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Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park with Kids

Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park with Kids

Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska is a National Park unlike any other. With road access to only Exit Glacier, the remainder of the park is accessible only by boat or kayak, plane or hiking.  The park contains remarkable sites like Fox Island, the Harding Icefield, and Bear Glacier, but you will need to do some planning to access those sites with kids. Here are our best tips for exploring Kenai Fjords National Park with kids.

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When to visit Kenai Fjords National Park with Kids

Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park with Kids 2

Tours of the Kenai Fjords run from the beginning of May to the end of September departing from Seward, Alaska. While Kenai Fjords National Park is open year-round, most boats anchor in Seward for the winter season. Highs during the summer season are typically in the mid-60s. October through April brings temps that peak in the 40s and hover in the 30s.

Know Before You Go

  • Access to the Kenai Fjords National Park is mainly by air or sea. The only park road leads to Exit Glacier, one of the most popular road-accessible glaciers in all of Alaska. 
  • Hiking trails within Kenai Fjords National Park are limited. The only two maintained trails depart from the visitor center at Exit Glacier. For beginners, the walk from the visitor center at Exit Glacier to the glacier itself can take about 20 minutes. For those experienced in hiking, the upper trail departing from the visitor center takes you to a 3,500-foot summit with a spectacular view of the Harding Icefield.  The trail is steep and hikers can expect to gain 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile.
  • The weather can change quickly during your visit. It is important to bring layers of clothing especially on boat tours where the weather can change in an instant.
  • Your day exploration pack should include outer layers of clothing, sunscreen, hats, and a camera to capture the immense amount of wildlife.

Kenai Fjords Tours

Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park with Kids 3

From the moment you arrive in Seward, Alaska, it is clear that the Kenai Fjords National Park is a park unlike any other. In the marina in Seward, families of otters float and play seemingly oblivious to the attention they attract from locals and tourists alike. Large bald eagles hunt from lamp posts while their young sit propped up in trees learning by observation. Still, the beauty of Kenai Fjords Tours only truly unveils itself when explored by sea. I suggest doing so with the Kenai Fjords Tours by Pursuit. 

The Kenai Fjords Tours depart daily from Seward, Alaska beginning in March until early September. During the month of September, families can enjoy the cruise on Sundays. In October, the Kenai Fjords Tours close for the season.

Preparing for the Kenai Fjords Tour

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Before departing for the tour, I suggest packing an adventure bag for kids that includes kid-friendly binoculars and the Kenai Fjords Jr. Ranger Adventure Guide (print online or pick up free at the Seward visitor center or the Exit Glacier Visitor Center). Additional surprises like small snacks and coloring pages will keep kids entertained during the six-hour tour.

The tour kicks off at 8 am or 11:30 am. While chances can be higher of seeing marine life in the mornings, we saw an abundance of wildlife on the 11:30 am departure. Check-in for the tour is easy. Within minutes, you are given a ticket for your family and told to head toward the ship.

Kenai Fjord Tour Stops

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The tour begins with a visit to Resurrection Bay and Aialik Cape where a flurry of birds dash in and out of spectacular rock formations. The tour then heads to Aialik Glacier, the largest glacier in Aialik Bay. Here you can spot harbor porpoises, more sea otters, and even have a chance of seeing bears along the beach.

Soon lunch is served. On the Kenai Fjords Tours lunch is included and guests are treated to a warm chicken wrap, a bag of Alaska chips, fruit, and a granola bar. If anyone in your family has allergies, I would suggest packing a safe meal to bring on the boat.

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The tour continues with a visit to the Holgate Glacier where pieces of iceberg float among a flurry of wildlife including humpback whales and orcas. After the visit, you can even head to the kitchen where the staff serves sodas, waters, and drinks complete with a piece of ice from the glacier.

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The tour ends with the ship getting close to some amazing rookeries filled with native Alaskan birds like puffins and rock cliffs with sunbathing Stellar sea lions.

What I truly enjoyed about the tour was the ease with which the crew made the tour both educational and fun. Crew members and the captain provided tidbits of information throughout the cruise while also sitting down individually with kids to show them wildlife photos and explain the cruise charting course that is visible on a large screen.

For our family, the six-hour tour flew by and we returned to shore comparing photos and memories of which wildlife sightings were our favorites.

Fox Island Dinner Cruise

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Another amazing way to see the Kenai Fjords National Parks is to head out on the Fox Island Dinner Cruise. Fox Island is a 12-mile boat ride from Seward, Alaska but a world away. You arrive at the island to the theme song of Jurassic Park being played over loudspeakers on the boat. This funny touch pays homage to the grandiose nature of the island. Here, mist-covered beaches beckon you to come and play while a canopy of trees climbs the hills of Fox Island.

While the name is Fox Island about the only thing you won’t find here is foxes. The island gets its name from the fox farming that took place on there in the early 1900’s. Farmers kept foxes on the island giving them the run of the land until they harvested the foxes’ fur. This practice no longer occurs on the island and no foxes remain.

The Fox Island Dinner Cruise takes you to the Kenai Fjord Wilderness Lodge, a hotel that features private waterfront cabins you will want to look into booking. Chefs serve dinner in the expansive lodge with indoor or outdoor dining. Fresh local selections include Alaska-caught salmon and fresh king crab legs. Salads and desserts, as well as other choices of protein, are provided. We chose to sit outside hoping to get a glimpse of the sea life that often visit the waters surrounding the lodge. These include puffins, sea lions, and seals. Visitors often report even spotting whales.

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After dinner, you are given time to explore the island or visit the pristine beach. We skipped stones and explored before boarding the ship to a welcome of fresh baked cookies.

Exploring the Kenai Fjords out of Seward, Alaska with Pursuit

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As with any Alaskan adventure, you will want to be book tours before arriving in Seward, Alaska. Many tours sell out and you will not want to miss out on the adventures offered by Pursuit. The tours are educational and fun but most impressive is the attention paid to children and younger travelers. When whales or Steller sea lions are spotted crew members help younger guests ensuring they also get to experience the magic of seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild. I found the Fox Island Dinner Cruise crew to be particularly attentive to kids never passing by without a high-five.  All in all, I would highly recommend the Pursuit Alaskan Collection tours for anyone heading to the Kenai Fjords National Parks with kids.

Check for amazing deals on family-friendly hotels in Seward, Alaska.

Exploring more of Alaska? Check out our guide to exploring Denali National Park with Kids

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Lead Image by Bigstock/Steven Schremp.

Images by Sarah Pittard unless otherwise noted.

Disclosure: My family received a complimentary Kenai Fjords Tour and Fox Island Dinner Cruise. All opinions are my own.

Sarah Pittard