Perched at the edge of Resurrection Bay’s epic sweep, the small, bustling town of Seward, Alaska, is primarily known for its towering glaciers, especially those in Kenai Fjords National Park. However, the real draw to this seaside outpost located about a two-hour drive south of Anchorage should be its multitude of breathtaking hikes, away from the glaciers and outside the park, which include some of the best in the state.
Seward, Alaska, known for its glaciers, also features top-notch hikes
Trails of varying lengths and difficulties wend their way through diverse environments, such as the top of a craggy mountain peak with breathtaking views of the bay and a secluded ridge-top lake, as well as verdant forests and the ocean’s rocky shoreline. Here are five unforgettable treks, including options for every schedule and hikers of all levels.
Lost Lake Trail
Start from the trailhead at the end of Hayden Lane.
Set aside a full day for this rigorous but rewarding hike to a picturesque lake on a ridge top cozied up alongside the peak of Mount Ascension. The nearly 14-mile out-and-back trail with about 2,600 feet of elevation gain took me 5½ hours to complete, although you may want to allow for up to eight hours. Winding up through a Sitka spruce forest, then along the edge of a lushly carpeted canyon, the path eventually finds its way into meadowlands, where you’re afforded stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Wild blueberry bushes line the trail for several long stretches, offering a tangy-sweet snack on the go. At one point, I spotted a marmot popping up from its burrow, and birdsong soundtracked many miles of the journey. The lake was pure magic, its water looking jade green from afar but morphing into granite gray as I got closer, its mirror-sharp surface reflecting the contours of the rolling ridge tops surrounding it and the wispy-edged, billowing clouds sitting close above. The shoreline was flat and grassy, the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch and rest my legs before heading home.
Mount Marathon Jeep Trail
Start from the trailhead at the corner of First Avenue and Monroe Street.
Some reviews of this hike make it sound as if it’s an easy-peasy jaunt in the woods. Don’t believe them. Although it’s only about four miles out and back, there’s more than 1,600 feet of elevation change, starting with a steep switchback in the woods. All the effort is worth it. After making it above the tree line, you’re greeted with sweeping views of Resurrection Bay spreading off to the horizon and Seward below. Keep going to the summit, where there are lots of lichen-spotted, flower-dotted rock formations, and you can chillax while appreciating the vista spread out before you. Keep an eye out for wildlife. The forest is alive with birds, and I was lucky enough to see a mother moose and her calf. This is quite a popular path, so expect to see plenty of other hikers as well as runners, some training for a grueling annual 5K that follows a similar route up the mountain.
Bear Lake Trail
Start from the trailhead at the corner of Bleth Street and Bear Lake Road.
They don’t call it Bear Lake for nothing. The day I hiked it, a sign posted at the trailhead warned that an individual was recently mauled by a bear there, requiring 30 stitches on the side of his face. The sow who attacked him was still in the area, along with her cubs. Although notices like this can be off-putting, bears are a fact of life in this region. Going during daylight hours, consistently making noise as you walk to alert bears to your presence and carrying bear spray all greatly decrease your chances of having a dangerous interaction. Aside from the threat of an encounter with a brown or black bear, this is an easygoing out-and-back hike covering just over four miles across generally flat ground. It wends its way through the forest, past cheery streams and small waterfalls, and alongside the lake, where it’s common to see bald eagles and other birds.
Tonsina Creek Trail
Start from the trailhead off Pinnacle View Road.
Although this is a beautiful hike throughout the year, it’s especially magical when the salmon are running in Tonsina Creek, where thousands spawn from around June into September. A pair of wooden bridges cross two branches of the stream, offering a great view of bumper-to-bumper fish as they strive to complete their life cycle, although they are sometimes thwarted by the geography of the waterway, the persistence of divebombing birds and the limits of their own endurance. Even if this drama isn’t unfolding, Tonsina Point is a gem, but make sure you time your visit during low tide to ensure you can access all of it. The trail is generally over flat ground, starting in the forest, then following the pebbled beach on Resurrection Bay. (It’s about 3½ to six miles round-trip, depending on how far out you go.) The area is rich with wildlife, including sea otters, bald eagles and many other birds. Also expect to see a lot of outdoor enthusiasts, because this is a popular hiking spot.
Ptarmigan Lake Trail
Start from the trailhead at the camp on Ptarmigan Lake Trail 14.
If you’re looking for a solid three-hour hike with lots of natural beauty and few fellow trekkers, this is the one for you. Located about a half-hour drive north of town, the well-maintained trail is roughly seven miles long round-trip with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain as you ascend Crown Point, following the gurgling, burbling waters of Ptarmigan Creek through the forest. Next, you’re on the exposed mountainside, where you’ll be treated to views of the Chugach mountain range. Finally, you’ll reach the lake, which stretches into the distance, with the glacier-tipped Andy Simons Mountain rising in the background. There’s a small beach area on the picturesque shoreline, where you can savor a bite while watching the many beavers who call the lake home as well as a bounty of birds.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.