The picturesque port town of Seward lies at the end of Resurrection Bay, a sheltered fjord on Alaska’s forested Kenai Peninsula. The views here are vast, where you’ll witness mile upon mile of dense forest of spruce and hemlock, jagged mountains, capped with snow, and endless skies.
Seward is the gateway to the misty beauty of the Kenai Fjords National Park and to the west, the 700-square mile expanse of the Harding Icefield. As such, the town is a magnet for lovers of the outdoors and a base from which to try everything from sea kayaking to dog sledding.
The town itself is buzzing with activity, whether you choose to stroll around the bustling harbor, watch life on the water, or explore the craft breweries, galleries, and historic buildings of the scenic downtown area. Here are 11 unforgettable things to do in Seward.
Stroll Along the Waterfront
The Small Boat Harbor bustles with constant activity in the summer months, when it’s crammed with sailboats, fishing vessels, and charter boats, a line of snowy peaks in the distance. Close by, you can wander along five miles of the stony beach of Waterfront Park, looking out for sea otters bobbing in the water, rafted up on their backs, or basking sea lions and even the blow of whales out in the bay.
Various points of interest line the beach, from the Founder’s Monument, marking the spot where the first settlers landed in 1903, to the marker for Mile 0 of the famous Historical Iditarod Trail, which used to serve the wild interior of Alaska.
Back at the harbor, the waterfront is lined with restaurants and cafes where you can take a seat in the sunshine, dine on authentic Alaskan food, and people-watch. Stroll along to Harbor Street Creamery for homemade ice cream, sundaes, brownies, and smoothies.
If it’s lunchtime, check out Chinooks, a local institution famed for its fine views, local seafood, and seasonal ingredients. Try Thai-style salmon, chunky crab cakes, or freshly caught halibut with fries.
Explore the Exit Glacier
Some 40 slow-moving rivers of ice edge slowly down from the vast, white expanse of the Harding Icefield to the sea.
Hiking to Exit Glacier, one of the best things to do in Seward, is a trek for the hardy. You’ll be walking uphill for just over four miles, the Alaskan hiking trail marked out on the glacier’s pebbly moraine, an icy stream rushing out of the tongue of the ice over the rocks nearby.
Keep an eye out for mountain goats, and take time to stop and listen to the silence. You’ll hear the wind in the trees, but you can also catch the sound of the glacier creaking and crackling. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that this great river of ice is actually moving.
When you reach the top, the views out over the blue-white icefield and surrounding spiny peaks of the Kenai Mountains and forests are astounding. Then, it’s time to take a deep breath and set out on the thigh-trembling four-mile trek down again.
If you’re a true adrenaline junkie, there’s also the option of ice climbing on the glacier. You’ll fly in by helicopter—a thrill in itself, soaring over the water and the forest canopy—and trek across the sparkling, serrated ice to bottomless, deep-blue crevasses and drop-offs into which you can descend. You’ll be escorted every step of the way by highly trained glacier guides, and no experience is needed.
Take a Hike on Mount Marathon
Seward is famed for the grueling, annual Mount Marathon race, which takes place every year on July 4. Essentially, it’s straight up the hulking Alaskan mountain, which rears up behind the downtown area, and straight down again, competitors ending the event plastered in mud and scratches.
For a more tranquil experience, you can take a combination of three separate trails for a refreshing four-and-a-half-mile hike through the dappled shade of spruce forests up to the top. The trail is wide, but steep in sections, with some respite on the way up as you pick your way through a lush, green glacial valley tumbled with boulders left behind by the glacier.
Once you’ve conquered the final section of the Skyline Trail, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views out over Resurrection Bay, the water sparkling as far as the eye can see, the buildings of the town and yachts in the marina below like toys.
Eagles and ravens soar overhead, high above the treeline. Check out Race Point, at 3,022 feet above sea level, and imagine how the competitors might feel after having run all the way up here.
Get up Close to Marine Life
The Alaska SeaLife Center is more than a way to get up close to seals and puffins—although there’s no shortage of opportunities to do that. It’s one of the best things to do in Seward on a rainy day, and a fun and educational visit for families.
This marine research center is the only cold-water marine science facility in the Western Hemisphere, devoting much of its effort to rehabilitating injured marine animals. There’s a tide pool, where kids can handle creatures like sea stars, and even a salmon ladder.
Observe the behavior of seals in a vast tank, and marvel at the grace of giant octopuses. Head to the puffin encounter, where you can get close to these comical, sweet-faced birds at feeding time, and join a session with the sea otters, learning all about their feeding habits and remarkable adaptability to the cold waters of the North Pacific.
Cruise the Kenai Fjords
Take to the water on a day boat to cruise the tranquil waters of Kenai Fjords, all the time watching out for humpback, gray and minke whales, seals, bald eagles, and the distinctive dorsal fin of powerful orca.
Pristine forest edges right down to rock-strewn beaches, where you may spot foraging brown and black bears, while mountain goats scamper effortlessly over steep rock faces high above the water.
You’ll pass Spire Cove, which looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale, with spindly, sheer-sided rock stacks tufted with greenery on top. Sail right up to the mighty Holgate Glacier and get close enough to pick out the sapphire-blue streaks in the ice and hear the gunshot crack and rumble as chunks calve off into the milky turquoise water.
Paddle a Sea Kayak
The closer you are to the water, the more at one with nature you’ll feel. The calm, protected fjords and inlets around Seward lend themselves perfectly to sea kayaking, with the added bonus of getting right up to the towering, icy face of a glacier. Of all the things to do in Seward, kayaking should be high on your list.
One of the most popular kayak tours is to Aialik Glacier, an easy day trip. You’ll ride from Seward to Aialik Bay via water taxi, looking out all the time for whales, porpoises, and Steller sea lions.
You’ll then clamber into your kayak and spend the day paddling along rocky shorelines, getting as close as safety permits to the mighty, blue-white ice wall of the Aialik Glacier, a particularly active tidewater glacier that calves regularly with a roar and a cracking, splitting sound.
As such, there are big chunks of ice floating around near its face, and it’s not unusual to spot a basking seal hitching a ride on one of them. Curious seals might pop their heads out of the water, too. Keep your eyes peeled for bears shuffling along the beaches, and bald eagles perched on the cliffs, watching out for prey.
Feast on Local Smoked Salmon
You’ll see anglers from all over the state in season, battling enormous, thrashing king salmon. In fact, the annual Silver Salmon Derby is regarded as the prime fishing derby in Alaska. You can try it yourself—there are plenty of day fishing charters on offer, with experienced captains who will know where to find halibut, king salmon, and silver salmon.
If you’d prefer to sample Seward’s culinary wares rather than catch your own, there’s no shortage of places to explore. You can have your salmon broiled, smoked, in a burger, in a sandwich, with fries—there’s no end to the permutations.
Seafood is the star on every menu, but you’ll also find wild game and locally foraged ingredients, from edible wildflowers to alpine berries, wild mushrooms, and even spruce tips. Try Ray’s Waterfront, with splendid views over Small Boat Harbor. You’ll find king crab dripping with butter and lemon, wild sockeye salmon with a tangy mango salsa, or salmon served on a cedar plank with a creamy garlic mash.
Alternatively, if you’re hiking the Exit Glacier, check out the nearby Salmon Bake Restaurant, ignoring its self-deprecating promise of “cheap beer and lousy food,” and reward your efforts with a hefty salmon burger with fries, washed down with a chilled local craft beer.
Discover Downtown Seward
As the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, Seward is one of Alaska’s oldest settlements, with a colorful history from the early fur trade through its heyday as a supply port for Alaska’s interior, thanks to the ice-free shelter of Resurrection Bay.
Local scenes and historical events are depicted on a series of 12 giant murals painted by local artists, many of which are found in the downtown area. The Exit Glacier, Mount Marathon, the original Iditarod Trail, and the railroad are all featured.
There’s plenty to see in the colorful, quirky downtown area, which is laid out in a compact grid. On 4th Avenue, you’ll find the Train Wreck, a collection of refurbished railcars from the Alaska Railroad. If you’re hungry, visit the Smoke Shack for a hearty brunch with a Tex-Mex atmosphere in the setting of a 50-foot train carriage. All the pork and chicken here is smoked in-house.
As you wander around, stop by the Resurrect Art Coffeehouse and Gallery on 3rd Avenue and Church Street, set in an enchanting old shingled church, offering fresh-baked pastries and displaying the work of local artists on the walls.
Back on 4th Avenue, visit the Seward Brewing Company for a flight of locally brewed craft beers. The building itself is packed with history, having started as a bar in 1904 and subsequently serving as a theater during Prohibition, the offices of the Alaska Steamship Company, and a private club.
Ride a Dog Sled Through the Wilderness
As the original starting point for the famous Iditarod Trail, you’d expect Seward to be the place to go for dog sledding. Sure enough, the Seavey family, whose kennels and homestead lie at the base of Resurrection Mountain, represent four generations of mushing champions and have won seven Iditarod races.
While winter is the racing season, you can visit the kennels in summer to cuddle adorable, fuzzy-haired puppies, and even take a sled ride out through the wilderness. The summer sleds are wheeled, of course, and the powerful team of dogs will pull you along forest-lined trails along the base of Resurrection Mountain and through Box Canyon Creek. These summer runs are an important part of race training and keep the dogs in peak fitness.
Fly Over the Forest at Stoney Creek
You’ll need a head for heights for the Stoney Creek zipline, but the views are outstanding as you soar over the spruce forest with an eagle’s-eye perspective of the canopy below.
Make your way across three swinging suspension bridges on this tree-top adventure. Clip onto the line and fly at exhilarating speeds, landing on wooden platforms high up in massive spruce and hemlock trees between each zip.
Some zips fly lower, so you’re just beneath the treetops with views of rushing streams amid the green of the undergrowth below.
Get Close to Wildlife on a SUP
Even if you’ve got no stand-up paddleboarding experience, there are short tours from Seward to get you accustomed to the admittedly strange sensation of “walking” on water. Staying close to the shore on glass-calm water, you’ll perfect the technique.
Once you’ve found your confidence, start admiring the mountain vistas and looking out for seals, sea lions, and sea otters floating on their backs, snacking on clams. Experienced paddleboarders can join tours to nearby Bear Glacier for the otherworldly sensation of paddling amid gleaming, sculpted icebergs, so close you can reach out and touch them.
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