Seward

Eric Benshetler
The Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward is very scenic. The Turnagain Arm has a significant tidal change, so we saw areas covered with water on our way to Seward which were wide mudflats on our return trip. We also noticed several areas with dead trees. During the 1964 earthquake and resulting tsunamis, salt water flooded the land, killing trees along the coastline which still stand. Further south into the Kenai Peninsula, we drove through the Chugach Mountains, many of which have glaciers on top. It was dark by the time we arrived in Seward, noticeably earlier than in Denali since we were over 350 miles further south. We checked into the Edgewater Hotel on the far side of the town. Our room had a small balcony and a view of Mount Alice across Resurrection Bay. As in Denali, the room had limited storage space and no iron/ironing board, although one could be requested. Our room did have a microwave and small refrigerator; I'm not sure whether all the rooms have these. The surrounding neighborhood doesn’t show up in the photos on their web site, but it’s not too bad. Parking in front of the hotel is limited to 2 hours during the day, so they have a gravel lot about a block and a half up 5th Avenue. There are several shops and restaurants on 4th Avenue. We ate dinner twice at Christo’s Palace, near 4th and Railway Avenue, which was quite good. The hotel includes a very extensive breakfast buffet. We took a few walks up the bike path that runs around the bay, which seemed to have a couple miles RVs and tents along the water. Seward was the first spot where we saw salmon swimming upstream, at a small stream near the northern end of the bike path. For our first full day in Seward, we drove out to Exit Glacier. This is a short driving distance from town in Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s a short hike to the glacier of less than a mile, which is flat at the beginning but gets steeper near the glacier. Expect cold, gusty winds when you get there! Take a jacket but leave any hats behind. There are signs on the way in with years on them that mark where the front of the glacier was in different years. It’s amazing how far back the Alaskan glaciers have retreated in only the last few decades. The trail gets very close to the front of the glacier, much closer than any other glacier we visited on our vacation. On the way back from the glacier, take the side nature trail. There was one spot that was marked as flooded out, but we were able to pick up the trail further on. The trail takes you right down to the water flowing from the glacier. Our older son was able to fish out a small 3-inch piece of glacier ice that was flowing by. The trail also has signs explaining the succession of plants that appear as a glacier retreats. It probably took about 2-3 hours to drive out of town, see the glacier and trail, and drive back. If you have more time and are up to a more challenging trail, there’s a side trail up to the Harding Icefield from which the glacier flows. On our second day, we took the 11:30 AM six-hour Kenai Fjords National Park boat tour offered by Kenai Fjords Tours. I had booked this a few weeks in advance. They didn’t send tickets as the Denali shuttle bus did, but they did have my name on their list. Parking in front of their office at the small boat harbor is limited to only a few hours, so they have a parking lot a few blocks away (at the corner of Seward Highway and Phoenix, just past the Benny Benson Memorial heading out of town) with frequent shuttle buses. It’s always difficult for a tour to plan wildlife sightings and the captain said that this was one of the better ones she’s led, but even if we had seen fewer animals this would have been an outstanding boat trip. We saw puffins, seals, two pods of orcas, two different types of porpoises, including one group of about 40-50 that swam alongside and under our boat, a fin whale, and a humpback whale that was so close to the boat that we could see it underwater. The destination of the boat trip was a large glacier that was calving while we floated quietly for about 20 minutes a short distance away. With the engine off, we could hear the thunder-like cracking of the glacier as it slowly moved, with pieces falling into the water every few minutes. The crew fished out several large pieces of ice that they put in a big plastic bowl near the galley for us to look at and touch on the return trip. The boat itself was large with lots of places to watch from inside and outside, a galley with water and lemonade and reasonably priced snacks, and several clean heads (restrooms). The lunch that was included in our trip was several fish sticks or chicken fingers with potato chips. The crew also served warm chocolate chip cookies on the return trip. I highly recommend both of these trips in Seward. We spread them out over a three-night stay, but it might be possible to do both in one day if you’re in Seward for only two nights. You could also see Exit Glacier while leaving town for Anchorage after the second night if you get an early start. The boat tour asks people to check in an hour before the trip. I don’t know what the park’s hours are but you should be able to contact them in advance for details.

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