Visiting Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Exit Glacier from Exit Glacier Road.

Exit Glacier from Exit Glacier Road.

Located south of Anchorage in Seward, Alaska, is one of the least accessible and most remote National Parks in the United States—Kenai Fjords National Park. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, this harsh and rugged terrain makes access to the beautiful fjords that line the coast nearly impossible, except by boat. There is, however, just one way to access the park by road, and that is by paying a visit to the Exit Glacier.

Located just a few miles outside of Seward, Exit Glacier provides visitors with the unique opportunity to get up close to a glacier and witness how it can shape a landscape. Here, visitors can see the vivid impact this retreating glacier is having on the surrounding area while also witnessing some of the most amazing natural scenery that Alaska has to offer.

The Harding Ice Field and Exit Glacier.

The Harding Ice Field and Exit Glacier.

Harding Icefield

Exit Glacier is one of up to forty Glaciers that feed off of the Harding Icefield. Named for Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, the Harding Icefield makes up a large portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Interestingly, President Harding never actually visited Kenai Fjords National Park or Alaska.

As the largest solely contained icefield in the United States the park covers over three hundred square miles, and over eleven hundred square miles when taking into account all of the Glaciers. The icefield measures approximately 4,000 feet thick and receives over 400 inches of snow every year.

At the Nature Center.  You can see the Glacier in back, upper left, about a half mile hike away.

At the Nature Center. You can see the Glacier in back, upper left, about a half mile hike away.

Getting to Exit Glacier

Getting to the Exit Glacier is easy as there is but one road that takes visitors into the park. Located just outside of Seward, the park is about 130 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The ride from Anchorage takes travelers down the Seward Highway, which is one of the most scenic byways in the world and appears on most travel lists of most scenic highways. You can expect the trip from Anchorage to take approximately two and a half hours, longer if you are making stops along the way. To get to Exit Glacier simply turn off of the Seward Highway at mile marker 3 and follow Exit Glacier Road for 8.5 miles to the visitor center.

It can get a little wet getting there.

It can get a little wet getting there.

Exit Glacier Nature Center

Visitor Hours

  • May 20 - May 26: 9 am to 4:30 pm
  • May 27 - September 4: 9 am to 7 pm
  • September 5 - September 17: 9 am to 5 pm

If you are staying in Seward, shuttle service is available with round-trip service between Seward and Exit Glacier. The service is available from mid-May through mid-September. As there is no cell phone service at Exit Glacier you should arrange for your return trip before departing.

Crossing the outwash plain.

Crossing the outwash plain.

When to Visit

Although the Nature Center is not open year-round, the Exit Glacier area is open to visitors throughout the year. Visitors arriving after the snow arrives, and closes the access road, can get to Exit Glacier by cross-country skiing, snowmobile, or by dog sled.

As the weather in this part of Alaska is very unpredictable it is best to be prepared when paying a visit to the Exit Glacier. Summertime temperatures can range from the 40s to the mid-70s but you should always be prepared for any weather conditions. If you plan on doing some hiking while visiting Exit Glacier please come prepared with layered clothing, water, food, and good sturdy footwear.

Exit Glacier, notice the caution signs.

Exit Glacier, notice the caution signs.

If you have made the decision to visit Exit Glacier, then presumably you are here to see the glacier up close. The best way to do this is to follow one of the many short trails that lead from the Nature Center. The trails will provide you with some great views of the glacier, but to get up close you will have to cross the wash plain, which can provide a challenge depending on the water levels. We found it to be great fun searching for the best locations to hop, skip, and jump over the small glacier-fed streams.

When you arrive at the glacier terminus you will be confronted with an amazing wall of dirty blue and white ice. Although it may be difficult to tell, the glacier is constantly in motion, and if you listen long enough you will hear the strains of the ebb and flow of the ice. A word of caution to all you adventurous souls out there is to not get too close to the ice, especially overhanging ice. The caution signs around the glacier are there for a reason, and you don’t want to become a casualty of falling ice.

If you have the time and energy there is a great day-long hike that will take you from the valley floor up to the Harding Icefield. This day-long 8.2-mile hike rises over 3,500 feet through cottonwood forests and meadows to a stunning view of the Harding Icefield. If you prefer some company, on Saturdays during July and August you can take a ranger-led hike to the icefield.

As always, when hiking in Alaska be aware that you are in bear country and be sure to make plenty of noise, stay on the trail, and be aware of your surroundings. If you are hiking to the Harding Icefield without a ranger escort it is a good idea to check-in at the Nature Center before you depart so they are aware that you are out on the trail.

Harding Icefield

Harding Icefield

A visit to Alaska can be an amazing trip of a lifetime. No matter what takes you to the land of the midnight sun, you will be amazed and in awe of the natural beauty that abounds. If your travels take you to Seward and the Kenai Peninsula, plan on spending some time at Exit Glacier for a truly unforgettable and unique experience.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

© 2012 Bill De Giulio


Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 12, 2012:

Thank you Au fait. Alaska is beautiful if you ever get the opportunity. Thanks for reading, commenting and the vote.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 12, 2012:

Always wanted to go to Alaska, but it's one of the dozen states I've never visited. Well written and your photos are fantastic. Now that I live in Texas I appreciate the snow a lot more -- especially this time of year. Will keep your advice in mind if I ever get the opportunity to use it.

Voting you up, useful, and awesome!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 06, 2012:

Hi teacherjoe52. We got to walk on the Glaciers at Alyeska in Alaska and it was great fun. Beautiful state. Thanks for reading.

teacherjoe52 on June 06, 2012:

Great information.

I used to love to walk on the glaciers at Smithers in Britsh Columbia and the one close to Hyder in Alaska

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