17 Things to Do in Seward, Alaska, Gateway to Kenai Fjords
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Located on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, Seward is a popular 1-2 day trip for visitors on their first trip to Alaska. Whether it’s somewhere you plan to explore before (or after) stepping on (or off) your cruise ship, or you’re planning to drive or ride the Alaska Railroad to Seward, this small community has a lot to offer.
I’ve visited Seward many times, both growing up in Alaska and during my trips back. Over the years, I’ve seen it grow from a sleepy almost-backwater fishing community into a tourism destination through which hundreds of thousands of people pass during the summer months.
If you’re curious what fun things there are to do in Seward, I’m here to help. Whether you have one full day to explore Seward, 2 days in Seward as part of an Alaska itinerary, or have extra time to spend on other activities, this list shares what I consider to be the top things to do in Seward – on any budget, and for any sense of adventure.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park
Among all the things to do in Seward, there really is one true #1: visiting Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kenai Fjords, like many Alaskan national parks, is not easy to access – in fact, most of the park is only accessible by boat. But because it is easy to reach Seward, and roughly half of all Alaska cruises dock in Seward, it’s easier to access than some of the others.
So if you need to be on a boat to visit Kenai Fjords, which one do you choose? I have a whole post breaking down the different options and best Kenai Fjords cruises, but my top recommendation is the 8.5-hour Northwestern Fjord Cruise by Major Marine Tours.
Broadly speaking any cruise in Kenai Fjords is either a glacier cruise, a wildlife cruise, or both. No matter who you choose to cruise with, you’ll have the chance to spot all kinds of wildlife, including sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, seabirds like puffin and bald eagles, and whales – humpback whales, orcas, and grey whales are just some of the species that can be spotted throughout the summer season. Additionally, most cruises also visit glaciers; popular ones include Bear Glacier, Holgate Glacier, and Northwest Fjord – depending on how long your cruise is.
In the end though, you can’t go wrong as long as you make this your #1 must-do in Seward. Like so many other national parks, it’s absolutely stunning and worth the effort to reach this corner of Alaska.
2. Visit Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier is one of my favorite experiences to recommend for things to do in Seward – it’s the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by car, and it’s one of the easiest glaciers in Alaska to reach.
Exit Glacier is a 20-minute drive from Seward, and can easily be reached by rental car or using the Exit Glacier Shuttle provided by Exit Glacier Guides. (This shuttle is helpful in the event you rode the Alaska Railroad to Seward – more on that below!)
At Exit Glacier, you can explore the Exit Glacier Nature Center and hike around the area where the glacier once filled the valley floor. This is a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with an active glacier – but unfortunately, like many in Alaska, Exit Glacier is receding. You can hike several trails of varying difficulty to get different views of the Glacier; my favorite is the Exit Glacier Overlook hike (~1 mile, easy/moderate effort with some incline/steps).
3. Hike to Harding Icefield
If you’re looking for a more challenging hike in the Exit Glacier area, consider hiking the Harding Icefield Trail.
This is an 8.2-mile out-and-back with nearly 8,000 feet in elevation change – to say it is strenuous is perhaps an understatement! I’ve never done this hike because of how hard I’ve heard to be.
But it’s (apparently) worth it for the incredible views from the trail and at the end where you get a spectacular view overlooking the Harding Icefield – of which Exit Glacier is a part (as well as Bear Glacier, Holgate Glacier, and other nearby glaciers you can see while cruising Kenai Fjords).
Be sure to prepare properly with water, food, and hiking boots and poles before setting out on this hike, which typically takes 6-8 hours.
4. See Sea Otters (& More) at the Alaska SeaLife Center
In the unlikely event that you see absolutely no marine wildlife during your Kenai Fjords cruise – we’d call that getting “skunked” – there is a way to guarantee you see at least some of the amazing animals that call this ecosystem home: visit the Alaska SeaLife Center! Actually, even if you see a ton of whales and sea otters and puffins on your day cruise, you should still plan a visit.
At the Alaska SeaLife Center, you can see otters, seals, sea lions, sea birds, and even a small ecosystem of salmon. There are interactive exhibits and demonstrations, and you can even book a puffin encounter!
The only thing you won’t see at the Alaska SeaLife Center is whales, because they’re out exploring the huge watery playground just beyond the walls of the waterfront facility.
5. Go Kayaking in Ressurection Bay
If you want an intimate experience of the marine ecosystem near Seward, there’s no better way than kayaking. There are a number of kayaking tour shops in Seward, but two of the most popular are Liquid Adventures and Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking.
Your kayaking experience depends a lot on which destination you choose and how long you want to go kayaking. For example, Adventure Sixty North offers half-day, full-day, and multi-day kayaking tours; Kayak Adventures Worldwide offers tours in places like Bear Glacier and Fox Island; and Miller’s Landing offers both tours and rentals. There’s a lot of flexibility to make this experience exactly what you want to have!
6. Visit Fox Island
Located out in Resurrection Bay, Fox Island is a scenic point most cruise companies pass while sailing around Kenai Fjords National Park. But did you know that you can actually visit this area, and get away from the “crowds” of Seward (using that term liberally, as Seward is never that crowded!).
There are two ways to reach Fox Island: on a Kenai Fjords cruise (look at the “Kenai Fjords Tours” section of this post), by booking a guided kayak tour (Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking offers this), or by taking a water taxi (#10). Either way, you’ll get to explore the island – if you choose the water taxi, you can hike and kayak to your heart’s content.
7. Go on a Dog Sled Tour
Many people visit Alaska with hopes to meet a sled dog or hold a husky puppy – and I’ll be honest, they’re super cute so I totally see why this is on people’s Alaska bucket lists!
In Seward, there are four providers that offer dog sledding tours:
- Seavey’s Ididaride – Tour the Seavey Homestead and take a cart ride into the Alaskan wilderness, or take a helicopter up to a glacier for a sled ride there instead. (The same glacier dog sledding tour is offered through Alpine Air.)
- Turning Heads – You can also take a kennel tour and cart ride at their facility near Seward. (This same glacier dog sledding tour is offered through Seward Helicopter Tours.)
While Seward isn’t on the Iditarod Trail, you’ll get a sense of what the sport of dog sledding (or mushing) is like and how grueling that race can be. Oh, and yes, both tours have opportunities to snuggle with husky puppies!
Note: These photos were taken on a husky tour near Fairbanks!
8. Book a Deep Sea Fishing Charter
I get a ton of questions about fishing in Alaska, though I’ll admit it wasn’t my thing when I lived there! I do know that Seward is one of the great places for deep sea fishing in Alaska though – my little Italian grandfather had a great time halibut fishing from Seward when he visited us.
Seward has a number of fishing charters; there is an equally diverse number of fish species you can hope to hook. The main target is halibut, which you can work to drag up from the bottom of the deep fjords. If you’re lucky enough to snag a big catch, you can have it shipped up and sent home (here’s what to do with halibut once it arrives).
9. Spot Salmon Swimming Upstream at Bear Creek Weir
If you’d rather see fish than catch them, there’s a place for you too! Bear Creek Weir, located north of town, is one of those unique things to do in Seward that often get overlooked.
A “weir” – if you’re not familiar with the term – is a shallow dam to help control water flow; Bear Creek has a weir to help support the salmon ecosystem in this waterway. Each year, young salmon (called “smolts”) are released into Bear Creek and make their way out to Resurrection Bay and the Pacific Ocean. At the end of their lives, they return to this same creek to spawn and die. The salmon return between June and September: red/sockey salmon return first, followed by silver salmon.
From the viewing platform, you can see tens of thousands of salmon working their way back up stream – some even jump in an attempt to cross the weir back to the waters where they were born.
10. Catch a Water Taxi to Escape the Crowds
If your idea of a good time in Alaska is getting away from crowds of people from the Lower 48, skip the popular day cruise boats and other spots in Seward and head out on a water taxi. There are a number of water taxi providers in Seward (I found 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 options!); they provide service to places including:
- Bear Glacier
- Caines Head
- Fox Island
- Kayaker’s Cove
- Northwestern Fjord
- Thumb Cove
…and others – you can discuss your destination with the company you choose to see what they can do. While these places might not sound like much, some are great for hiking or kayaking, and many have cabins or other property where you can stay and get away from literally everyone else. #socialdistancing
11. Stroll Along the Seward Waterfront
The Seward Waterfront Park stretches from the edge of the harbor in the north to the Alaska SeaLife Center in the south. A path stretches about 1.3 miles along the shores of Resurrection Bay. It’s not a short walk (especially if you do both directions), but it’s easy, flat, and a nice stroll on a sunny Seward day.
Along the way, you’ll pass the town of Seward, campgrounds, and RV parking areas on one side and can enjoy watching the boats head in and out of Seward harbor on the other. The trail ends at the Alaska SeaLife Center and downtown Seward, where you can continue your stroll or stop for a meal (see #15 for suggestions!).
12. Learn Alaska History at the Seward Community Library & Museum
Opened in 2013, the Seward Community Library & Museum is a unique place in Seward for both the community and visitors. It is home to the local library as well as a museum about Alaska – and specifically Seward – history.
The library and museum are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday and are a perfect thing to do on a rainy Seward day when other outdoor activities are less appealing.
13. Hike Mt. Marathon
When you arrive in Seward, you’ll notice a nearby mountain that looms over the city center; this is Mt. Marathon.
The Mount Marathon Race takes place every Fourth of July in Seward; runners climb the mountain in the quickest time possible – yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. It’s not a marathon-length race, but the 5k race ascends (and then descends) almost 3,000 feet in elevation during that distance. It’s definitely for the die-hard Alaskan Sourdough types!
If you’re into hiking but not race-hiking, no worries. Mt. Marathon is open to hikers during the rest of the year. The trailhead is located on the west side of town, at the intersection of Monroe Street and First Avenue.
14. Go Tidepooling at Lowell Point
Located south of Seward along Resurrection Bay, Lowell Point is a community that you can safely say is “part” of Seward – though it’s also its own place worth visiting.
There’s one road that runs from Seward to Lowell Point State Recreation Site, which offers expansive views of Resurrection Bay and plenty of tidepooling opportunities at low tide. If you want to try and spot sea stars, urchins, and other critters that live in these ecosystems, this is the place to do it.
This is also a great family-friendly and free thing to do in Seward – just keep an eye on the tides so you don’t end up with cold wet feet.
15. Sip & Savor the Local Dining Scene
Seward may be a small town by Alaska standards, but its culinary scene is surprisingly strong for the size of the community. Over the years, chefs from other parts of the state (especially Anchorage) have set up their own shops in Seward. This has raised the bar and made for some delicious options during your trip. In fact, I often struggle to choose which restaurants to recommend in Seward when planning custom itineraries for people who only have 1-2 days because there are so many good options!
I have an entire post dedicated to where to eat in Seward, with over a dozen spots I think are fabulous and well worth a meal during your visit.
16. Splurge on a Seward Helicopter Tour
Is your Alaska trip meant to be a bucket list experience with no budget? Well I’ve got one for you then: book a helicopter tour from Seward!
Seward Helicopters is the primary operator for scenic helicopter tours from Seward. They offer four main flights, ranging from 15 minutes to 60 minutes in length. On some routes, you can soar over Harding Ice Field (including Bear Glacier, Aialik Glacier, and Holgate Glacier), as well as parts of Resurrection Bay and the Chugach National Forest on other routes.
If you have the budget for a flightseeing trip like this, I always recommend it – there’s nothing as impressive as seeing how big Alaska really is from the air.
17. Ride the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage
Maybe I should have started with this one, because you can’t do it if you’ve already driven to Seward to do the other things on this list. Anyway, if you’re researching what to do in Seward and haven’t yet decided how to get to/from Seward (from Anchorage, I presume), I recommend checking out the Alaska Railroad.
The Alaska Railroad is known for being an incredibly scenic train ride; the route from Anchorage to/from Seward follows most of the same path as the Seward Highway, along Turnagain Arm and past the Chugach National Forest. Along the way you can look for belugas in Turnagain Arm and mountain goats or Dall sheep on the rocky walls of the arm; opt for the Goldstar Service for the glass-domed train cars that make wildlife and scenery spotting even easier. Once it crosses onto the Kenai Peninsula, the train does deviate some from the highway, offering a glimpse of wild Alaska.
Best of all, the Alaska Railroad depot is located right in downtown Seward, so it’s easy to walk to your hotel if they don’t have a shuttle (or you just want to walk around).
(I should note you can absolutely drive if you choose. As I said, much of the route is the same between the train and Seward Highway and equally scenic when they deviate.)
There you have it – all of the best things to do in Seward! Which one(s) do you want to do on your trip to Seward? Let me know in the comments.
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Thank you for your awesome, informative articles! Question: Have you ever combined a Kenai Fjords cruise with kayaking in one of the glaciers? I keep reading about kayaking in Resurrection Bay, but the glacial kayaking looks pretty interesting as well. Is it worth it to do both?
You can definitely do both, but probably on two separate days. The cruises do a big route; the kayak tours use a boat to take you to one specific glacier for kayaking.
Harding is 4,000 ft elevation gain, not 8,000! Just a heads up. 🙂
🙈 Fixed it! Thanks, Melissa!! (I think I meant elevation “change” bc it’s 4,000 each way…)