If you're planning on visiting Alaska, Seward is probably on your list of potential destinations. Wondering what to do when you get there? I've researched this in-depth before our visit to Alaska and now that we've been there and back, I have this updated list of things to do in Seward.
Here are the top 11 things to do in Seward Alaska -
- Drive the Scenic Seward Highway
- Visit Kenai Fjords National Park on land, including The Exit Glacier Area and possibly the Harding Icefield.
- Take a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park!
- Meet the animals at the Alaska SeaLife Center
- Stroll along Waterfront Park
- Hang around the Seward Marina
- Go fishing!
- Learn about local history at the Seward Museum
- Experience Dog Sledding
- Try watching whales - or other sea mammals - from Lowell Point
- Hit the trails!
This is a new version of the old post I had about things to do in Seward. This one is based on both the research I had done prior to the research as well as on our own experience.
We've spent three fantastic days in this cute little town and I'm sure we'll be back there again someday. Keep reading for more information on each option and my hands-on travel tips.
11 Awesome Things to do in Seward, Alaska
Fewer than 3000 people live in the town of Seward, yet it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Most of these people arrive during the short and extremely busy summer season to visit Kenai Fjords National Park.
There's plenty of things to do in Seward, and we did a bunch of them! Let me elaborate on the items in the list above.
1. Drive the Scenic Seward Highway
The road that takes you from Anchorage to Seward is in itself an attraction. It is so beautiful, it's been awarded the highest rank in scenic byways: An All American Road. This awesome drive-lapse video shows you exactly what it looks like -
I drove our SUV along coming in and out of town. Since we stayed at the Midnight Sun Log Cabins outside of town, I actually got to drive parts of the road on a daily basis.
It's not a difficult drive - some of it is very easy in fact with wide shoulders and plenty of room. The views are stunning and keep changing along with the weather.
The good news is that unless you're getting to Seward by train or on a cruise ship, you're going to drive this road into town and out of it.
2. Visit Kenai Fjords National Park
Like any national park, Kenai Fjords NP deserves an entire blog post in its own right. Or possibly an entire travel blog!
Most visitors hike only the two areas that are easily accessible on foot -
The Exit Glacier Area
This is the only area in the park that's accessible by car - at least all the way to the visitors center. If you don't have a car, there's a shuttle that can get you there and back from Seward itself.
The Exit Glacier visitors center offers ranger talks and guided tours (free of charge and no need to make reservations in advance).
We parked next to the visitors center, popped in to see the exhibits, and then walked toward the glacier on foot. The trail - paved, except for the very last section - goes to a viewing area where you can admire the glacier.
This trail used to be famous for letting visitors get very close to the glacier - "touching the ice" close. Unfortunately, the glacier keeps receding thanks to global warming so that every year the ice gets further away from the trail.
The park authorities try to move the viewing platforms closer to the receding ice but it's a fast process so viewing platforms are always losing the battle. You get to walk past several old viewing platforms, built many years ago, back when the ice sheet was larger.
So, can you still touch the ice?
When we were there, the official viewing point was hundreds of yards away from the ice. From there, you're on your own. Many visitors choose to hike the distance between that point but it's not an easy path to follow.
The Harding Icefield
The Harding Icefield is the huge - 300 square miles or 777 square km - sheet of ice that covers a large area in the lower arm of the Kenai Peninsula. It produces Several major glaciers (Exit Glacier is one of them).
You can get excellent views of this ancient mega-glacier by hiking the Harding Icefield trail. This 8.2 miles round trip is strenuous and only suitable for advanced hikers. The rest of us can try to walk a shorter part of the trail for a glance at the icefield.
Which is exactly what we did on our visit. My husband and our eldest son went on the trail and completed the hike for amazing views of the icefields. We got to see that in the photos they brought down with them.
If you're an able hiker, you may be interested in the ranger-lead trail excursions. They're available once a week, so check the park website for more details.
By the way, we're avid fans of visiting national parks. That's why I created a mega-guide on Alaska's National Parks. Check it out if you want to learn more about the most gorgeous places in this state.
3. The Kenai Fjords Boat Tours
This is a Seward activity as much as it is a national park activity. There are several operators which offer boat tours of essentially the same area. Major Marine Tours is the company that offers the official boat excursions of various lengths where you'll have an official park ranger on board to provide commentary.
We did take the boat tour. It was awesome! You can read all about it and see my photos and video clips of whales, calving tidal glaciers, and more in this post:
Kenai National Park Boat Cruise Review & Tips
4. Meet the animals at the Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is a research institute and rehabilitation center for local marine wildlife. It's not very cheap to visit but the money goes towards research and wildlife rescue, so hey, that's eco-tourism!
You can see many varieties of Alaska wildlife up and close here, including several types of seals, birds, fish, and other marine critters.
We absolutely loved this place!
We got to see a variety of mammals and birds that we would not have been able to see otherwise. The highlight of our visit was seeing a rescued baby walrus!
It was HUGE and totally adorable! We got to see the caretakers feeding him and settling in for a nap alongside him (he needed to be next to a "mother figure" at all times).
Summertime opening hours: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm (8:00 am on weekends). Admission Fee: $21.95 (discount rates available for children under 12 and senior citizens).
The Alaska SeaLife Center's website
5. Stroll along Waterfront Park
Walking along the shoreline north of the Alaska SeaLife Center will get you to what is known as Waterfront Park. A mix of a campground (operated by the city of Seward) and a trail/promenade that takes you along the Seward waterfront and harbor.
Historic signs along the way and the views of the gorgeous Resurrection Bay make for a nice combination for a stroll in town. And it's free!
Don't forget to look for wildlife! We spent a while viewing a cute sea otter who was floating around on its back in this area.
6. Visit the harbor marina
Another great little area to experience while in Seward is the marina. This is where you'll embark on your cruise of Kenai National Park so you can just hang around for a bit longer as you return.
You'll find the Seward office of the National Parks here, so you can walk in and get information and help from the ranger. Or just stroll around to see the boats and watch fishermen as they clean their daily catch.
7. Go fishing
If you're into that kind of thing - and admittedly, we're not - there's no shortage of fishing charters in Seward. After all, this is one of the most lucrative fishing harbors in the entire country.
Local tour operators will be happy to take you to where the big fish swim and help you get them out of the water. They even clean them up and ship them back home.
Alternatively, if you're in Seward during the Salmon Run, you can just fish from anywhere around town where there's a stream flowing into the ocean. If you're not a local, you need a permit for fishing your salmon (there are limitations on the number and types of salmon too).
8. Learn about local history at the Seward Museum
This small community-managed museum is a good option for spending a rainy hour or two indoors, learning about local history, including the big earthquake that hit the town in 1964.
Admission fee: $5
During summer, the museum is closed on Mondays but open other weekdays 10am-5pm (late opening on Sundays). Check their web page for complete opening hours.
9. Experience Dog Sledding
Iditarod is Alaska's famous dog sledding race and the local Seavey family is an Iditarod legend. Several members of the family hold personal records in this famous mushing Race.
When not racing, they offer three types of dog sledding tours where you can experience the tradition of the "mushers". Not cheap but visitors seem happy, based on their reviews.
Check out the details of the tours on their website.
10. Try whale watching from Lowell Point
If you're in season - and lucky to boot - you may be able to view whales from the shore while in Seward. A prime whale-watching location ins Lowell Point, about half an hour's drive south of town.
You may want to bring along your binoculars and plenty of patience. We have been lucky to spot whales from the shore elsewhere on our travels but not here. You need luck too, obviously.
This is a great activity if you're staying in Seward for a while and have time on your hands. Otherwise - or in addition to - try the boat cruise for whale watching. Boat captains talk to each other over the radio so they know where the whales are and can take you there.
We didn't spend time trying to view whales from the shore, mostly because we were fortunate enough to see them during our Kenai Fjords cruise. Including a pod of orcas!
11. Hit the trails!
Hikers will find several excellent trails all around the Seward area. Caines Head Trail, Lost Lake trail, Tonsina Point Trail, and others offer a variety of trail types and attractions.
Bonus activities: Get up and close with sea life and icebergs
Several companies offer guided kayaking tours of Resurrection Bay and nearby glaciers. Some offer SUP options as well.
With no engines to scare them away, marine creatures - including whales - may be fairly close. Kayak Adventures Worldwide, Liquid Adventures and Sunny Cove Kayaking all offer intimate marine tours around Seward.
Free things to do in Seward, Alaska
Alaska is an expensive destination, there's no way around that. There are ways to lower the cost of your Alaska trip though. I've listed a bunch of budgeting tips in my guide on how much does a trip to Alaska cost, so if you're in the planning stages, make sure you check out that post.
For the benefit of budget travelers out there, here's a quick recap of what you can do in Seward either for free or at a very low cost -
- Drive the scenic byway (if you're traveling by car)
- Visit the land areas of the national park (you should have a parks pass for that, so not entirely free per se - but if you already have the pass, you're golden).
- Visit the boat harbor and Waterfront Park
- Try to view whales from the shore at Lowell Point
- Hike around Seward
What's the best time for visiting Seward?
Alaska as a whole is generally a summer destination. I have a post here about the best time to visit Alaska and it applies to Seward too. If you're planning a trip, you should read that post first.
Things are open and active between June and September. While you could visit throughout the year - if you come out of season expect harsh weather and check to make sure the things you want to see and do will actually be open.
Check out the guide about the best time for whale watching in Alaska - it's relevant to Seward too.
Where to stay when in Seward, Alaska?
Seward is a challenging destination when it comes to accommodation. There aren't many hotels in town and because it's such a great place to visit, they're all fully booked throughout the summertime.
So, my main tip here would be to book in advance. Even a year in advance. As soon as these places become available for booking via Booking.com, snag your room. When making reservations so far in advance, make sure you can cancel them without paying a fine.
The rules of supply and demand also dictate high prices within Seward itself. One thing you can do to offset that by staying out of town.
We stayed in the Midnight Sun Log Cabins in Moose Pass, about 20 minutes away from the town center. It was a lovely stay too - a spacious cabin with the kids getting the upstairs gallery.
We had a small dining area with a microwave and fridge and the price included lovely breakfasts too. In fact, sharing our breakfast with the other guests and talking to the owners was a highlight of our stay.
If you're only visiting Seward for the day, you could even do this as a day trip from Anchorage. It's just over an hour in every direction. Personally, I think it's worth a longer visit (hopefully this post has convinced you of that).
In case you decide to stay in town, here are the hotels/motels which get the best reviews on Booking (links go to booking.com which is the site I use for making our own reservations) -
- Harbor 360 Hotel Seward (right where the park cruise ships leave from)
- Breeze Inn Motel (right in town)
- Sunshine House Bed and Breakfast - highly recommended and in the town center
- Best Western Plus Edgewater Hotel
- Bear Lake Lodgings B&B - great reviews but located outside of town so you need a car.
Wherever you choose to stay, and no matter how long your visit, I just know you'll enjoy Seward!
does anyone know of a landing craft on land near Seward Alaska
I lived in seward and married seward’s animal control officer Terry erickson.it was the friendly and homey people I ever met, I miss it a lot and still have friends there. Sad Terry passed on. I will never forget. thank you seward ?
I’m sorry to hear about your husband. Sounds like your time in Seward was indeed special.
Great list! A couple things that I would like to add – a trip to Bear Glacier lagoon is an unforgettable experience. Kayaking or SUP-ing around gigantic icebergs the size of Costco will take your breath away. Not to be confused with Bear Lake, 6 miles out of town, which is also amazing and an incredible salmon run at the end of the summer!
Great tip, Kelli! I’m not sure I would be up for Sup-ing but maybe my husband and my boys. I’m sure we’ll be back in Seward some day and hopefully we can budget in such an awesome activity in our future list of things to do in Seward!
Great list of ideas, Anne! I’m off to research a little more before booking one last tour for our 2-week Alaska vacation. We are headed “way” North or the first time, Aug 22-Sept 6, 2018. We will tour land (Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali, Seward, Aug 22-27) then sail on a major cruise liner for the sea portion of our vacation (Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau, Tracy Arm, Ketchikan, Vancouver, Aug 27-Sept 3) and finally, spend 3 days in Vancouver. Reading your posts has helped me make some decisions about our time in Seward, Thank you!
Sounds like a fantastic trip! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it thoroughly and create memories that will last you a lifetime!
Hi Anne, thanks for the info, you have put in a lot of research
We arrive in Seward 29th August 2018 by train from Anchorage
We are staying 2 nights there and then getting on a ship and sailing all the way to Sydney Australia
We are unable to do much involving a lot of walking or spend 8 hours on a small boat (my husband has vertigo) so this may not go well
I would love to go dog sledding if this is not to rough for your back, see bears, etc
I would also love to see the Glacier close up
As you would have gathered we are in our late 70’s and I in particular are not very strong (some people this age are amazing)
Any hints you can give me would be much appreciated
I’m sure you’re going to love Seward! Definitely go visit the Sealife center. It’s a lovely place with lots of animals and actually great views to the bay too. We spent quite a while just standing on their deck, viewing otters in the water outside the center! Do visit the National Park visitors center and hike the trail that goes towards the glacier but don’t try to press forward to see the glacier. Even if you make it to the end of the trail, you still won’t be very close to it. The park keeps building viewing platforms but the glacier keeps receding 🙁 We got to the end of the trail and the glacier was about half a mile away. We could see it but it wasn’t close up. Some people kept hiking to get closer but that was off-trail and we preferred to avoid that.
What you could do in order to get close to a glacier is fly. Depending on your budget, you could take a relatively short flight from Seward that will put you on a glacier for a short walkabout. You’ll get superb views (weather permitting) and I bet it’s going to be tons of fun. Here are some options – Seaward Air, Seward Helicopters, Scenic Mountain Air and Miller’s Landing. We haven’t tried any of them so please research this thoroughly and don’t consider this a recommendation – just an idea.
As for dog sledding, keep in mind there’s no snow on the ground near Seward during summertime. You could either do summer dog sledding like these guys offer which basically means riding a “sled” with wheels on it, or you’d have to go for an expensive excursion which combined a helicopter flight to a glacier with dog sledding on the glacier. I’ve seen these offered by Seward Helicopters and Miller’s Landing which I linked to earlier.
I hope this helps! Don’t forget to just meander around the harbor and soak up the atmosphere. We actually enjoyed that part quite a lot! Enjoy your visit to Seward!