If you’re planning on visiting Alaska, Seward is probably on your list of potential destinations. Wondering what you might be doing when actually 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 version detailed list of things to do in Seward.
To get you the list right away, 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.
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 drivelapse 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. Definitely a great road to travel across.
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. There you go, one awesome item to check off your “Things to do in Seward” list!
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! What you need to know – in a nutshell – that the park has land and sea areas. Most visitors hike only the two areas that are easily accessible on foot and they are –
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 here 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). More information about Exit Glacier area activities available here.
What most visitors do – and we did as well – is simply park next to the visitors center, pop in to say hi and see the exhibits and then walk toward the glacier on foot. There’s a very easy trail that takes you there. Most of it is paved and the very last section is unpaved and slightly steeper. That trail gets you to a viewing area where you can stand and admite the glacier.
Now, this trail used to be famous for letting visitors get very close to the glacier – “touching the ice” close. The problem is that the glacier keeps receding thanks to global warming. Which means every year the ice gets further away from the trail.
The park authorities try to get the trail longer and move viewing platforms close to the receding ice but it’s a fast process so viewing platforms are left behind. In fact, you walk across several of them on the way. Built many years ago, they’re now quite far from the glacier.
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 traverse the distance between that point and the glacier and you can see them walking all the way up to the glacier. You can do the same – at your own risk.
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 being 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 out 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.
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:
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).
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 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.
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.
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. You can filter options by trail length and level of difficulty here or see recommendations for good hikes around Seaward here.
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 a very 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 (we are too!), 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. 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.
Oh, and if you want to see the northern lights, then
Anytime other than between June and September will be better. The further into winter, the better are your chances of a dark sky.
The Alaska coastline – where Seward is located – is not your best bet for that. It’s simply too cloudy most of the time.
Read my guide on the best time for viewing the northern lights in Alaska to learn more.
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 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. That would give you the most options. And of course, 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.
So, what do you think?
We absolutely loved Seward. We’ll definitely be going back there future, as well as to the other two southern Alaska shore towns we visited (Valdez and Haines). There’s a great laid back atmosphere in the entire state, and it’s even more prominent in these small towns.
How about you? Which of these activities would you choose? Leave us a comment to let us know!