As a playground for kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, and campers, Bear Glacier Lagoon draws a variety of visitors to Kenai Fjords. Bear Glacier Lagoon is a proglacier lagoon, a lake that forms between a glacier and its moraine. The lagoon is an incredible place to explore and see giant icebergs that have calved from the largest glacier in the park. As with all paddling in the park, we recommend knowing your experience level and proper planning for a safe trip. You may consider a guided trip, as there are many unique hazards in and around the lagoon where local knowledge and expertise is highly recommended.
Navigation and Getting There
Bear Glacier Lagoon is relatively close to Seward, only 12 miles to the southwest. However, paddling requires detailed knowledge of the route, which is exposed to the Gulf of Alaska and has few landings. In addition, exposure to the Gulf of Alaska creates surf conditions along the ocean side of the lagoon beach. We recommend a water taxi as travel to Bear Glacier is not for beginners. Bear Glacier Lagoon is frequently blanketed in fog. Be aware that during foggy conditions it can be difficult to navigate and maintain a safe distance from the face of the glacier and icebergs.
The icebergs in Bear Glacier Lagoon are much larger than those found near the tidewater glaciers elsewhere in the park. These building size icebergs are mostly submerged and can roll and break at any moment. There is much more to the iceberg than what you see above the water. They may have beautiful features such as arches and tunnels, but don’t let these lure you in too close. They are slowly melting, and it is unpredictable when their balance will shift and they will break or roll.
While the face of Bear Glacier doesn’t calve as frequently as some of the tidewater glaciers, it is still important to maintain a safe distance, both in and out of the water. Calvings can create large waves that can pull your boat and gear into the water. If you must land close to the glacier, spend very little time, keep an eye on the ice, and be ready for a hasty departure.
Important safety tips:
Glacier Lake Outburst Floods
Glacier-dammed lakes (lakes which form from water trapped behind, below, or inside of a glacier) are common throughout Southcentral Alaska, including at Bear Glacier. These glacier-dammed lakes can release dangerous floods known as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) or Jökulhlaups. Unfortunately, the same waters which draw in recreationalists are also the final destination for much of the flood water displaced by GLOFs at the glacier.
Glacial Lake Outburst Flood Safety
6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) up-glacier from the terminus of Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, an ice-dammed lake fills and drains in a cycle that produces near-annual glacial lake outburst floods. In 2017, park staff installed a camera to monitor this source lake to better understand the dynamics of this cycle and reoccurring event. This camera provides a daily image that allows Kenai Fjords National Park researchers to monitor the behavior of this lake and, by analyzing the photos, we are working to better understand the timing and frequency of the drainage events that lead to flooding in the proglacial lake at Bear Glacier's terminus. This camera was purchased with NPS recreational fee funds and is maintained and monitored by Kenai Fjords National Park.
As you can see on the map below, Bear Glacier Lagoon encompasses both state and federal land ownership. The park exists on the west side of the boundary line while state lands occupy the east side. It is important to know and understand these boundaries and the regulations which apply to each area. Click through to learn more about Alaska State regulations.
Important Regulations to Remember
Please help protect Kenai Fjord National Park's coastal resources and ecosystem by removing all human waste from the park. Per the park’s compendium, all human waste in coastal areas must be carried out and disposed of outside the park. Tissue paper and sanitary items should be packed out or burned completely.
Waste disposal kits, such as PETT Wag Bags, Restop II, or similar containers, are an environmentally friendly human waste disposal option. The bag within a bag design and ziplock closure securely contains waste and odor, while the special blend of polymers instantly breaks down waste and turns it into a deodorized gel. The contents of the bag are safe for landfills, and it is a lightweight, sanitary way to pack out waste.
Currently, there are no bear boxes at Bear Glacier, and there are very few places to suspend food. Please ensure your food and beverages are stored in a bear resistant container, (coolers and ice chests do not provide proper storage).
Proper food storage is mandatory throughout Kenai Fjords National Park. It is illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by leaving food or garbage that attracts them. All food (including your fishing catch, garbage, and any food containers, cooking equipment, etc., that contains food odors) must be properly stored.
Keep Bear Glacier Beautiful
The pristine wilderness of Bear Glacier Lagoon inspires us all. Where else can you experience giant icebergs, the cold glacial-fed waters, and the open Pacific Ocean, all in one place? Be a steward of your park by helping maintain this coastal ecosystem. When visiting, please practice the seven Leave No Trace principles to help preserve this scenic landscape.
Please help us protect our park from the scars of many campfires so future generations can enjoy the pristine environment you enjoy today.
As with all other areas of the park enjoy a “Leave No Trace fire” in the following manner:
Last updated: September 2, 2020