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Are you going on vacation in Alaska? It’s so hard to pack, you don’t want to over pack, but you also want to make sure you have enough for where you are going.
Especially if you are visiting the Kenai Fjords, the weather can change quickly.
What Is The Kenai Fjords?
It’s the smallest national park in Alaska, it’s 607,000 acres. It’s surrounded by glaciers, possibly stormy seas, and more.
The Harding Icefield is the park’s crown jewel, almost 714 square miles of ice up to a mile thick. It feeds almost 3 dozen glaciers flowing out of the mountains, 6 of them to tidewater. It’s what’s left over from the massive ice sheet that covered much of Alaska in Pleistocene era.
It has about 20 species of seabirds that nest along the rock coastline. Including Clown Faced Puffins, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Seabirds migrate by the tens of thousands.
There’s 27 land mammals and 10 marine mammals that live there as well. This includes Harbor Seals, Steller Sea Lions, and Sea Otters. Moose, Black Bears, Wolverines, and Coyotes roam narrow bands of forest between the coast and icefield. There are even Mountain Goats on the treeless slopes.
The Kenai Fjords National Park has a name that comes from 2 very different places. Kenai is adapted from the name of the Athabaskan indigenous group that historically lived in the area. Fjord is an Old Norse word for a long, glacier carved inlet.
What Is A Fjord?
A fjord is a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland. Fjords are often set in a U shaped valley with steep walls of rock on either side. They are mainly found in Norway, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Greenland, and Alaska.
They were glaciers. In the Earth’s last ice age, glaciers covered just about everything. Glaciers move very slowly over time and can alter the landscape they go through. It’s called glaciation and it carves deep valleys. This is why fjords can be thousands of meters deep.
Some features of fjords include coral reefs and rocky islands called skerries.
Scientists don’t know much about deep, cold water reefs. They have learned that the living things in cold water need like total darkness. Organisms in cold water reefs have also adapted to life under high pressure.
At the bottom of a fjord, the water pressure can be hundreds or even thousands of kilograms per square meter. Few organisms can survive in this cold, dark habitat.
What To Wear In Kenai Fjords
If you plan on going to the Kenai Fjords, you need to make sure that you dress appropriately. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pack, especially when you aren’t familiar with the environment.
Here are some things that you should pack in your luggage.
Hiking Boots Or Shoes
You should pack comfortable, lightweight, and water repellent footwear. Lightweight hiking boots are usually easy to find at a fair price.
Make sure they are broken in, especially if they are all leather. If you like more intense hiking, you may want to get tougher hiking boots.
Put a coat of waterproofing compound on your boots before going to the fjords.
A good quality rain suit is necessary when going to the Kenai Fjords. You are surrounded by water and the weather can be unpredictable.
They should be made of coated nylon with factory sealed seams. Heavy rubberized rain gear will keep you dry, but it’s bulky and heavy to carry.
If you can help it, don’t bring a plastic or vinyl rain suit or poncho. They tend to tear easily and become useless.
Depending on how long you plan on staying during your vacation, it’s good to have 2 or 3 pairs of pants. One pair should be made of quick drying, synthetic material.
You should have 2 or 3 long sleeve shirts while you are visiting. A long sleeved, light colored, tightly woven shirt is good for bug and sun protection.
Bring at least one non cotton hiking shirt, maybe 2, one long sleeved and one short sleeved.
Synthetic fleece or wool jackets and sweaters make great layers for warmth. A fleece or wool vest helps take the early morning or late night chill off.
You should pack a wool or synthetic fleece hat, it will keep your head nice and toasty.
Pack a pair or 2 of wool gloves. It will keep your fingers warm while you hike, are on a boat, and photographing.
A brimmed hat is good for sun protection. It’s a good alternative for those who don’t like hoods and want some extra rain protection.
Pack a handful of socks, have them be wool or synthetic for hiking. Lightweight socks are good for everything else.
2 sets of polypropylene, Capilene, or Thermax tops and bottoms are always a good idea. They keep you warm even when you are wet. It wicks moisture away from the skin.
Sunglasses And Sunscreen
Be aware that the sun in Alaska can be strong at times. It can even bounce off the glaciers and right into your eyes.
Depending on your plans, a pair of rubber boots is good. It can keep your feet dry from the tides.
How To Have Fun At The Kenai Fjords
Now that you know what to wear to the fjords, here are a few tips so that you can have a great time.
Get On A Boat
Much of this national park is only accessible by water, including the fjord’s ecosystem and tidewater glaciers. Boat tours provide opportunities for wildlife viewing and experiencing amazing scenery.
Half day tours stay within the more protected waters of Resurrection Bay, while full day tours provide views of some of the park’s tidewater glaciers.
As mentioned before when discussing what to wear, the weather and temperature can change quickly. It’s good to dress in layers.
Look For Wildlife
There are so many different types of animals that you can find within the Kenai Fjords. Look for Sea Otters, Stellar Sea Lions, Orcas, Fin, Gray, Humpback, Minke, and Sei Whales. On land, you can may see Moose, Mountain Goats, River Otters, Snowshoe Hares, Lynx, Gray Wolves, Wolverines, and Black and Brown Bears.
Visit Exit Glacier
The Exit Glacier is the only part of the park that’s accessible by road. It features the park’s only maintained hiking trails, a campground, and the Exit Glacier Nature Center.
A network of short trails leads to different views of Exit Glacier, including a 1-mile accessible loop and the more rugged Edge of the Glacier trail.
Don’t Worry About Rainy Days
It can be easy to be disappointed if it starts to rain when you are visiting the Kenai Fjords. But have no fear, rangers say that this is when steep walls come alive with ephemeral waters. The subdued light actually makes the glaciers take on a deeper blue tint.
Join A Ranger
Throughout the summer, park and fjord rangers offer programs from walking to hiking to talks about the park. In Kenai Fjord specifically, they have Art for Parks Backpacks filled with art supplies to explore your creative side while in the park.
Take A Hike
If you are experienced hiker, you may want to take on the Harding Icefield Trail. Park rangers say it’s the best day hike in the National Park Service.
It begins at the Exit Glacier Nature Center and travels to the edge of the Harding Icefield, which takes up 50 percent of the park. It’s an 8.2 mile round trip, gaining nearly 1,000 feet of elevation each mile on the way up.
If you can make it all the way, there are great views back into the ice age.
You can take a flight tour with a park approved outfitter. From the air, you will really be able to take in the size and scope of the park, along with the varying landscapes. It also makes for great wildlife spotting.
Paddle The Fjords
The park’s water is not for beginners, but if you are an experienced kayaker you can get out on the water to kayak the fjords.
You can get up close and personal with the glaciers. You should visit the Bear Glacier Lagoon, Aialik Bay, or Resurrection Bay.
Packing The Right Stuff Is So Important
Having the right clothes will make or break a vacation. If you don’t have the right stuff you can be too hot or cold. You may even have to use your spending money to buy the clothes you need.
Hopefully, this list will help you know what to pack when you are prepping for your Alaskan vacation. You now know what to do to make your visit to the Kenai Fjords the best ever.
Make sure to keep this list safe so you know where it is and can use it as a cheat sheet.