward, and I recommend 3-4 nights if you love marine wildlife and glaciers.
Staying along Seward Harbour
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.
The shops and cafes on the harbour are adorable. Walking along the pier with the snowy mountains as a backdrop against the boats, harbour, clouds and streaks of sunlight was magical. I couldn’t get enough! Seward is so cute.
I highly recommend starting and finishing each day with a walk around the harbour. Watching the sun go down while otters darted between the boats is something that still brings a smile to my face. It is a bit of a sleepy small town, but so very charming. Spending 3 nights was just about perfect. But I would have liked a fourth night to do a second Kenai Fjords Tour in an ideal world.
At night there isn’t really much to do except enjoy the harbour walks and scenery. Pretty tough huh? We dined at restaurants along the harbour and spent time in the heated pool and spa in the evening – bliss.
Kenai Fjords Day Tour
The full day Kenai Fjords National Park Tour boat cruise with dinner on Fox Island (8.5hours) is an absolute ‘must-do’ if you are anywhere near Seward. The scenery and wildlife seen from the boat is constant and stunning. My only regret is that I didn’t have another day to do it all again. Although on the 3 day Seward itinerary below, you could skip other experiences and do it all again. There are other tour options,besides the one I took, but ensure you do an 8 hour tour or longer to have a full experience.
The boat cruised through little islands, past beautiful caves, puffins, bears, goats and their kids on the edge of cliffs, whales, killer whales, dolphins, seals on rocks, seals lazing around on chunks of ice floating in the water, a calving glacier, laid back otters and so much more. On the trip out, we were 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.
Being prepared with layers of warmth, beanies, gloves and waterproof garments means we’re able to have the boat deck to ourselves to enjoy the wildlife, and killer whales cruising beside us, while most people take refuge inside the cabin from the chilling winds.
Those who stayed inside the boat a lot of the time missed so much and probably never even realised it. It was quite surprising that so many people only had on a shirt and zip up fleece. I can certainly understand why they were shacked up inside the boat – it was seriously cold when the wind hit on deck.
Determined to stay out on deck so I didn’t miss anything, I had come prepared with a thermal top, long sleeved top, zip up thin fleece, zip up thick fleece and a waterproof quality rain coat. I also wore a beanie which covered my ears, my thick zip up fleece had a hood and my rain jacket had a hood. I also had mittens, gortex waterproof runners, jeans, (and thermal leggings in my back back just in case).
The layers of clothes I wore seemed like overkill at the time, but honestly, I was just warm enough when the icy winds hit the deck. So whatever you do, come prepared, because you will see so much more being outside on the boat. You don’t need to wear it all, just throw in some thermals and an extra warm jumper or jacket in a backpack just in case. The weather can start looking great, but turn cold quickly. Bring a waterproof and windproof jacket and hood.
As the boat moved toward Ailak Glacier, there was a distant rumble as the glacier released chunks of ice into the sea.
There were seals resting comfortably on icebergs bobbing away in the sea. Curious creatures, the seals wake as the boat got closer. They raised their heads and turned to stare lazily at the boat with their liquid brown eyes. A red bloodstain on the ice was all the evidence that remained of a recent seal birth.
When Ailak Glacier calved ( a big one), the sound of blocks of ice crashing into the waters was unmistakeable. The land is truly alive. It is hard to choose where to look: the seals on icebergs, the crashing ice, the miles of ice filling the bay or the snow covered mountainous shores.
The scenery around Aialik Glacier is so worth it. If you do a Kenai Fjords cruise, make sure it will definitely go right up to at least one great glacier. The further out you go, the more you see and the more incredible the scenery. On the full day tour with Fox Island Dinner, they fed us lunch, dinner, snacks and hot drinks , all included in the price. While it isn’t cheap, it was totally worth every cent.
There are otters everywhere around Seward. It was impossible not to fall in love with them. They were darting in and out of boats right at the Seward Harbour and out in the bay lounging around.
The Kenai Fjords cruise didn’t allow much pause for breath before another exciting sight. Passing a rocky ledge, I saw a creature that looked 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 didn’t like being close to the boat, and awkwardly lifted themselves out of the water into flight.
Further up on the rocks, there were 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.
This was the first time I’d ever seen a puffin. Puffins are such awesome birds, and it was a real treat to cruise around the rocky islands so close to them. They were also floating in the water not far from the boat. I love puffins! They have to be one of the most intriguing and astonishing looking birds on earth.
Honestly, the sights from the boat just continued to thrill.
Using binoculars, along the shores I spotted a black bear, and mountain goats, including one with a kid.
Waterfalls rushed down green laden cliffs straight into the bay and shining black whales emerge gracefully from still waters. The Kenai Fjords are studded with precious wildlife along its shores and strewn throughout its nutrient rich waters.
Every corner, island and cliff we cruised close to had some kind of wild life. The mountain goats are so shaggy and cute, and many of them had babies.
I never expected to see so much wildlife and so close up from a boat. The whole day was jam packed from beginning to end with jaw dropping scenery and a huge variety of marine life. This really is a special part of the world and I feel so fortunate to have experienced it.
I even saw a bear, which I was certainly not expecting to see from a boat!
Toward the end of the return trip back to Seward, the boat stopped at Fox Island for an early dinner.
Pretty black and blue Stellar Jays resting on bare branches were peppered along the lake. Fox Island is home to an exclusive Wilderness Lodge, where we are fed rib eye steak and salmon and have a chance to 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 I’m exhausted and the warmth of our room beckons, I cannot resist walking the boardwalk at Seward Harbour to get lost in the dreamy views and gush about the mesmerising Kenai Fjords.
It is a relaxing, scenic, and perfect ending to an unforgettable day.
Walk 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, so to be on high alert.
The walk to Exit Glacier was a lot of fun through thick snow. I found my gortex runners/sneakers ideal for this walk.
Exit Glacier itself was good to see, as all glaciers are, but it has receded so much. It took a lot less time than expected to see it, and there was no cost involved when we went which was great. It was easy to get there, just drive to the car park and then do the short hike to the edge of the glacier.
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 adventurous, the Harding Ice Field trail offers a full day strenuous hike with incredible views, but is usually only accessible from July to September. For those wanting to hike out on the ice, there are guides that can take you. There are also many other trails around the area for hikers who are prepared. But the area was full of snow (late May) when we went.
Seward also has the Alaska Sealife Centre, which I intend to visit next time.
Where to stay in Seward
There are a few options in Seward, but if you want convenience and want to drive as little as possible it may be a relatively easy decision. After exploring many attractive options, I choose to stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Seward (now known as Harbour 360 Hotel) because:
- it was right on the harbour
- had a small heated pool and spa – love heated pools and spas in cold regions
- very short stroll to marina for Kenai Fjords cruises/tours
- very short stroll to harbour side restaurants, shops, cafes
I certainly found other very attractive options, but they lacked all of the above features. In the end, practicality won out. But there are cosy cabins and B&B’s further away if you have a car and want super cute accommodation.
What to do in Seward
- Alaska Sea Life Center
- Exit Glacier and other glaciers (including Holgate and Ailak)
- Ice hiking
- Kenai Fjords National Park cruise tours
- Stroll around the harbour spotting otters
- Scenic flights
- Helicopter glacier landing
- Glacier dog sledding (transportation via helicopter)
Suggested itinerary for 3 nights in Seward
- Scenic drive from Anchorage down Seward Highway
- Walking around the beautiful Seward Harbour – otter spotting
- Exploring a couple of harbourside shops, and enjoying a hot drink with those beautiful views
- Kenai Fjords National Park Tour with Fox Island Dinner (or other Kenai Fjords full day Tour)
- Exit Glacier
- Alaska Sealife Center