The Best Things To Do in Seward, Alaska: Explore by Sea, Land and Air
August 14, 2021
Table of Contents
Seward is a small Alaskan town located right on a bay and surrounded by mountains. The town is known for being the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, an amazing park that you can explore by sea or land. As you walk around downtown Seward, you’ll see lots of murals, colorful storefronts and a backdrop of snow capped mountains. Seward is an incredible place for hiking, boating, fishing and enjoying the views.
Lydia Jacoby, an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal at age 17, is from Seward! My visit was right after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and signs all around town were congratulating her win.
My trip to Seward was in August and I had great weather! There were some crowds but they were limited to the lack of cruises in 2021. Seward is accessible year round but your experience would be much different in summer vs the winter. In the summer, temperatures are typically in the 50’s and 60’s °F, while in the winter they range in the 20’s and 30’s °F.
Like many cold weather destinations, you will experience less crowds and more peace if you visit during shoulder season, which is in May and late September.
If seeing whales in the bay is a priority for you, visit early in the summer in June for the best chances.
Seward is a popular cruise port in Alaska and prior to the pandemic, a majority of tourists came here by cruise. I arrived by flying into Anchorage and renting a car. The drive between Seward and Anchorage is about 2 and a half hours and is full of stunning views. You will drive along Alaska Route One right along the bay and might even have the chance to see whales. I loved the freedom of having a rental car in Alaska, but keep in mind that it can be expensive and that construction delays are common in the summer months.
Another great option is taking the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Seward. The train typically departs at only once each day but offers the same great views as driving with less stress.
There are several hotel options in Seward but I opted to stay at the Hotel Seward, a family-owned hotel located in the heart of downtown. There are two wings of the hotel, one having more historic rooms and the other with more modern rooms. Some rooms involve a shared bathroom which will save you some money! The lobby is decorated with taxidermy, painted Alaskan wildlife and kitschy decor. There is also a nice restaurant in the hotel that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I enjoyed my stay here, especially for the central location and good value.
Kenai Fjords is a national park on the Kenai Peninsula that is primarily accessible by water. The park is home to nearly 40 glaciers that flow from the Harding Icefield. There is only one road through the land portion of the national park and about half of the park area is covered in ice! I highly recommend making time to both explore the park from the water and by hiking.
There are several options for exploring Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay by water. I booked a full day kayaking excursion with Kayak Adventures Worldwide out to Aialik Glacier. The trip began on a water taxi through Resurrection Bay, where we got lucky and saw a whale. Then, we had views of Bear Glacier and the Cove of the Spires on the 3 hour ride out to Aialik Glacier, where we would get into sea kayaks and explore the bay around the glacier. Unfortunately, one of the boat’s engines broke down halfway through the trip and we had to slowly make our way back to the port without kayaking. Kayak Adventures Worldwide wasn’t at fault and gave us a full refund, so I still highly recommend this company. They focus on the health of the wilderness, safety of their guests and of the wildlife. They are also a member of 1% for the Planet and commit at least 1% of their annual sales to nonprofit organizations. We loved our guide and really enjoyed getting to see whales in the bay, puffins in the Cove of Spires and Bear Glacier.
The cove of the spires is an area of dramatic rock formations towering out of the water in Kenai Fjords.
If you aren’t interested in kayaking, there are several boats that will take you around the bay and offer an amazing chance to see wildlife. The best time to see whales tends to be from mid-May to mid-June, but they can be seen all summer. One company to look at is Major Marine.
Another popular water excursion in Seward is to take a fishing charter. Tours range from a half day to a full day and provide an opportunity to catch halibut, king salmon and silver salmon. If you visit in August, you can even participate in the Silver Salmon Derby, where you can win a prize if you catch the tagged fish.
Whether you want to sightsee, kayak or fish, it’s definitely worth exploring the Kenai Peninsula by water during your trip to Seward.
The boat on Resurrection Bay was very cold and windy in August, be sure to come prepared with layers and warm clothing.
Hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park offers an amazing opportunity to see a glacier and a massive ice field up close. For an easy hike for all ages, Exit Glacier is a must. The hike is 2.2 miles with 308 feet of elevation gain. Note that there is no cell service here, so be sure to come prepared with offline maps. However, the trail was very marked and easy to follow.
The hike begins flat in a forest area and then has some incline as you get closer to the glacier. There are a few rocks to climb over as you get closer to the glacier. As you get closer to the glacier (and even on your drive in), you will see signs marked with years. These show where the glacier reached on the marked year, so they get more recent as you get closer.. The glacier has been shrinking at an alarming pace in recent years, roughly 162 feet per year. Seeing this in person is a sobering experience and a very visible indication of climate change.
As you loop around past the glacier viewing spots, you can then get up close to the glacier wash that extends out from Exit Glacier. You will see streams carving through rocks in every direction.
Please be sure to stay on the trail during this hike (and any hike). There were people going off trail to try and get closer to the glacier, and this is not only very dangerous but also harmful to the fragile landscape.
For a more difficult hike beginning from the same trailhead as Exit Glacier, the Harding Icefield trail offers amazing views overlooking the icefield that feeds all of the glaciers in Kenai Fjords. The hike is 9.2 miles and has 3,641 feet of elevation gain. It climbs above the tree line and will reward you at the end with a view of ice and snow as far as the eye can see. If you go on this hike, be sure to be prepared with bear spray, proper hiking shoes and the ten essentials. You also may want trekking poles due to the steepness! I did not have time for this hike but it’s high on my list for my next trip.
If you have more time, here are some more trail options around Seward outside of the national park.
- Caines Head Trail: 14 miles, 4,796 feet of elevation gain. Follows along the bay and leads to an old fort.
- Lost Lake Trail: 13.8 miles, 2,631 feet of elevation gain. Has incredible views throughout.
- Tonsina Creek Trail: 3.4 miles, 734 feet of elevation gain. This trail is the first part of the Caines Head trail and provides a prime opportunity to see salmon.
The Alaska Sealife Center is a nonprofit aquarium that focuses on the rehabilitation of local wildlife. During your visit, you can see octopus, puffins, otters and a variety of other local wildlife. This is the only permanent marine mammal rescue facility in Alaska and worth a visit if you have the time.
Seward is a great place to see from above with a flightseeing tour! You can fly over some of the many glaciers, mountains and the surrounding area. After my flight tour in Denali was canceled due to weather, I was able to squeeze in a helicopter ride in Seward with Marathon Helicopters. It was a short ride but we flew over some glaciers on the opposite side of the bay of Kenai Fjords and the scenery was incredibly stunning. We even got to see some dall sheep from above! While this is commonly canceled due to weather, it’s a great experience if you have the time and the budget! Marathon Helicopters also offers helicopter drop offs for backcountry hikes.
Another cool excursion is to take a helicopter to a dog sledding adventure. You will take a helicopter from the Seward airport, land on a glacier, tour the kennels and take a sled ride! Companies that offer this include Seward Adventure Center and Idiaride.
Resurrect Art Coffee House is a combination of coffee shop and local art store inside of a former church. There are tons of local art pieces for sale, from earrings to mugs to shirts and more. The food was also great and they had a good selection of sweet, savory options and gluten free options. There is seating upstairs next to the beautiful stained glass windows. I really enjoyed the cheddar biscuit.
Over by the Seward boat harbor, you can enjoy coffee in a train car! 13 Ravens Coffee & Books has books for sale along with great coffee. The shop features books by local authors and the staff is super friendly. Step outside and you can enjoy beautiful views of the harbor with your coffee. Right across from 13 Ravens, The Smoke Shack is a great option for a hearty breakfast meal.
For a nice meal in Seward, The Cookery is a must! You will want to have a reservation for this popular restaurant, but we were able to get in after a 2 and a half hour wait starting right at opening for dinner. It is located right next to Hotel Seward, where we stayed, so this was not a big deal for us.
The restaurant served farm to table selections using ingredients local to the Kenai Peninsula. Menu items include fresh oysters, fish, local produce and more. The menu changes seasonally but I really enjoyed the potato jo-jo’s appetizer (deep fried alaskan peanut potatoes with cheese and hot sauce aioli) and the vegan burnt ends main dish (BBQ smoked cauliflower and beets). The flavors were incredible and I loved the creativity of the dishes. We were able to sit at the bar of this bustling restaurant and watch the bartenders at work. I highly recommend this spot if you’re looking for a nice meal during your time in Seward.
Seward Brewing Company is a great casual restaurant in town that serves local beer, burgers, tacos and more. They have a witty menu that shares tidbits like “We have no public wifi. Talk to each other.” I enjoyed the vegan tacos, the soft pretzels and a local seltzer. I’m a vegetarian but others rave about their halibut curry.
- The Highliner Restaurant
- Gold Rush Bistro
- Woody’s Thai Kitchen
- Sea Bean Cafe
On your way driving into Seward, there are a couple stunning roadside sights that are worth quick stops. The closest one to Seward is the Chugach Heritage Site, a scenic overlook with an amazing view looking out at the mountains. It is not labeled on Google maps but is located at 60°15'47.4"N 149°20'36.3"W, 15 minutes outside of Seward.
Next, as you continue on towards Route One, you will pass through the small town of Moose Pass, where you can see beautiful views of the Upper Trail Lake. Right before you reach Route One, make a quick stop at Tern Lake, a gorgeous lake that often has beautiful mountain reflections and wildflowers in the summer.
If you continue west on Route One, you can visit the coastal town of Homer. Homer is another great town for fishing and seeing wildlife on the coast. If you head northeast on Route One back towards Anchorage, it’s worth making stops at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, hiking to Byron Glacier, taking a cruise on Portage Lake and entering the mountain tunnel to visit the small town of Whittier. There is so much to do on the Kenai Peninsula and you will easily be able to fill up any amount of time that you have!
I hope this helps you plan your Alaska road trip! For more information on visiting Alaska, check out these blogs:
- A Guide to Visiting Denali National Park
- A Guide to Visiting Matanuska Glacier
- A comparison of the Denali Transit Bus to the Narrated Tour
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