The other big thing we wanted to do in Kenai Fjords National Park, besides glacier kayaking, was hiking the famous Harding Icefield Trail. The eight mile (round-trip) trail begins by following Exit Glacier, but then climbs steeply and eventually ends overlooking the massive Harding Icefield, the largest icefield entirely within the US, which feeds Exit Glacier and about 40 other glaciers.
Although the trail is fairly easy underfoot (about the same as the average “moderate” trail in the Appalachian mountains, I’d say), the elevation gain of approximately 1,000 feet per mile is nothing to sneeze at. The National Park Service recommends allowing six to eight hours for the hike, and although I normally find their time ranges to be vast overestimates, the hike took us around six hours.
The initial part of the trail is through a lush green area that is almost rainforest-like. You’re not yet high enough to have panoramic views, but the scenery is still very nice, between the frequent glimpses of Exit Glacier and the wildflowers along the trail. Even if you know you’re not up for the whole eight miles, it’s well worth hiking a mile or two.
Once we got up to a certain point we were mostly clear of the shrubbery and we had more expansive views of Exit Glacier and the valley below us.
Wildlife sightings are common and you’ll be warned many times to watch out for bears, but the only animals we saw were this willow ptarmigan (who was pretty ticked off at me for trying to take his/her picture) and some mountain goats.
Eventually the trail clears the mossy rocks and gets into barren, dirt terrain. This was my least favorite part of the trail. The scenery was repetitive, and even though we were there in late July, there was significant snowpack on the ground, which made navigating the trail more treacherous.
I was tempted to turn around, figuring we had already gotten some really nice views of the mountains and glacier, but I am so glad I stuck it out, because when we reached the end of the trail, and saw the vast icefield spread out before us, I was absolutely speechless. I feel like a broken record about Alaska’s beauty, but this was one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen.
I normally prefer color photos, but there was something about the stark landscape that was practically begging for black & white shots.
After we got down from the trail, we had a hard-earned meal at the Salmon Bake Restaurant in Seward. Most of the food in Alaska was nothing to write home about (we didn’t get nearly as much fresh seafood as I wanted and the normally-reliable Yelp led us astray in Anchorage), but the Salmon Bake was absolutely wonderful. I was a bit worried when I saw that the restaurant was selling t-shirts (usually a sign the restaurant is too touristy for me), but the salmon (in both platter and sandwich form) was the freshest and most delicious I’ve ever had. The wild Alaskan blueberry cobbler was another big highlight. The restaurant is fairly expensive, but everything in Alaska is, and when you take into consideration the large portion sizes and excellent food, I thought it was a good value.
As I said in my previous post about Kenai, I’m really glad we spent two full days here. Both kayaking to Aialik Glacier and hiking the Harding Icefield Trail were awesome and both took the better part of a day. I highly recommend exploring Kenai Fjords National Park both by boat and on foot if possible.