Distance: 4 miles – one way
Total elevation gain: 3,000 feet
Best season: Late June to mid-Sept
Surface: Generally more developed, the last 0.8 mile is less developed
The Harding Icefield hike in the Exit Glacier area of Kenai Fjords National Park winds through the forest and climbs above tree line to an ice age experience with stunning panoramic views of the ice field.
|0.0||Begin at the interpretive shelter.|
|0.0||Begin at the interpretive shelter.|
|1.5||A steady climb leads to a viewpoint at about 1,600-foot elevation.|
|2.5||An even better viewpoint is reached at about 2,600-foot elevation.|
|3.2||The constructed/maintained trail ends.|
|4.0||Climb to the Harding lcefield overlook.|
Three miles north of downtown Seward, turn west off the Seward Highway onto Herman Leier Road, drive about 8.6 miles to the Exit Glacier area of Kenai Fjords National Park, and park in the parking area at the end of the road. Follow the paved trail that leads out of the parking area for about O.2 mile to an interpretive shelter. Just beyond the shelter turn right onto the Harding Icefield Trail.
Start early and bring a camera for this hike to the edge of the Harding Icefield, where dark peaks poke out of a sea of ice. The trail climbs gradually through forest and brush, alpine wildflower meadows, and finally rock and snow to an overlook of the icefield. The moderate, switch backing grade is courtesy of Student Conservation Association trail workers-high school students hailing from all over the United States-who worked for several years building this spectacular trail.
Fog, rain, and poor visibility are common, and weather can change quickly, so carry warm, waterproof clothes, even on sunny days. Be prepared to retreat if bad weather moves in, you probably couldn’t see anything anyway If the weather is decent, it is well worth the trek.
From the Exit Glacier parking area, pick out the route on the sloping ridge between Exit Glacier and the rocky peaks to the north. A steady climb leads to a viewpoint at 1.5 miles on a brushy knob above tree line, at 2.5 miles, in a rocky alpine area, the view is even better. The last 0.8 mile is a route beaten by many feet over snow and loose rock, following a lateral moraine and exposed bedrock above Exit Glacier. The destination is a wild scene of ice and dark rock, a definite payoff for the climb. Remember that travel on the glacier below the overlook is potentially dangerous and only for people trained and equipped for it.
There is a shelter below the overlook for emergency use only. Camping near the icefield is possible but limited, if you do camp here, please camp on gravel, bare rock, or snow and not on the sparse, easily damaged vegetation. However, if you want to spend the night in the park you can also tent at the small campground on the park road, leaving you free to carry a daypack up the climb to the icefield.
Mountain goats are fairly common in the high country, Look for black bear especially earlier in the summer, when they munch on new green plant growth. The trail is for foot traffic only, and no pets are allowed.
Most years, Kenai Fjords rangers lead occasional hikes to the icefield. Check the website, ask at the visitor center in Seward, or corral a ranger at the Exit Glacier ranger station for more information. Also plan to take in the Exit Glacier trails while you’re here.
The viewpoints at 1.5 and 2.5 miles make good turnaround points for shorter day hikes.
Check on trail conditions prior to heading out, the upper section of the trail is typically covered with snow through early July, and there may be avalanche danger. Be prepared for storms, high winds, intense sunlight, and sudden temperature changes.
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