Home » National Parks » Kenai Fjords National Park » Exit Glacier You See What is Best About Kenai Fjords

On this trip to Alaska, we rented an RV for our Alaska dream vacation to visit a few National Parks. Today it’s a beautiful morning. Our Alaskan road trip itinerary today includes a visit to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. The road to Exit Glacier, on the Seward Highway, is heavily traveled in the summer months. Exit Glacier is only one glacier within Kenai Fjords National Park. There is no entrance fee for the Park. However, one way we support our National Parks is by purchasing an annual park pass. We love America the Beautiful pass because it gains us entrance into all the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands. The pass costs $80 for one year.

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KenaiFjordsNPsign with Us-ExitGlacier
KenaFjords NP-Exit Glacier

Sensational Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

The park encompasses nearly 65% of the Harding Icefield. Exit Glacier Road is the only road-accessible portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Exit Glacier is a glacier derived from the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Mountains of Alaska. It is a valley glacier that flows down from the Harding Icefield. It received its name after being the “exit” for the first recorded crossing of the Harding icefield in 1968. 

Getting to Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier is conveniently accessible by road. The turnoff to Exit Glacier Road is 3.7-miles from Seward (MM3) and 74-miles from Anchorage on the Seward Highway. Exit Glacier Road follows the Resurrection River, giving panoramic views of the mountains. The glacier is at the end of Exit Glacier Road.

Exit Glacier is one of the most popular road-accessible glaciers in the state. The peak months to visit Exit Glacier are June, July, and August.

The parking lot is at the end of Exit Glacier Road. There was plenty of RV parking when we arrived early morning. The parking fills in the warmer months, especially with tour buses from the cruise ships.

ExitGlacier-Kenai Fjords National Park
Exit Glacier-Kenai Fjords National Park

Discover the Exit Glacier Nature Center

A short walk from the parking lot leads to a small ranger station-Nature Center. You will want to start your visit by stopping in at Exit Glacier Nature Center open 9:00 AM 5:00 PM in summer.

The Nature Center is a great educational opportunity. Look at the interactive displays on the glacial geology & history. To effectively plan your day, you will find all the trail and weather information. You can then decide what kind of adventure is best for your day. Before embarking on the trail to the top of the glacier, be sure to pick up a map while in the Nature Center.

Another option is to do the self-guided audio tour on The Alaska App, narrated by the Park Service’s chief interpretive ranger.

Exit Glacier Visitor Center-Kenai Fjords NP
Exit Glacier Visitor Center-Kenai Fjords NP

The Nature Center has a clean restroom with flush toilets. You can fill up your nondisposable reusable water bottle you brought with you near the restrooms. Hydration is the most important thing when climbing the trail. Drink often during your visit to Exit Glacier while on your hike, carry along quick and easy snacks. Trekking poles and bear spray would certainly help if you plan the Harding Icefield Trail. At certain times of the year, bug spray may be an additional item you will need.

Take a Ranger-Led Tour

Take a ranger-led walk on the trail to Glacier View Lookout for pictures, and onto Glacier Overlook. Spectacular views of Exit Glacier. Offered daily at 10 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you prefer, professional guided tours are available.

Glacier location 1961
Glacier location 1961

What Trails Should You Hike in the Park?

Short but Sweet Hike the Glacier View Trail

Different trails give different perspectives of the glacier. The easiest trail is the “Glacier View Trail” also called the “Lower Trail.” This one-mile wheelchair-accessible loop through a dense cottonwood forest.

The trail can be traveled clockwise or counter-clockwise and takes about 20-minutes to walk the entire loop. A spotting scope is available at the viewpoint. The Glacier View has stunning views of the outwash plain and toe of the glacier.

NOTE: they paved the trail for only a portion of the walk. Soft gravel completes the trail.

glacierviewtrail-Kenai Fjords NP
Glacier View Trail

Strategically placed markers showing the glacier’s recession over the past 120 years are placed along the trail. They believe that at one time, Exit Glacier reached the town of Seward about 8-miles away. Climate change is real!!

Moderately Difficult – Glacier Overlook Trail

We followed the half-mile paved trail, which is a part of the Glacier View trail before veering left onto the Glacier Overlook Trail. The trail takes you through a densely wooded area before emerging onto the rocky glacial moraine.

Glacier Overlook-Kenai Fjords National Park
Glacier Overlook-Kenai Fjords National Park

We followed the relatively well-maintained trail reaching the top of the glacial valley. To get to the edge of the glacier is a moderately strenuous hike, which is a roughly 1.2 miles. The trail has an elevation gain of 429 feet. The Glacier Overlook Trail provides the ultimate view of the glacial valley below. It is really hard to express in words what you see, it is awe-inspiring.

Glacier Overlook Trail
Glacier Overlook Trail

The Harding Icefield – Trail All Day Hike 

Harding Icefield Trail climbs 3,500 feet in 4.2 miles to the top of the cliff. It covers 700-square-miles, however; the reward is sweeping vistas of the entire glacier. Allow all day for this hike-6-8 hours. Dress in layers as the winds blow off the glacier, the air becomes chilly. There are a lot of opportunities to see wildlife as you travel through heather-filled meadows and tundra above the treeline. A good pair of binoculars makes spotting wildlife easier. This is bear habitat, so make noise and keep a keen eye.

Exit Glacier-Upper Ice Field-Kenai Fjords NP
Exit Glacier-Upper Ice Field-Kenai Fjords NP

The ice appears crystalline blue as the light scatters blue hues of sunlight like a prism. We can see little caverns and crevasses throughout the glacier. Visitors should take care venturing into the icefield. It is amazing in the bright sunshine; the colors are stunning!

Although we set out to reach the top of the icefield, we only made it about halfway. We just did not have the time today or the stamina to make it to the top of the trail. Be aware in the spring, the trail may be unimproved and not well marked. The orange markers often shift or move during winter.

Harding Icefield Trail Stats
Harding Icefield Trail Stats

Getting Your Feet Wet!

Instead, we took the paved/gravel trail and entered the outwash plain. We were determined to reach the toe of the glacier. Flow from the base of the glacial melt zone creates many braided stream channels, so keeping your feet dry is not an option for walking the outwash plain. I would advise good hiking shoes or wading boots with neoprene socks. You must walk along and through the rushing waters of Exit Creek to reach the base of the glacier. The braided stream of the Exit Creek weaves its way across the outwash plain. No marked trail since the river is constantly changing, creating new channels with increased or decreased meltwater. The meltwaters eventually join those of the Resurrection River.

Meandering Braided Streams on the exit Glacier Floodplain
Meandering Braided Streams on the Exit Glacier Floodplain

Walking the Outwash Plain – Not so Easy

The stream water is freezing, the rocks are slipper-care should be taken when walking the outwash plain. We soaked our feet walking in the water, but that did not deter us from our destination. Although today the weather is warm and sunny, we feel the ice-cold water and the wind that is created by thermal currents on the glacier surface. It was exhilarating trying to make our way along the gravel outwash. It was worth the extra effort.

Exit Glacier-Outwash Plain
Exit Glacier-Outwash Plain

From the base, you can easily walk on top of the glacier. Stepping out onto the glacier is fantastic, well worth the short hike. You can see the rushing meltwater, the ice has overhangs in some areas, be safe, these tunnels can collapse at any time. Small crevices line the glacier.

Toe of the Glacier Exit Galcier-KFNP
Toe of the Glacier Exit Galcier-KFNP

End of the Trail – The Glacial Moraine

On our walk back, the breeze was quite cool from the occasional gusts of wind from the glacier. These gusts are katabatic wind caused by the cool air rushing down the glacier, much like the rush of air that comes out of your freezer door on a hot sunny day. Moraines align the sides of the glacier. Similar to a bulldozer pushing material away, the glacier displaces large boulders.

Exit Glacier continues to melt at a rapid pace because of the ever-increasing temperatures in Alaska. Today it is one of the fastest retreating glaciers in Alaska receding 100-200 feet per year.

Living Laboratory
Living Laboratory

The Many Views of the Resurrection River

After returning to our RV, we changed into dry footwear and grabbed a snack and warm drinks. This is the luxury of traveling by RV in Alaska. Everything is so handy. Full-time RVers have a carbon footprint of 28% smaller than a standard household.

Resurrection River-Seward Highway Alaska
Resurrection River-Seward Highway Alaska

We made our way back down the Exit Road, stopping at a few pullouts to take in the views of the mountain alpine glaciers on the other side of the Resurrection River. From these pullouts, you can take in the U-shaped valleys created by the retreating glacier. Other glacial features include cirques, rock striations, and rock slides.

Let me enjoy the earth no less 
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Had other aims than my delight. -Thomas Hardy

Final Thoughts-You See What is Best About Kenai Fjords National Park at Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier is truly a remarkable sight and one of the best places to experience the beauty and wonder of the Kenai Fjords National Park. It gave us the chance to witness firsthand the incredible power of nature and the impact of climate change on our planet. As one of the most accessible glaciers in the park, it provided a unique opportunity to explore the natural world up close and learn about the forces that have shaped this magnificent landscape.

A visit to Seward would not be complete without stopping at Exit Glacier. make sure to have Exit Glacier on your Alaskan road trip itinerary.

Have you been to Alaska? Did you visit Exit Glacier? Please share in the comments below your favorite memory of Exit Glacier, Alaska.

Exit Glacier-Kenai Fjords National Park