Harding Icefield Trail

The 8.2-mile round trip Harding Icefield Trail is a spectacular day hike leaving from the Exit Glacier Area. Starting on the valley floor, the trail winds through cottonwood and alder forests, passes though heather filled meadows and ultimately climbs well above tree line to a breath-taking view of the Icefield. The top of the trail is a window to past ice ages - a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see, broken only by an occasional nunatak, or lonely peak.

A hiker sits at the end of the Harding Icefield Trail, and looks out over the ice field itself.
View from the end of the Harding Icefield Trail.

NPS Photo / F. North

The trail is strenuous! Hikers gain approximately 1,000 feet of elevation with every mile. Allow at least 6-8 hours for the hike. Although the view from the top is well worth the effort, you need not hike all the way to the top to experience the wonders of this trail. Even a short hike up the trail affords impressive views of the valley floor and Exit Glacier's terminus.

Be prepared! Check on trail conditions before starting out - the upper portion of the trail is often covered with snow through early July and there may be avalanche danger. Be prepared for storms, high winds, intense sunlight, and sudden temperature changes. Bring warm clothes, rain gear, sturdy footwear, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Carry plenty of water (at least 2 liters per person), or bring along a filter - untreated water from streams along the trail may contain Giardia, a parasite that can cause severe abdominal distress.

Stay on the trail. Alpine vegetation is extremely fragile. Careless hikers who cut switchbacks, along with frequent summer rains, cause tremendous erosion. Volunteers help restore and maintain this trail every year. Please respect their hard work by sticking to the trail.

A black bear walks through the park.
Bears can be a common sight along the Harding Icefield Trail. Be sure to learn what do when you see one, so that both you and the bear have a safe experience.

NPS Photo

This is bear country! The vegetation along the trail is dense and passes through thickets of salmonberries, a favorite food of black bears. Black bears are spotted almost everyday from the Harding Icefield Trail. Take precautions and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make noise when you hike to avoid surprising a bear. Be especially on the lookout for mother bears with cubs. You may see the cubs first, possibly up a tree, but the mother will be close by. Never get between a mother bear and her cubs.

Pack it out. There are no garbage cans or toilet facilities along the trail. Pack out all litter. If you have to “go”, dig a small cat hole at least 100 feet from the trail or from any streams or water sources. Be sure to backfill your cat hole when you are done. Toilet paper should be packed out with other trash.

Planning to Camp? Camping is permitted along the Harding Icefield Trail corridor, but you must set up camp at least 1/8 mile from the trail on bare rock or snow. Follow the principles of Leave No Trace – limit group size, find a camp spot that is out of sight from the trail, and avoid crushing fragile vegetation. Camping is not permitted in the shelter at the top of the Icefield trail – it is for emergency use only.


Last updated: May 3, 2024

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Seward, AK 99664


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