Visit Exit Glacier
There are some glaciers you can drive to, but very few that you can stroll to. With just a 10-to-15-minute drive out of Seward, you can hike right up to the Kenai Fjords National Park's Exit Glacier and experience the dense, blue ice while listening to it crackle.
One of the most visited glaciers in the world, Exit Glacier earned its name from grateful backcountry travelers. It descends about 3,000 feet in just a few miles, forming a stunning, natural ramp for mountaineers exiting the immense Harding Icefield. Its hard ice—fluted and crevassed—is close to a visitor center in the only portion of Kenai Fjords National Park that’s accessible by road. The setting has a primeval feel—scoured bedrock, craggy ice, rushing water, and a flourishing new forest with towering cottonwoods above jungled thickets.
Exit Glacier Trail System
Hike It On Your Own
A network of flat, well-maintained trails reach from the visitor center to the toe of the glacier. A good start would be take the wheelchair accessible Glacier View Loop (one mile total) to a view spot overlooking the outwash plain with a sweeping panorama of the glacier’s descent. From the loop, the Glacier Overlook Trail extends another .6 mile and climbs part way up the exposed rock to an overlook of the glacier itself.
These paths feature a vivid journey into natural history, where you’ll see how the vegetation has rebounded and flourished in response to the gradual melting and recession of the glacier. Markers have been placed showing retreating location of the glacier’s toe over the past 120 years. Recent years have seen substantial shrinkage at the toe, too, exposing more of the gravel outwash plain where Exit Creek roars from its snout.
You’ll find good footing and interpretive signs, explaining how the plant life returns after the ice. There’s also a self-guided audio tour on The Alaska App, narrated by the Park Service’s chief interpretive ranger. Walk the "Edge of the Glacier Trail" (also known as the Lower Trail) to get a good photo in front of glacier ice, it's not huge, but it looks big up close. The trail also provides access for people with disabilities.
For avid backpackers, the general area along the Exit Glacier Road has many places to explore and camp. Check out the Resurrection River Trail at Mile 7 of Exit Glacier Road.
Harding Icefield Trail
For physically fit hikers, a strenuous four-mile trail parallels the glacier’s north edge on a 3,000-foot ascent to the ice field, offering spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding mountains along the way. This challenging day hike rewards you with an overlook of the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield, the source of 38 named glaciers, including Exit and the tidewater glaciers on the Kenai Fjords outer coast.
No special equipment is necessary for this trail from about June through early October, although a hiking stick and good hiking boots would provide extra support; bring extra layers, as it may be significantly colder at the icefield. The trail traverses fragile alpine areas, so please take care not to damage the vegetation via shortcuts.
If getting close isn’t enough, you can also join a guiding company for a glacier hike or ice climbing class. The sheer ice walls, deep blue holes (called moulins) and creaking ice make it an unforgettable experience.
Park Service programs. There is a short interpretive talk at 12pm and ranger-led walks daily at 10am, 2pm and 4pm, from Memorial Day through Labor Day on the Lower Trail, as well as a longer guided hike to the Harding Icefield (gaining 3,500 ft in 4.1 miles) takes place at 9am on Saturdays in July and August. From June through August you can catch a guided 3-mile (steep) hike to Marmot Meadows led by a ranger, departing at 9am daily.
Professional guides. Explore the trails with Seward Wilderness Collective or Exit Glacier Guides. They will lead you on a guided hike on the Lower Trail or to Harding Icefield, all while providing information about how climate change has affected the landscape, wildlife, and people of Alaska.
Exit Glacier Guides also offers trips onto the ice itself. Traverse the majesty of Exit Glacier by ice hiking or ice climbing, or opt for a nature hike in the gorgeous terrain around Seward, Alaska. Never ice climbed? Not a problem. All trips include instruction to get you started.
Want to see what Exit Glacier looks like as it falls off the Harding Ice Field—but don’t have the energy to hike the Exit Glacier Trail all the way up there? Watch our 23-second clip as we fly from the ice field down the glacier all the way to the gravel river bar at 600 mph. Watch the video above!
Head south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway about 120 miles to the outskirts of Seward. At about Mile 3 (and just before the bridge over the Resurrection River,) turn west on Herman Leirer Road, which almost everyone calls "Exit Glacier Road." Drive 8.4 miles to parking for the nature center.