I remember the first time I heard the word Kenai. I was sixteen years old and was standing alone in the kitchen of my childhood home early in the morning when I heard scratching at the garage door. Cautiously, I pulled the door open and was engulfed in a sea of sloppy kisses from a Rottweiler puppy so precious it nearly hurt. From behind me, I heard my brother say “Kenai, don’t jump”.
My family has a history with Alaska that spans generations, but that’s how I learned about the Kenai Fjords National Park. My brother’s desire to visit the 49th state was unparalleled, and Kenai was the most perfect name for his four-legged companion. Little did I know that seven years later I would find myself living in Alaska by random chance. And little did I know that I would fall deeply in love with the place.
Seward is the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park, which was established in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter (before 1980 it was a National Monument) and covers 669,984 acres on the Southeast side of the Kenai Peninsula. The park is roughly 51% ice and contains the Harding Icefield, which was first formed about 23,000 years ago and is one of the largest icefields in the United States (side note: Harding Icefield is stunning and spectacularly breathtaking and worth the hike).
I’m a history nerd, so what interested me was the fact that in 1993 the park service conducted a survey and documented native village sites dating as far back as 1200 AD (I can’t even comprehend how long ago that was! Can you?). They also documented an earthquake in 1170 AD that lowered the shoreline by six feet (history is so rad).
The highest point in the Kenai Fjords National Park is an unnamed peak in the Kenai Mountains that stands at 6,450 feet. The lowest point in the park is, of course, the deep fjords that give the land its fame. The sea floor at its deepest points of the fjords can be up to 1,000 miles below the surface. I once kayaked in a fjord in Southeast Alaska that was 1,000 feet deep. Much like gazing up into space, floating on top of deep water has a way of putting your insignificance into prospective.
This slice of stunning and pristine land, one of only three Alaska National Parks that can be reached via road, has been luring people here for as long as there has been people in Alaska. Once it became a park, the first improvements were to access Exit Glacier, which rests just outside the Seward city limits. The wildness of the Harding Icefield, the fjords that were carved out of land by powerful ice, and the convenience of having Seward as your muster point are all experiences that no visitor to Alaska should miss.
Book your stay at Sauerdough Lodging, in downtown Seward, and see for yourself “the ice that started a fire” (John Muir).
Blog by Liberty Elias Miller. Visit her website here: https://www.libertyeliasmiller.com/