Bear Glacier Lagoon

Large lagoon, surrounded by mountains, in front of Bear Glacier with white iceberg floating in the water.
The longest glacier in the park, Bear Glacier, and its iceberg filled lagoon.

USGS / B.Molnia

 
Two kayakers float in the water in front of a giant iceberg.
Kayakers observe an iceberg from a safe distance.

NPS photo

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.
 
Iceberg graphic showing 10% above water and 90% below water.
Approximately 10% of an iceberg is above water, and the other 90% is below water.

Iceberg graphic designed by Vexels.com

Lagoon Safety
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:
  • Remain ½ mile from the face of glaciers.
  • Remain twice the height or width away from the icebergs.
  • Don’t attempt to paddle between 2 large icebergs.
  • Land your kayak and camp at least 2 miles from the glacier.
  • Camp well above the waterline of the lagoon as large waves can occur at any time and engulf your campsite.
 
Small lake bordered by steep cliffs in the background and glacial ice in foreground.
The glacier-dammed lake above Bear Glacier Lagoon. Note the glacial ice creating the dam in the foreground.

NPS / B. Anderson

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.

In recent years, park visitors have reported suddenly elevated water levels in Bear Glacier Lagoon. In October 2010, a GLOF was documented to cause a 1.8 meter (5.9 foot) rise in water levels in Bear Glacier Lagoon. In August 2014, a GLOF event caused Bear Glacier Lagoon to breach the moraine which separates it from Resurrection Bay. After the outpouring of water and silt into the bay, lagoon levels dropped dramatically and caused increased calving at the Bear Glacier terminus.

Glacial Lake Outburst Flood Safety
  • When near a glacial outflow channel, be aware of any sudden changes in water flow, level, or clarity. This could indicate GLOF activity upstream.
  • Be prepared for rising waters when landing and camping on beaches around the lagoon. Even kayaks and gear stored well above the waterline can be swept away.
  • Changing water levels from a GLOF could increase iceberg calving activity in the lagoon. Remember to stay at least ½ mile away from the face of the glacier when kayaking.
 
Land Ownership
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.
 

Bear Glacier Lagoon

Showing boundaries between Kenai Fjords National Park and Alaska state land.
 
Important Regulations to Remember
Human Waste
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.

Food Storage
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.
  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Campfires
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:
  • Build your fire below high tide line (if camping on an oceanfront beach) or bring a fire pan.
  • Use dead and down wood – do not bring wood from home – and choose pieces smaller than the size of your wrist.
  • Burn wood completely to ash.
  • Disassemble your fire ring before leaving camp.

Last updated: March 7, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 1727
Seward, AK 99664

Phone:

(907) 422-0500

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