We’ve been meaning to visit Kenai Fjords National Park since we made it a goal to go to all the national parks in the US, and Seward, Alaska, is a beautiful port city and the gateway to Kenai Fjords.
Seward is an excellent destination for those looking for soft adventures (easy hikes, cruises to icebergs, dog sledding, etc.) and extreme adventures (challenging hikes, kayaking, and ice climbing). Today, we’re sharing everything we learned on our trip so that you can plan the perfect getaway and learn from our mistakes.
Thank you Pursuit for hosting our stay and cruise. This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.
Last Updated: November 16, 2022
What You Need to Know Before You Go
- Be Flexible. Travel in Alaska can be fickle, and like any other PNW destination, we always expect rain. Since many activities are outdoors, your plans are at the mercy of the weather. During our short visit, they canceled one of our activities, and our boat tour was cut short because of the 10 ft swells.
- Temperatures are Mild. Because of its location, Seward has mild temperatures compared to the rest of Alaska, with average temps ranging from 40-70 degrees F.
- What is the best time of year to visit Seward Alaska? The best time to visit is between June and August. The roads are open, tours are operating, and the days are longer. You can visit the town and National Park year-round, but roads close between October and May, and there are fewer tours. Getting to Exit Glacier in the winter requires a snowmobile, skis, or dog sled.
- Whales are often spotted in the area. You will most commonly see Orca and Humpback whales, but you can also see minke, fin, and gray whales.
- Food and Restaurants are not available in Kenai Fjords National Park, but there are plenty of options in Seward.
9 Best Things to Do in Seward Alaska
1304 4th Ave, Seward, AK 99664, map
You can’t visit Seward without seeing Kenai Fjords National Park, and since most of the park is hard to access, we recommend taking a boat cruise. There are multiple options based on how long you want to spend on the water. If you’ve been on other whale-watching tours before, you know that it’s never a guarantee to see wildlife. The longer your tour, the more chances you get to see wildlife.
We did the Northwestern Fjord Tour, which goes furthest into Kenai Fjords than any other tour. Unfortunately, our captain had to turn us around before the icebergs and glaciers because of the swells. We were bummed, but we get that safety comes first. It rained most of the ride, so having fully waterproof clothes allowed us to stand outside comfortably and see wildlife, including seals, puffins, and one humpback whale. The last photo is from our friends at Pursuit, and what it looks like when mother nature is your friend. Guess we’ll have to go back!
Local Tip: Give yourself at least 2-3 days, and book your cruise early in your trip so you can rebook it if it’s canceled due to weather. Unfortunately, we tend to have bad luck with the weather, and all three days of our days were rainy and choppy, but our friend who came one day earlier had the most beautiful day.
301 Railway Ave, Seward, AK 99664, map
The Alaska Sealife Center is unique because it combines a public aquarium and a marine research center. It’s also the only permanent marine mammal rehab facility in Alaska. Unlike other aquariums we’ve been to, this felt like the research came first, then the aquarium. We saw the octopus they planned to release the week after our visit.
During your visit, you can see all the wildlife from the area, like puffins, octopuses, sea lions, and more. It was fascinating to see the different life stages of salmon. They live strange and challenging lives, swimming upstream up to 2000 miles to spawn and die.
Local Tip: Since you don’t have to schedule a visit, this is an excellent option if any outdoor tours get canceled.
3. Visit Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier is the only accessible area in Kenai Fjords National Park. The highlight is the hike to Exit Glacier Overlook, a 2.2-mile easy trail. Now that it’s receded so much, you have to hike farther and farther in. There are markers along the way that show you the year and where the glacier used to be. Our new friend from this trip, Valerie, showed us photos from 2017 and 2022 (below). It’s sobering to see how much the glacier has melted.
We recommend taking the right fork as you head up to Exit Glacier Overlook, then walk towards the Outwash Plain on the way back. We also considered the Harding Icefield Trail for a much more challenging hike, which is 9.2 miles roundtrip with a 3641 ft elevation change but ended up opting for the shorter hike since we were limited on time.
This area is open year-round, but from late October/early November to early May, the road is closed due to snow. You can still access it via snowmobiles, dogsled, snowshoes, fat bikes, or cross-country skis.
Local Tip: As you drive towards Exit Glacier, there is a pull-out on the left of the road located here. Stop by to see what visibility is like. If you can’t see the glacier in the distance, then the hike probably isn’t worth doing either.
Pro Tip: We didn’t run into mosquitos in other spots but saw a bunch of them and got bites up here. Don’t forget bug spray, and have this bug bite suction handy if you get a bit. It works best right after you get a bite.
4. Explore Via Water Taxi
Water Taxis are a great way to see the water and spot wildlife while getting to harder-to-reach destinations. It’s a popular way to explore more of Kenai Fjords National Park.
Some popular water taxi destinations include:
- Aialik Public Use Cabin
- Bear Glacier
- Caines Head
- Callisto Canyon Cabin
- Fox Island Spit
- Holgate Arm Public Use Cabin
- Northwestern Fjord
- Thumb Cove
5. Dog sledding
599 Mt Hood Dr, Girdwood, AK 99587, map
We finally got to check this off our life bucket list, and we got to do it with Mitch Seavey’s dogs (famous for being a three-time Iditarod Champion). Between mid-May to August, you can hop on a helicopter for a short ride up to Punchbowl Glacier. Once you arrive, you meet the mushers and dogs and take turns dog sledding. Afterward, you get to spend more time with the dogs before the chopper comes to take you home.
You’ll notice that we did our tour in Girdwood, which is about an hour and a half from Seward and an hour from Anchorage. Because we flew into Anchorage, it was a great option to break up the drive with an adventure, and you can tack it on the front or back end of your trip. There are other options if you want to do it in Seward.
Local Tip: These are Alaskan huskies which are a mix. They don’t look like ‘typical’ fluffy huskies, but we like that they prioritize their health and performance over appearance. We got to meet 5-week-old, 8-week-old, and 3-month-old puppies too! Although they don’t always have puppies, they bring some up a couple of times each season.
6. Fishing Or See the Salmon Run
33580 Bear Lake Rd, Seward, AK 99664, map
Seward is a popular sportfishing destination where you’ll find all five varieties of Pacific salmon, halibut, rockfish, and lingcod. If you’re visiting between late June to early September, one of the most popular things to do is a saltwater combo fishing trip targeting halibut, salmon, and rockfish.
Instead of fishing, we wanted to see the salmon run, so we headed to Bear Creek Weir, a free spot to see salmon jumping and sometimes bears. King Salmon, or Chinook Salmon, runs from late May to late July. Then the Pink Salmon and Sockeye Salmon take over from mid-July to mid-August.
We planned to stay for 10-20 minutes, but once we started seeing them jump, we couldn’t leave and ended up staying over an hour.
Local Tip: We spent most of our time on the side of the building watching the salmon jump, but if you cross the road and look downstream, you’ll see a bunch of salmon swimming upstream too!
Whether you get into the sky via helicopter or small fixed-wing plane, a flightseeing tour is one of the best ways to see the glacial landscapes near Seward. Although we got a taste with Alpine Air Alaska on our ride to dog sledding, we wished we had time for a full flightseeing tour. Next time!
If you’re hoping to see glacier pools, the best time for that is May and June.
Local Tip: Guides also use helicopters for kayaking, hiking, ice climbing, and dog sledding. So if you’re interested, look for activities that require heli transport. Remember that most are just for transportation, so you get beautiful views, but the ride is short.
8. Waterfront Park
420 Ballaine Blvd, Seward, AK 99664, map
The Waterfront Park is beautiful, especially when the skies are clear. You can’t see much from our photo, but the mountains are there! If we were ever to RV in Alaska, it’s the perfect place to set up camp.
9. Downtown Seward
Downtown Seward was fun to explore. We grabbed fudge and kombucha on tap at Sweet Darlings, tried an Alaskan Duck Fart Shot at Gold Rush Bistro, and picked up some edible souvenirs.
You can also visit the Seward Community Library & Museum, a public library, museum, and community center.
Murals are another highlight, with over 30 larger-than-life paintings throughout the town. Did you know Seward was officially designated the Mural Capital of Alaska in 2008? Our favorite was Whale Redux. Use this online map to find all the murals.
Local Tip: Seward offers a free shuttle around town. Just look for the blue and white Shuttle Stop signs to find the pick-up and drop-off locations, then hop on the bus that says Free Shuttle in red. The entire route takes about 30 minutes.
More Things to Do in Seward Alaska
On our next trip, we hope the weather can cooperate so we can either kayak or cruise out to the icebergs. We also want to check out the ice climbing and take a heli tour to glacial pools.
- Alaska Railroad
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Seward Axe Company
- E Bike Tour / Bike Tours
- Ice Climbing (Early June through early September)
- Kayaking & Paddling – this was also canceled during our trip.
- River Rafting
- Seward Community Library and Museum
- Seward Mariner’s Memorial
Map of the Best Things to DO in Seward Alaska
Getting to Seward Alaska
Even though Seward is a small town, there are plenty of ways to get there.
- By Plane: Seward has a small state-maintained airport limited to charter flights. Otherwise, most people fly into Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC).
- By Car: Once you arrive, rent a car and drive from Anchorage to Seward. It is 129 miles away and takes roughly 2.5 hours with no stops. You will be driving along the scenic Seward Highway and Alaska Scenic Byway! The first hour of the road is curvy, so keep your eyes on the road.
- Bus and taxi companies offer rides between the two cities, but we always like having a car for the flexibility to stop.
- By Rail: If the timing works out for your travel, the Alaska Railroad offers daily passenger service to Seward via the Coastal Classic from May to September. It arrives daily at 11:05 AM and leaves for Anchorage each evening at 6:00 PM. It’s a great way to soak in the views but is more limiting on time.
Once you arrive in Seward, getting around town is easy with the complimentary shuttle. Most hotels, lodges, and tour operators also offer complimentary shuttles.
What to Eat in Seward Alaska
Seward isn’t known as a food destination, but we still wanted to check out the food scene. There is a Safeway grocery store in town if you need cooking supplies or snacks.
- Mermaid Grotto Cafe and Boutique (Cafes, 💰💰) – Unique and quirky spot, but the food we ate was just okay. 99% of the time I order Korean-inspired food at random places, I’m usually disappointed, but curiosity got the better of me. We tried the Bulgogi Rice Bowl and Asian Brussel Cabbage Salad, which we would not order again. Maybe we’ll try a sandwich and coffee next time.
- Ray’s Waterfront (Seafood, 💰💰💰) – Tourists rave about this place on the waterfront, but usually, places with views don’t tend to have the best food. The seafood was just okay, and the views did not make up for it.
- Ressurection Roadhouse (American, 💰💰💰) – The best meal from our trip was here (and we’re not just saying this because Seward Windsong Lodge hosted us). We would have eaten here more often but didn’t realize until the end of our trip that the bar had different food from the restaurant side.
- Seasalt (Seafood, 💰💰) – We stopped in just for a snack and got soup, but the service and food were very lackluster.
- Sweet Darlings (Desserts, 💰💰) – If you’re craving gelato, fudge, or saltwater taffy, make a stop here. They make most of it in-house and even have kombucha on tap.
- Yukon Bar (Bars, 💰) – We walked by this bar, and it immediately grabbed our attention. It has all the small-town bar vibes. According to our Alaskan friend, you must do a Duck Fart shot. Heyyyyyy, when in Alaska? Also, it’s cash only, but there is an ATM inside if you need it.
Where to Stay in Seward Alaska
There are a lot of different options on where to stay during your stay in Seward. We stayed at the Windsong Lodge, which is the closest lodging to Exit Glacier. The rooms were comfortable, and Resurrection Roadhouse is on the property. In addition to that, they offer complimentary shuttles to downtown Seward.
We enjoyed being just outside of town and in an Alaskan-style lodge that felt tucked away in a forest. Since we didn’t get the best weather, we’ll have to just come back and stay here on a future visit.
What to Pack for Seward Alaska
- Rain Gear: A rain jacket (we use these) is key for travel in Alaska. Rain pants are also helpful if you’re spending a lot of time outside.
- Waterproof Boots: We love our waterproof Danner Boots! They even have insulated versions.
- Layers: Layers are essential to shed when it gets hot but layer up when it’s cold. Here are our favorite jackets.
- Socks: Comfortable boots are only helpful with good socks.
- Sun Protection: Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you don’t need SPF.
- Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun and debris during certain activities. We like these since they strap onto your face.
- Camera: You’ll want a long lens for wildlife. We brought a 100-500 lens with our R5 before our trip.
- Battery Charger: this beast of a charger charges two phones at the same time.
- Map: Whether you want a physical map or download google maps offline, it’s always a good idea to have one when you don’t have a cell signal.
- Bear Spray: You can’t fly with bear spray, so you’ll have to get some in town.
- Bug Spray: these have come in so handy. The Bug Bite Thing is also helpful if you use it right after they bite.
- Gloves: combined with my rechargeable hand warmer.
- Reusable Water Bottle: We love their super light trail series.
- Seasick Meds: If you get seasick, pick up some Dramamine. Be sure to take it early enough before your boat rides.
- Backpack: A day pack is nice when you’re out all day. If you carry camera gear, check our favorite camera backpacks or travel backpacks! Weather resistance is vital in Seward since it rains so much.
- Hiking Poles: If you plan on doing longer hikes, pack your trekking poles!
- Want to know what to wear to the airport? These are our ideal airport outfits.
- Carry on essentials to improve your next flight.
Essential Tips for First-Time Visitors
- Plan Water Activities Early. Plan them early in your trip so you can rebook them if they get canceled.
- Best months for whale watching –
- Humpback Whale – May to August
- Orca Whale / Killer Whale – May to June
- Gray Whale – March to May
- Minke Whale – May to September
- Fin Whale – May to September
- If you are taking Dramamine for boat rides, take it at least 2 hours before the ride so that it has time to work. Typically, it’s too late if you’re already seasick.
- Check restaurant hours. Depending on the time of year, they may have limited hours.
Why is Seward Alaska famous?
Seward is known as the start of the historic Iditarod trail. It’s also the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park.
Is Seward or Homer better?
It depends on what you want to do! For hiking, whale watching, or wildlife tours, Seward is a better home base. If your goal is bear viewing, Homer is better.
Can you see the Northern Lights from Seward Alaska?
It is possible, but because of the frequent clouds, it’s not the best spot. Instead, pick a place that often has clear skies. Check out our guide for Northern Lights.
How do you spend a day in Seward?
We wrote a whole post on this! Click here to check out everything you can do.
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.