Paddling in Kenai Fjords can be a once in a lifetime experience. By dipping your paddle into these waters, you're participating in the long history of human powered travel along the Kenai Peninsula coast. You can experience the awe-inspiring power of a tidewater glacier, while dipping a hand into these frigid waters. And keep a sharp eye peeled for birds and marine mammals who call these food-rich waters their summer home.
Traveling with a guide is strongly recommended for inexperienced paddlers. The fjords are exposed to the Gulf of Alaska, with only a few protected coves. These are not waters for beginners! Landings often involve surf, particularly when afternoon breezes kick up from the south. Wind and rainfall can be excessive, and summer storms often push an ocean swell of three feet or more into the fjords. Think safety, and be sure to consider potential risks as well as your own limits when planning a paddling trip in this area.
Seward is a great jumping off point to explore the park and surrounding areas. Visit the various Alaska State Parks recreation areas in Resurrection Bay, with a day or more, you can reach beautful sites like Caines Head, Thumb Cove, or many more. Paddling to the park directly from Seward is not recommended. There are long stretches of exposed coastline with no landing sites between Callisto Head and the Aialik Cape, and the waters around the Cape can be extremely treacherous. Most kayakers access the park by with a guide, water taxi, or charter boat from Seward and get dropped off in Aialik Bay, Northwestern Lagoon or Bear Glacier Lagoon. Another alternative is to fly in to the less-visited Nuka Bay area from Homer.
Camping Along the Coast
Tens of thousands of years of glacial carving and strong waves have scoured much of the existing shoreline in the fjords. There are many sharp cliffs and finding safe landing beaches can be challenging. We recommend carrying a chart and/or map of the area. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map (available in park bookstores) provides a broad view of the park and includes some landing beaches with food storage lockers. Consulting online satellite maps, such as Google Earth, before your trip, can also help provide a more current view of potential landings and beaches.
Camping in the coastal backcountry can be a different experience then traditional backpacking or other backcountry travel. (Carrying your gear in a kayak is certainly easier than carrying it on your back). We encourage all visitors to the coastal backcountry to follow Leave No Trace principles while visiting. It is also important to acquaint yourself with the regulations for our coastal areas, specifically regarding proper food storage and human waste disposal.
When choosing a landing/camping site, use clues such as driftwood accumulation, beach steepness and cobble size to judge what the wave action is likely to be in storm conditions. Make sure you will be able to launch from the beach in the morning if the wind or weather changes overnight. Avoid landing on beaches within two miles of a tidewater glacier.
If you'd prefer a roof over your head, consider staying in one of the two Public Use Cabins (PUC) in Aialik Bay. Aialik PUC is located in Abra Cove and has a view of Aialik Glacier. Holgate PUC is located in Holgate Arm with views of Holgate Glacier. Both cabins are available by reservation each summer.
If you are new to kayaking or looking for a guided trip, consider using one of many experienced guides when planning your kayak adventure in Kenai Fjords.
Last updated: November 29, 2023