Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  Grace Hopper

Seward Harbor, Alaska

As we continue to travel around different parts of the country, we constantly make an effort to experience the U.S. National Parks when possible.  Every park we’ve been to is so unique and amazing in its own way and we are always inspired to get outside and explore the breathtaking landscapes of these protected lands.  Now that we’ve started, we just can’t stop and it’s why visiting all 59 parks is an item on our bucketlist.  For more National Park stories and photos click HERE.  Since we knew we would have some time in Alaska, and Alaska has 8 of the 59 parks, we had to at least see a couple on this trip.  This is one of the reasons we took the 2 hour detour to Seward, home of Kenai Fjords National Park…. not to mention one of our Adventure guests had a craving for some halibut.  For more reasons to visit Seward and some info on where to stay click HERE.  Our time in Seward, including our trip into the park, was slightly challenging for reasons beyond the control of even the best trip planner…. the weather was bad… absurdly bad. I can honestly say that prior to this trip, since we have started this travel life of ours, we have never had weather bad enough at a location to drastically change the experience…. that changed the day we arrived in Seward.

The forecast was pouring rain to start the day, more pouring rain throughout the day, followed by pouring rain in the evening. This was the unfortunate weather forecast for every day we were in town.  Yes, we knew coming during the rainy season had that risk, but we had our fingers crossed that we would at least get one clear day. On day one our plan was to take a boat tour of the National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours. Upon arriving at the parking area of Seward Harbor we entered the office and had some tough decisions to make.

Should you still go on a boat tour of Kenai Fjords in bad weather?

The company was very up front with the problems with the weather and the high waves it was causing. They offered us a full refund (we purchased tickets in advance to secure our seats) if we chose not to go on the tour. The other option was to roll the dice and hop on the boat. They planned on going out as far as they could, and depending on how many people got sick, they may need to turn around and return in which case we would receive a partial refund. Well that doesn’t sound very good…. what do you mean depending on how many people get sick?? That was question #1.  Our other concern was whether or not there would be any wildlife active with such bad weather. I know this sounds a little silly since most of the marine life is already wet all day anyway, but still… we were curious about the activity. The nice people at the front desk explained that the waves were very high and choppy and people that are prone to sea sickness could possibly get sick.  If it got too bad and it was either unsafe or too many people were ill we would return.  If not…. we would continue on the original path to Aialik Glacier. They also confirmed what we were already thinking… that water doesn’t really bother animals that live in the water, so wildlife activity shouldn’t be affected.

You guessed it… we went for it. Since we had some additional adventurers on this trip with us, we consulted the team…. and since there were no sea sick worries, we felt it was better to try than to sit it out and miss our opportunity to see this amazing National Park. A couple of factors influenced this decision. One was the amount of time we had in Seward. Since we had multiple stops on our Alaska trip, we didn’t leave any empty days so the option to try to reschedule for another day was limited.  The other was the looming weather forecast for the rest of the week… it didn’t look like any other day was going to be any better so our options were go in the rain or don’t go.  So we grabbed the raincoats….

    

Tips for the Trip

1. When should we arrive? 

The recommendation is to get there about 30-45min early. This will give you time to check in and then go wait in line at the boat ramp.  They won’t tell you to do this when you check in. They will tell you that they will make an announcement when you should head outside, but you shouldn’t wait for the announcement. The closer you are to the front of the line, the better chance you have at getting a good seat inside…. near a window. The boat has seats and tables along each set of windows and then multiple rows in the middle. You can see out the windows from all the seats, but being right on the window does make a huge difference. With a few hundred people on the boat, you want to get in line early enough to grab a table with your own private view.

2. Which side of the boat should we try to sit on?

This is a question we had as we were patiently waiting in the line (yes it was raining but we still waited outside). What happens if we rush and get a seat on one side and we get the side with nothing to look at? The good news is… that won’t happen. The view on both sides is amazing, even with the heavy fog.

The other thing to remember is that you will have your same seat for the whole ride so unless your captain is talented enough to make the return trip in reverse, you will see the other side on the way back. For anyone worried about getting seasick, they have some meds on the boat for purchase that will help. You should also aim to sit farther toward the rear of the boat.

3. Wildlife Viewing- Did the weather really have an effect?

That’s a tricky question… and the answer is no…. and yes.  The front desk lady was correct in that the nasty rain and wind didn’t really worry the wildlife. After all, we did see sea otters surfing on the waves, seals and porpoises, many sea birds, and we even got to see a couple humpbacks. But the problem is, it was raining so hard and the wind was blowing so badly, that we couldn’t really go outside on the decks very easily. You can see out of your window from inside the boat, but the best way to see different wildlife is from the outside viewing areas. Visibility was so bad and photographing anything was nearly impossible with the sideways rain, even with a hood over the lens. There were a few brief moments throughout the trip where the rain slowed just enough to snap a few shots, but for the most part photos were hopeless.

     

    

Humpback whale- Kenai Fjords National Park

4. When we arrive at the glaciers will we be able to see?

Yes, not only will the boat do multiple loops so you can see it from the coziness of the indoor seating, but if you decide to venture outside (and you should) the great staff on the boat will offer to take a picture for you and your group with the glacier behind you.

As you can see from the picture above, when it came time for the decision to push through or turn around, our captain decided he wanted to show us this magnificent glacier. The wind was still blowing and the rain was unpleasant, but seeing this freak of nature was worth the rocky ride. It was such a giant mountain of ice, it’s hard to show the scale of it in photos. If you look really closely at the photo below, you can see a large tour boat close to the bottom left edge of the glacier which will put it in perspective.

Aialik Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

While in the bay, it was quite surreal to stand on the outside dock and gaze up at the massive landscape surrounding the boat. The mountains on all sides were split by waterfalls that were probably huge themselves, but next to the colossal mountains they looked like thin little white lines trickling down into the ocean.

    

After circling the bay for quite some time, we headed toward the fjords.  The fjords are actually valleys that were carved from glaciers and now sit underwater, only revealing the rock towers that are left.

As we played slalom with the fjords and witnessed nature at its finest, it was almost possible to forget that we were actually stuck in the middle of week long storm…. almost.

It was then time to make our way back toward the harbor and the only way to do that was to cross through the same open water that we did on the way here. Only by this time, it had gotten much, much worse.  We were instructed to get inside the boat and take a seat and there was a gang of staff members that seemed to be on throw up duty as they awaited the chain reaction that was about to take place.  The waves were so huge that it looked like we were in an episode of the Deadliest Catch and every time we dipped down between them, water would smash against the windows of the boat. If you are at all uneasy on boats, this would have been a scary experience for you. The only thing that added a little humor to break up the tension was all the people starting to get sick in unison. I will say that the staff did an awesome job of controlling the situation and taking care of the sickly while trying to shield what was happening from the other passengers. And we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t mention the tremendous performance of the captain, whose name we believe to be Jamie. We have spent a good deal of time on boats and it was extremely obvious that Captain Jamie cared a great deal for his passengers. He did his best to cut the waves when possible to ease the blows and it is safe to say this ride could have been so much worse. So hats off to the captain… and the rest of the crew. They all did an amazing job and helped us make the best of a cold, wet, intense day. I’m just glad we didn’t bite off more than we could chew….

     

So to answer the original question…. going on this tour in bad weather will undoubtedly change the experience.  You will not see as much and it will be tougher to go outside and enjoy the views from the outdoor deck, not to mention the ride will be rough. If you have the opportunity to reschedule for another day during your trip, that is what we recommend you do to get the full experience.  However, if rescheduling is not an option, and you have to choose between going in the rain or not going…. we recommend you grab your raincoats and remember Grace Hopper’s quote above….because this park shouldn’t be missed. Just cross your fingers that Captain Jamie is on board.

See more Photos of Kenai National Park

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