Hiking in the Backcountry

A hiker with large backpack steps down rocky terrain with a cove surrounded by steep mountains below.
Hiking in the backcountry requires proper preparation and planning to safely enjoy Kenai Fjord's wilderness.

NPS Photo



Much of Kenai Fjords National Park's 600,000 acres is remote, trail-less backcountry. The vast majority of backcountry users kayak and camp along the coastal fjords. Follow the link to Backcountry Safety to get a bigger picture of what it means to be safe in Kenai Fjords wilderness.

Inland areas that aren't icebound consist mainly of sheer cliffs, steep gorges, and box canyons, often covered by dense vegetation. While it is not recommended, especially for beginners, for those that do venture into backcountry hiking and camping read the safety tips below.

Backcountry Hiking

Glacial Travel

Along the coast, especially in Northwestern Fiord, some glaciers can be accessed on foot. It’s not always easy to recognize when you are on a glacier since the edges and terminus are often covered with a layer of rock and debris. This veneer of gravel over ice can be extremely slippery so watch your footing! Beware of areas where if you did fall you could slide into a crevasse or Moulin (meltwater hole). Crampons and ice axes are strongly recommended for any glacial travel.

Stream Crossings

There are no bridges in Kenai Fjords backcountry. Use extreme caution when crossing glacial streams. Glacial silt makes it difficult to judge the water’s depth and there may be blocks of ice and other floating debris out of sight below the surface.

Take care to find the safest location to cross. Check out downstream areas in advance for any hazards should you get swept off your feet. Pack to keep gear dry in case of an accidental swim. Loosen pack straps prior to crossing and be prepared to jettison your pack if necessary.
Abandoned mine shaft.
Abandoned mine shaft

NPS Photo

Abandoned Mine Sites

Several abandoned mines are scattered throughout the coastal backcountry of the park. Use extreme caution in areas around mine sites. Watch out for sharp rusted pieces of old mining equipment. Abandoned chemicals such as cyanide, arsenic, mercury and other deadly toxins may also be present in leaky and deteriorating containers. Don’t drink the water in areas near mine sites – filtering or treating it will not remove arsenic, mercury or other heavy metals that may be present.

Never enter an adit, mine shaft or tunnel! They are extremely unstable and cave-ins and falling debris are a real danger. Darkness and debris in old mines can make it difficult to identify hazards such as rotted boards, hidden holes and deep shafts. Lethal concentrations of dangerous gasses can accumulate in underground passages and oxygen deficient air can cause rapid suffocation.

Backcountry Camping

Choose a Campsite Wisely

Avoid bear haunts such as salmon streams, berry patches or game trails. Avoid areas with fresh droppings or tracks. If possible, camp in areas with bear food storage lockers.

Food Storage

Make food storage your first priority upon arriving at camp. Don’t delay! Bears can show up any time, day or night. If you are not in an area with food storage lockers, use portable bear-resistant food canisters (BRFCs). BRFCs are available for rent from some local kayak companies or they can be purchased from a number of outdoor/camping related companies. Methods such as triple-wrapping in plastic or burying food in rocks or snow are ineffective and illegal. If you are planning to camp in the park’s forested areas, you can hang food and other scented items at least 10 feet up and 4 feet out from tree trunks. This means that you will need to suspend your food between two trees, so bring plenty of line.

Keep a Clean Camp

Cook away from your tent and take out only the food you need at mealtimes. Store the rest immediately. Wash your dishes. Avoid smelly food like bacon and smoked fish. Never sleep in the same clothing you wore while cooking. Food and garbage are equally attractive to a bear so treat them with equal care. Store garbage the same way you would food or burn it completely in a hot fire and pack out the remains.Avoid using scented toiletries altogether – bears are prone to investigate unfamiliar scents and may be more interested in you if you smell like perfumed soap, deodorant or mouthwash.

Be Bear Aware

If a bear approaches your camp while you have food and/or toiletries out, don’t just abandon them. Try to scare the bear away by making loud noises. If possible, gather your food and store it properly or put it in your boat and get offshore. If a bear does get into your camp, you are responsible for cleaning up and packing out all debris. Remember the safety of the bear and of future visitors depends on you. Once a bear gets habituated to human food, it becomes a danger to other visitors and will likely be destroyed.Report all bear encounters or problems to a park ranger. Rangers on the coast can be contacted on marine VHF channel 16. If you cannot contact a ranger in the field, be sure to stop in at the information center in Seward when you return from your trip.

Treat Your Drinking Water

Untreated water may contain Giardia, which presents serious health risks. Be sure to boil water for one minute, treat with iodine tablets or use a water filter.

Last updated: May 7, 2024

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PO Box 1727
Seward, AK 99664


907 422-0500

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