Planning to visit Kenai Fjords National Park? In this guide we’re sharing how to experience the Exit Glacier hike!
One of the things we loved the most about Alaska were the glaciers. These thick masses of ice are absolutely mind blowing to witness and a true testament to how wild nature can be. While we had seen a glacier up close in Glacier National Park, it required a strenuous hike, but in Alaska, there are many that you can see without much effort!
And one of the easiest glaciers to visit in the state is Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Viewable afar from the car, as well as up close along the Exit Glacier hike, this glacier is insanely impressive and receding quickly…so you’ll want to visit it as soon as possible!
Watch our experience visiting Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park, plus more amazing things to do in the park. And to learn more about the park, read our guide with all of the best things to do!
In this guide we’re sharing how to complete the Exit Glacier hike, including the three different areas to check out, plus other ways to experience Exit Glacier that require a bit more effort.
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- About Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park
- How to get to the Exit Glacier hike
- When to hike the Exit Glacier hike
- Things to know before visiting Exit Glacier
- What to bring with you on the Exit Glacier hike
- How to experience the Exit Glacier hike
- Want a closer look at Exit Glacier?
- Looking for a longer hike near Exit Glacier?
About Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park
Located on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords National Park is named after the numerous fjords that have been created by the glaciers in the park. The park is home to the Harding Icefield, the largest ice field entirely in the United States, plus tons of marine wildlife, gorgeous mountains, and dozens of glaciers, including the Exit Glacier!
The Exit Glacier is one of the 38 glaciers that stems from the Harding Icefield and is named after an expedition in 1968, when the first group of mountaineers to officially cross the Harding Icefield “exited” the ice at Exit Glacier.
Unfortunately, this glacier is rapidly shrinking, receding more than 2,300 feet since 2004. While maybe not as impressive as it once was years ago, it is still a beautiful glacier to witness and a great example of just how much glaciers are changing due to climate change.
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
How to get to the Exit Glacier hike
Out of Kenai Fjords National Park’s entire 600,000+ acres, the Exit Glacier area is the only area accessible by vehicle. And to get there, you’ll first need to get to the charming seaside town of Seward, Alaska.
Seward is on the southeastern side of the Kenai Peninsula and is accessed by taking the Seward Highway (AK-9), about a 2.5 hour drive from Anchorage (or a scenic train ride). The drive from Anchorage is a gorgeous experience in itself, so we suggest planning for extra time to soak up the scenery!
Traveling from elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula? Here is how long you can expect to drive from other popular towns on the Kenai Peninsula:
Cooper Landing, AK: 1 hour (48 miles)
Soldotna, AK: 2 hours (93 miles)
Homer, AK: 3 hours 30 minutes (168 miles)
Once in Seward, Exit Glacier is only around a 20 minute drive. You’ll turn west onto Herman Leirer Road, which will eventually turn into Exit Glacier Road and you’ll dead end at the national park and Exit Glacier.
You can also take the Exit Glacier Shuttle from Seward to the Nature Center which costs $20 per person and leaves every hour. This is a great option for those who arrive in Seward by train or cruise ship!
When to hike the Exit Glacier hike
Kenai Fjords National Park is open year round, but as you can imagine, the wintertime brings a lot of snow to the area and the road to Exit Glacier is not very accessible. June-August are the best times to visit the park, as this is when trails will have less or no snow and different activities in the park are open for tours.
We visited in late July and the forecast for Seward was basically all rain for our visit, which had us worried. But we had heard that typically the park’s weather is slightly better than Seward’s and we thankfully lucked out with cloudy skies and minimal rain. The temperatures were a bit cool, so don’t expect hot summer weather like the majority of the United States and make sure to pack layers!
Things to know before visiting Exit Glacier
Entrance is free
Unlike most national parks, which have a fee to enter, Kenai Fjords is totally FREE to visit, minus any paid tours.
Dogs are not allowed
Dogs are not allowed on trails at Kenai Fjords National Park, but leashed pets are allowed on Exit Glacier Road and in the parking lot.
If you’re curious what we do with our dog Kona when we explore the national parks, you can read all of our tips and methods in this blog post. We boarded her in Anchorage during our visit to Kenai Fjords National Park, since we had a couple longer activities planned.
There is no cell service or wifi anywhere in this area of the park. Make sure to download offline Google Maps and AllTrails maps beforehand!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
There are restrooms available by the parking lot and Nature Center.
The Exit Glacier Nature Center has parking for both cars and RVs, although we wouldn’t suggest bringing a Class A RV to this parking lot. The parking lot does get busy and fills up, so we’d recommend getting there early in the day or later in the afternoon to snag a spot. During our visit, some cars were parked along the sides of the parking lot and road, but we were able to get an RV spot for our van.
What to bring with you on the Exit Glacier hike
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. But for this specific area, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.
We always recommend wearing hiking shoes when hitting the trail, as they have better grip for the terrain. Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots, but still great for the trail.
This is an essential piece of gear for this adventure because you won’t have much or any cell service. If you get in an emergency you’ll need a satellite communicator. We always carry our Garmin inReach Mini when we hike or backpack and it has come in handy several times on our adventures, mostly to text family (not for SOS reasons thankfully)!
Trekking poles can be helpful and while this hike may not need them as much as others, they might still be good to bring. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!
Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. One minute it feels like a cold, windy winter day and the next the clouds part, the sun is beaming, and it feels like summer. Carrying some layers with you helps you be prepared for a day in Alaska.
You’ll want to have lots of water on you for all of your adventures. We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go.
Make sure to carry bear spray while in the park! Kenai Fjords National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bears. Specifically, both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.
Although we didn’t see any bears in the park with our own eyes, a group right in front of us as we were finishing the Harding Icefield trail did see one. And we had to all make noise as we finished the hike. This happened right around where the Harding Icefield trail meets with the Exit Glacier hike, so just because the Exit Glacier hike is a bit shorter and easier, don’t discount the chance to see a bear!
Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar.
If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Although we didn’t have an issue with mosquitos during our visit, in order to not have a miserable time swatting mosquitoes all day make sure to bring bug spray with DEET!
You’ll often be hiking in exposed areas, and even on cloudy days you’ll want to have sun protection. Sunscreen and a hat will be very helpful!
Seeing the glacier and mountains with the naked eye is fantastic on its own, but you’ll be able to see even more epic views (and maybe even some wildlife!) with binoculars. We have the Bushnell H20 Roof Prism binoculars and we love them!
How to experience the Exit Glacier hike
While you can see Exit Glacier from a pull off on Exit Glacier Road, shortly before entering the park, for the best experience, we suggest going on the Exit Glacier hike. This hike is actually a combination of three trails in the Exit Glacier area of the park, which are all short and provide a different perspective. Here is a quick rundown of each trail!
Looking for more information about Kenai Fjords National Park? Check out our ultimate guide to Kenai Fjords National Park, which includes suggestions on where to stay, the best things to do, an itinerary, and more!
Exit Glacier View Loop
Distance (roundtrip): 1 mile
Elevation gain: 85 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
This trail is an accessible trail, good for strollers and wheelchairs, that gives you a fantastic view of the Exit Glacier spilling down the mountain side. It’s a very easy trail that takes you through the forest and by the river, with views of the glacier and Outwash Plain.
One interesting thing to see along this trail are signs with years on them. You may have noticed these as well on your drive on Exit Glacier Road. These signs show you the year that the Exit Glacier terminated that point, which really gives you a sense of how fast it is receding.
Exit Glacier Overlook Trail
Distance (roundtrip): 1.8 miles
Elevation gain: 235 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
Note: The linked AllTrails page combines the Exit Glacier View Loop trail and Exit Glacier Overlook trail. The stats listed above reflect just hiking the Exit Glacier Overlook trail on its own.
The Exit Glacier Overlook trail starts in the same spot as the Exit Glacier View Loop trail, but is a separate trail. It takes you through the forest and up a couple hundred feet for a view of the Exit Glacier and the valley it has carved.
When you start the short climb to the top of the hill, you’ll start to get really great views of the surrounding area and the Exit Glacier. The viewpoint at the end is truly spectacular and you’ll likely see waterfalls on the mountains around you, plus even more glaciers off in the distance!
Visit the Outwash Plain
Outwash Plain isn’t a trail per se, but it is an offshoot from the Exit Glacier Overlook trail and is well worth it!
The Outwash Plain is a dried up riverbed looking area that runs from the toe of the glacier out to Exit Glacier Creek. It has formed from rushing meltwater, which is full of sediment from the glacier that leaves deposits along the plain. At one point, this area was filled with the glacier!
To access this area, you’ll see a sign off of the Exit Glacier Overlook trail that signifies where you can enter. However, they do warn that you enter this area at your own risk.
The toe of Exit Glacier and the immediate area around it is in danger of unpredictable glacier outburst flooding. In fact, they have closed specific areas around the toe due to it being unsafe.
Please make sure to pay attention to signage and do not go any further than allowed. With the rapidly changing nature of this glacier and flooding, the areas that are accessible will likely change often. Most of our photos were taken with a zoom lens and do not reflect how close we actually were.
During our visit, we walked along the outwash plain, towards the toe of the glacier, as far as we were able to. And it was jaw dropping! We could see straight into the toe of the glacier, which has ice caves and cracking ice around it, plus see up towards the top of the glacier, which has jagged ice that looks like spikes.
Once you’re done viewing the toe of the glacier, you’ll come back the way you came. This is not a marked trail, so make sure to be aware of where you entered so you can find your way back easily.
How to combine all three trails for the ultimate Exit Glacier hike
While all of these trails are a great way to see Exit Glacier, we recommend combining all three for the ultimate Exit Glacier hike! Below is a custom AllTrails map with the exact route we took!
We suggest starting with the Exit Glacier Loop, then getting onto the Exit Glacier Overlook trail, taking the offshoot to Outwash Plain, and then finishing the rest of the Exit Glacier Overlook Trail. We liked this approach because we got to see the glacier more from afar at first, then get a closer, more head on view, and then end by looking down at it.
Want a closer look at Exit Glacier?
Go on a guided climbing trip on the glacier!
There are several guide companies in town that will take you on a safe trip onto the glacial ice like Exit Glacier Guides and Kenai Backcountry Adventures.
These tours are offered June through September. The guide companies can take you on ice climbing excursions, hiking on the glacier, and also hiking on other trails in the park.
While we didn’t personally climb at Exit Glacier, we did an ice climbing tour in Alaska at the Matanuska Glacier, which was UNREAL! You can watch this video to see what our experience was like!
If you’re unsure about climbing, you can also just hike on the glacier with a guide, which is still an amazing experience.
Looking for a longer hike near Exit Glacier?
The best hike (and most challenging) in our opinion in Kenai Fjords National Park is the Harding Icefield Trail. It is otherworldly!
To learn more about this trail, check out our guide to hiking Harding Icefield Trail, with everything you need to know!
Ready to visit Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park?
Pin this guide to the Exit Glacier hike to help plan your trip!