November 27, 2017 by Deborah W. Trotter
Winter conditions might challenge visitors to National Parks in the lower 48, particularly parks with mountains, glaciers and high elevations. But such “winter conditions” delight summer visitors to Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park, especially those who, like us, choose to keep their feet dry and tour the park on an all-day boat excursion. In fact, there are very few trails in this national park, and more than half of its thousand square mile area is covered in ice, so the best way to see it is afloat.
We spent the night before our tour in Seward, still not used to the length of the June days that far north, which made us reluctant to go to bed when we should. A wonderful consequence of that was being treated to sunsets like this.
The next morning, we dressed in layers, brought hats and gloves, and boarded a good-sized catamaran for a 7 1/2 – hour cruise through the Fjords. An on board National Park Ranger kept us informed and was happy to answer questions all day long.
It had rained overnight, and the clouds lingered during our tour, but there was no more precipitation, and sunlight made appearances from time to time throughout the day. Our Major Marine Tours captain knew those waters the way a bus driver knows city streets, so, as we sailed down Resurrection Bay toward the Gulf of Alaska, he knew just where to slow the boat and idle to increase our chances of spotting marine mammals. We were not disappointed, being entertained by a couple dozen pods of playful orcas and catching a glimpse or two of more elusive whales.
During the rest of the day we saw sea lions plopped on rocks in the sun, gulls, colorful puffins and other birds, including a lone bald eagle, otters and seals who like to haul out on floating ice near the glaciers, and more than one family of mountain goats in impossibly vertical locations.
The middle part of the tour brought us into Aialik Bay and the Holgate Arm where we paused in front of gigantic glaciers to watch for calving activity. As you might imagine, the air temperature was somewhere between that of a freezer and a very cold refrigerator. The clean, cold air was exhilarating, and it was impossible for me to think of the glaciers as other than alive, listening to their groaning and the crashing of breaking ice.
After leaving the glaciers behind and heading back toward Seward, we saw more breathtaking Alaska scenery, more marine mammals and birds, and more sunlight. Because there was no hiking involved, this was a very different national park experience for us. Unique, in fact. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who is lucky enough to visit Alaska.