On the south coast of Alaska, in the mountainous region of the Kenai Peninsula lies Seward. It is surrounded by high mountainsides and in good weather conditions is reflected as a mirror image in a blue bay. It is both a fishing port as well as a tourist attraction and has a sizeable nature and wildlife centre.
The bay is part of the Resurrection Bay, a fjord where the rock formations overwhelmingly dominate, where tidewater glaciers slide into the sea and where the wildlife is present in all its glory.
From out of Anchorage you can reach Seward by travelling via the busy Seward highway. After 200 km of travelling along the Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains, you slowly descend passed the Moose Pass to sea level over a wide road into the, during the summer months, ever bustling Seward.
The harbour is full of activity. Each coastal port in Alaska has its own fishing fleet. A colourful selection of fishing boats; the loading and discharging of fish, the preparations for shipping, and a motley collection of nets on the quayside, and sometimes in the background one of the big cruise ships are the active parts in this décor. The harbour is privy to completely renewed scaffolding with its unique fresh looking boardwalks which ensures that the fishing element doesn’t give a messy impression.
Many cruise ships replenish the fishing fleet. Yachts, sport fishing boats and large/small sized fjord marine touring ships are moored criss-cross all over the place and provide for the continual hustle and bustle in the harbour.
The cruise ships that Seward have included in their program sail a few times a week to Seward allowing thousands of passengers to be able to thoroughly enjoy themselves in this small settlement. The shops are then overcrowded. The marine touring ships are also crammed full.
In the winter there are approximately 2500 people living in Seward. In the summer there could be at least 5000 to 6000 people roaming around per day. Busses, campers and cars cause for overcrowding in the large parking areas. Café’s, restaurants, souvenir shops and the booking offices for the fjord trips are then undermanned. The real enjoyment comes when the weather is good and the sun is shining and you can see the reflection of the mountains in the blue waters of the fjord.
Because the fjord is connected with the “Gulf of Alaska”, a stretch of sea that is quite unpredictable, one has to take into account the rain, wind, fog and low hanging clouds. The Seward charm quickly disappears and the villages open structure can very easily ruin any excursion. Only plan a sea excursion after you are sure that the weather conditions are going to be good during the coming days and that there is a high pressure area.
The fjord is one of the finest in Alaska. While sailing through it you experience a sort of intimacy. The mountain slopes give protection, the horizon beckons and the glaciers turn a green-white colour that is framed by the mountain slopes on the horizon. The mountain walls plunge steeply from a height into the bay. The waters edge has been finely formed as a result of the constant chaffing of the constantly moving waters and the waves.
The rocks are overgrown with brushes and trees of up to four hundred meters above water level. Above that the light green mountain grasslands drape the fjords décor. The snowy mountain tops and icy plains glitter like a blob of cream in the divide between the mountains and the sky. The colours are clear and even transparent. The mountain sides are unspoilt. No houses, no mountain pathways, not even a trail.
A few tide glaciers slide from great heights into the sea. With their side runners the white snow masses meander into the depths becoming bluer and bluer. When they reach the fjord waters some of them can reach up to an impressive height of 50 to 100 meters. The summer heat takes its toll. Large chunks and fragments regularly fall with a thundering force into the quiet waters below. The tourists anxiously wait in silence for that ultimate moment when an 80 meter high ice pillar is released from the glacier and plunges into the sea. The view is breathtaking. The mighty wall of ice showing its capricious forms, which have been caused by the continuous pounding of the waters. The seals are resting on the sheets of ice that are drifting in the water in front of the glacier. The sunlight shows its beautiful colours around the ice wall and the small ice bergs in the water. White, deep blue, blue, grey and green. It is particularly quiet and cold. If you hear a loud noise that sounds like thunder you quickly leave the ice wall and maybe you might get lucky and just get to see the chunk of ice that has disappeared in the water.
The last rock masses that close the fjord off from the open sea are the bird rocks. The puffins, cormorants, gulls, eagles, and murres nest there by the thousands. They form a three dimensional dance of bird movements above the seas moving waves.
The sea lions laze on the rocks and give you the impression that these flabby fatty scallywags can do nothing else but laze around. Far from it, they are very hard workers.
The animal kingdom is also present during your trip to this special glacier and bird sanctuary. The sea otter is the first pleasant fjord occupant that lazily looks at you while floating in the water. You can see eagles on the mountain slopes, mountain goats and even the busy bears at a very close distance.
You will be surprised to see the dolphins in the water, mostly orcas and even whales. The Humpback Whale. It is always a quest full of adventure to be able to digitally capture a springing whale or orca on film or photo. A close-up of a humpback whale is very special and even more special if the orca is in the process of catching a sea lion. This black-white-black gleaming fish slings the sea lion high above the water and pulverizes her in his mouth.
These sorts of images are mostly in your dreams. Even without them the fjord trips are unforgettable.
Back in Seward a visit to the Sea Life Centre is really worth it. All sea and fjord animals that are small enough to be housed in a building complex can be found there. Through their specific design you can photograph or film the birds, fishes and sea animals in their natural form. What you missed on your boat journey can be recorded here.
From Seward there is a day trip to the Exit glacier, this should not be missed. By driving with the car in the direction of the glacier (approx. 9 miles) you arrive at the foot of the glacier. Eventually you can park in the big parking area of the Visitor Information Centre of the rangers of the “Kenai Fjords National Park”.
Via an asphalt path you walk in the direction of the glacier. On the path you will find the dates that show the historical foot of the glacier line. While walking you will clearly see how quickly the glacier has drawn back.
Arriving at the foot of the glacier and via a marked trail you can touch the ice barrier. You can also choose to walk to the roof of the glacier. A pithy walk of a few hours. The green mountain slopes are the black bears domain. You see them regularly and a lot of the visitors come back with stories of coming across a bear a few meters away.
Above the glacier you will notice the white landscape of the Harding Ice Field that is covered with tens of miles of snow. This can give, especially when the weather is good, a titillating spectacle. A walk over the glacier is certainly worth it. Glaciers are very dangerous because of the cracks that are usually covered by snow. Without the proper knowledge, experience and skills you could quite unexpectedly fall tens of meters and disappear down below. You must do this with an experienced guide. Even if you could see the cracks, crossing is a hell of a job. The crampons, glacier sticks, the ropes for lining up and the safety elements are not to be omitted.
In the area there are other trails apart from the Exit Glacier trail. There are too many activities available to be able to cover them in one day. There are enough camping’s available. Especially the camping on this beach is highly recommended. There you have electricity and even water facilities.
Stony Creek campground is situated approx. 6 miles from Seward. The camping lies sheltered between the trees along a small river. It is the only campground with a good camping quality. There are facilities for: water, electricity, and wifi- internet connections. The central bathroom and toilet facilities are good and are kept very clean. There is also a laundry. This camping is very suitable during bad weather.
We hope that our description of Seward and its surroundings has given you an impression of the richness that Seward can offer with regard to nature and its natural beauty.
Writing something also has its limits. Below you will find a series of photos of Seward and its surroundings which will surely fill in any gaps which we may have left out.
Rika and Harry Houthuijsen.