A great way to visit Kenai Fjords National Park is to make the trip to Exit Glacier. You can hike all the way up to the Harding Icefield. This is a fairly intense hike up, and the round trip is about 8 miles. Some people hike up and camp on top to enjoy the sunrise. Others hire a guide to actually climb the glacier. None of the above is suitable for younger kids, so we join a ranger on a hike to the toe of Exit Glacier.
We start off at the visitor center and hike through lush forest. The kids have done their homework, and earned their Junior Ranger badge. The park ranger needs their assistance and has them pick up rocks and point out vegetation. When we get to the river Zoe notices ice floating around. One piece close to the edge. She picks it up and the kids enjoy eating this ancient piece of ice. The closer we get to the glacier, the more the vegetation changes. There is an order to how plants and trees grow when the glacier retracts. This way scientists can figure out how long ago the glacier was in a particular spot, and we can get information from even before anyone started measuring.
It is an easy hike, with a bit of an incline towards the glacier. During the walk the ranger gives us many bits of information. It is a great field trip on what is technically the kids’ first day of school. We learn about glacier worms, and how to recognize if water comes from a glacier or from rainfall. As we hike through the forest, we come upon signs. The signs indicate where the glacier was in which year. It is so odd to be in the middle of forest, and notice how the glacier was right up to there when grandpa was born. Even since our oldest was born in 2010, Exit Glacier has moved back hundreds of feet.
About halfway up the hike, there is a comfortable covered bench area with information panels. It is as if it is a lookout into the forest. Which, it turns out, is exactly what it is. When the structure was built, the glacier was right up to here and this location offered a great overview. The park management finds itself in a great predicament on how to proceed with the area. Do they continue to add on to the trail, so visitors can still get to the toe of the glacier? It becomes a longer hike from the visitor center as time goes by. Do they continue building structures that then become irrelevant in terms of their original purpose, as the glacier retracts?
We are hiking on a particularly sunny day, and for us it is the perfect hike. The little one rides on papa’s back and hikes part of the way down. The older ones are entertained by the ranger, and we get no complains of tired feet or hungry bellies. After we check out the displays at the visitor center, we hang out in our trailer in the parking lot to do our school work.
Take-away from Exit Glacier:
- Definitely take the ranger-led hike if you like learning while you see it, rather than from information at the visitor center.
- This is your chance to eat Glacier Ice. According to the ranger, it is perfectly safe to do so.
- Even large RV’s fit on their parking lot. It can get crowded so time it right.
- Don’t get your camera stuck on black-and-white ;-).