We have decided to start a photo journal to publish photos from Scandinavian Life & Nature. The journal is here to keep us inspired and help us always keep advancing in the field of photography. The blog will be minimalistic where the photography gets all the focus. Hope to see you there as well.
Inger & Tor
West Thumb Geyser Basin is a thermal area modest in size and does not have the largest hot springs or geysers in Yellowstone National Park. But don’t let that talk against it, with its idyllic location on the shore of Yellowstone Lake it is well worth a visit. So much that we went twice, but more about that later.
West Thumb is, as the name indicates, located on the west side of Yellowstone Lake and is actually a caldera within the larger Yellowstone Lake caldera. The two most prominent features in my opinion is Black Pool and The Fishing Cone.
The name might be deceiving as Black Pool is clear blue and by many considered the most beautiful hot spring in Yellowstone. It used to be much darker, but with time the temperature has increased killing the bacteria that created the darker colour. I think I am ok with that as I love the clear blue, turquoise colour is it currently possessing. With the lake and mountains in the background is makes quite a view.
There is also a high change of seeing elk in this area, especially in fall. We heard many of them bugling in the forest, and a couple of them were walking around on the basin not taking any notice of the warning signs!
The Fishing Cone I would highly recommend visiting in the morning at sunrise, as that is a spectacular view. I will cover the early moring visit to Fishing Cone later as that deserves a separate post.
As always, you’ll find us on Facebook for more photos and adventures.
If you’ve heard about one hiking trip in Norway I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Pulpit Rock. With its moderate distance and jaw dropping cliff it is no wonder this is one of Norway’s most popular hikes – more than 270 000 hikers complete the trip – every year!
The trip starts at Preikestolen Mountain Lodge where there is a large parking lot. The trail is easy to find – just follow the red T painted on rocks showing you the way. The hike is 3.8 km each way and most people use 1.5 – 2 hrs from the lodge to the plateau.
A large part of the trail has been upgraded by sherpas in 2013/2014, especially some of the steeper parts where they have built stairs by natural stone. It is still a hiking trail so wear sturdy boots.
You will ascend about 330 meters, but that will all be forgotten once you get to the edge of Lysefjorden and the 604 meter (1982 ft) drop from Pulpit Rock.
This is raw wilderness and there are no safety rails.
Did you know there is a crack all across Pulpit Rock (you can see it in the photo below). It is believed that the plateau will one day fall into the fjord like the mountain that once surrounded it. Would you risk crossing the crack?
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE TRIP TO PULPIT ROCK
1.How to get there? Most people will drive or take the bus from Stavanger as this is the closest city to Preikestolen, just 1 1/2 hour away.
If you drive yourself: You will have to cross the fjord by ferry. There are two options, either Stavanger – Tau or Lauvvik – Oanes. Check out the ferry times before you leave, they are less frequent during weekends.
If you take the bus: If you don’t have a car or don’t want to worry about parking fees at Preikestolen Mountain Lodge there are several companies offering to take you there by bus. Check out Tide or Boreal for tickets. Alternatively stop by the tourist information in Stavanger and they will help you out with tickets.
2. Parking: Parking at Preikestolen Mountain Lodge is 150 NOK, which you pay with card or cash at the time of exit. Taking into account the number of people who will likely be hiking the trail I recommend starting early to ensure you get parking at Preikestolen Fjellstue.
3. When to go? The best time is summer and fall. Snow and ice can cover the trail until mid-May. On the other hand, if you don’t mind hiking on snow this it the only time of year you could have it all to yourself!
4. Best time of the day? If you want to avoid the crowds you should get an early start. Drawback is that you will meet the crowds on the return. Alternatively you can do this as an afternoon hike. In summer the sun doesn’t set before late in the evening.
5. Foot wear? Please put on some sturdy boots. This is a hiking trail and you will be hiking on uneven ground, boulders, mud and mountain. No flip flops or high heels belong on this trail. Every year the local rescue service is dispatched to rescue hikers with twisted ankles, fatigue, etc.
6. Clothing: This is a mountain plateau and weather can change quickly. Be prepared for wind and rain. The weather on the parking lot is not necessarily representative of what you will meet on the mountain plateau.
7. Fog! Be aware that the fog can come drifting in making it impossible to navigate. This is not a place you want to get lost. If you find heavy fog when you get close to the plateau please consider to turn around.
8. Food and water: There is no serving so you need to bring your own refreshment and lunch bag.
9. Safety? The local Red Cross society recommends that if you want to look over the edge you should get down on your belly and crawl out. Don’t sit on the edge and lean forward. If you fall you are dead.
10. Photography tip: You’ll get some great photos with Lysefjorden in the background if you continue the hiking loop to the small look-out above the plateau.
We saw a picture of Fairy Falls and knew we had to hike in to see it. The hike is moderate (8 km) in a fairly flat terrain – but it can be hot in Yellowstone so the earlier in the day the better.
This hike is perfect in combination with hiking to the Grand Prismatic Spring unofficial look-out as they both start on the same parking lot, which is about 1.5 kilometer south of Midway Basin where you’ll find Grand Prismatic.
From the parking lot cross the steel bridge over the Firehole River and follow the road for a couple of kilometers until you reach the sign for Fairy Falls telling you to turn left.
Once you reach the 200 feet fall you can appreciate the name it has been given – it looks like a fair angels hair. Beautiful!
Yellowstone is where I first heard about thermophiles. Thermophiles are heat tolerant organisms that lives in the hot springs. Various groups of thermophiles flourish at different temperature ranges. What is amazing is the explosion of colors they create – just take a look at Grand Prismatic.
The best view of Grand Prismatic is not from the walkways around the hot spring, it is from the closest nearby hill. Looking from above you can truly appreciate the size and the colors.
To get to the hill you’ll need to pack your hiking boots because this is not an official trail in the park and there will be no wooden walkways to follow. Use the parking lot about 1.5 kilometers south of the Midway Geyser Basin and cross bridge over the Firehole River.
Photo tips: Use a polarizing filter on your lens to reduce reflections on the hot spring surface and add vividness to the colors.
If you want to make a full day of it I recommend continuing the hike to Fairy Falls after you have your classical Grand Prismatic photo secured. More to come about Fairy Falls in my next post.
At Hafrsfjord in Stavanger you will find the monument Swords in Rock. The swords stand more than 9 meters tall. It was here the viking Harald Fairhair (Harald Hårfarge) fought the battle that united Norway into one kingdom in 872 AD. The hilts are imitations after sword hilts found in different parts of Norway.
The monument is by some considered a symbol of piece – the swords are mounted into the mountain because they are not to be used again.
In many of the surrounding areas of Stavanger you are walking in the footsteps of the Vikings … one of these areas is Mosterøy in Rennesøy municipality. This is where you will find Utstein Kloster, Norway’s only preserved medieval monastery.
We visited a beautiful Sunday in late April and this is when the lambing starts. The island was full of new born lambs when we visited, so cute!
Utstein was one of Harald Fairhair’s royal seats after the victory at Hafrsfjord in 872 where he fought the last battle and found himself the first king of Norway. The monastery itself was built around 1260 and the monks living here was of the Augustinian order.
The church is special as the tower is located in the middle and splits the church in two. Our guide indicated this is more commonly seen in Scotland it is likely something monks from Scotland brought with them to Norway.
The monastery was uninhabited after the Reformation and put into ruins. Some 200 years later it was purchased by the Garmann family and fully renovated.
There is a fee to enter the monastery, but that includes a guided tour with a well informed guide. Fingers crossed you won’t meet the white lady…
Our second stop on Mosterøy was Fjøløy lighthouse and Fjøløy Fort. The fort opened for public access just a few years ago. It is a short drive away from Utstein monastery and there are several trails around the area that will give you different views of the lighthouse and inlets to several fjords in the region.
In the end of January we got the message we had been anticipating for a while – we were returning to Norway. The last two months have been busy moving, but we have started to settle down here in Stavanger.
We haven’t been so busy that we haven’t had time to take the camera for a walk. The capture below is from a lovely sunset we witnessed in Hafrsfjord.
For those interested in history a very significant battle took place in Hafrsfjord back in the days of the Vikings. This is where Harold the Fairhair won the battle that unified Norway to one kingdom in 872.
It was a much more relaxed atmosphere the day we visited and no blood was shed…
You will find them all over Yellowstone. Thousands are roaming the national park freely. 2000 pounds of muscles grunting and snorting. Yes, we are talking about the largest mammal in North America – the Bison.
I had seen bison before in Waterton National Park, but that is a small herd and they are confined within a smaller fenced area. When we arrived at Yellowstone the number of bison we saw just blew my mind!
The largest herds where in Lamar and Hayden Valley, but we literally saw bison everywhere. On the roads, which created a bit of a traffic jam. In the thermal areas, seems they didn’t care about the warning signs telling you not to walk outside of the wooden walkways. Well, to be honest there was numerous tourists ignoring those signs as well risking their life to get that perfect picture.
The bison looks so calm while eating on the grasslands, but every year more people are hurt by bison than bears due to not keeping sufficient distance. These guys are big, but they can run at 30 mph. You are not going outrun them.
Bison usually calf in early spring, so we didn’t have any hopes of seeing those adorable cute orange calves. They keep that reddish-orange colour for 10 weeks and we were visiting in September which should be well past that season. You could say we were very surprised and excited when we actually came across a herd that still had a younger one with the rusty orange colour.
Aren’t these guys impressive? Have you had an exciting bison experience? Share it below, I’d love to hear about it!
While visiting Vancouver Island one of the main attractions is whale watching, and especially the orca (or killer whale) is on everyones wishlist. It was no different for me. I had seen these guys from a distance before while visiting Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. What we got to experience in Strait of Juan de Fuca far exceeded anything I could have hoped for.
We had booked our trip from Victoria and it didn’t take long before we saw our first whale – a humpback. We were visiting in September and during this period there is a high chance to spot humpbacks as they are migrating south from Alaska to Hawaii.
There are many companies offering whale watching and they all want their customers to see whales – and the best way to ensure this is by cooperating. So we soon learned via the radio that a larger pod of orcas had been spotted. Our captain headed in that direction and we all had our fingers and toes crossed.
As we approached the orcas I was astonished by how many they where. My dear hubby had taken the role as photographer this day – and I could just enjoy watching these beauties!
In the North Pacific there are three distinct types of killer whales are recognized: resident, transient and offshore orcas. There are two resident populations of orca on the Northeastern Pacific coast and it was likely one of these pods we were having the pleasure of meeting.
Before you go on a whale watching tour you should know the guidelines are for all boats to keep a 100 metres/yards away from the whales. A telephoto would normally be required to get any close-up photos.
Often the captain would drive ahead off the pod and turn off the engines while we watched them pass our side from a distance. I captured a small video of this – it is pretty amazing – you can hear the orcas breathe. Even the guide (who you can hear talking in the video) was amazed and she had probably seen this many, many times before.
Check out this 30 second video for your own private whale watching tour from your sofa.
We were sitting in the boat with engines turned off as the whales suddely made a 90 degree turn and came directly towards the boat. Should the orca for some reason get within the 100 meter rule the guidance is to place engine in neutral and allow whales to pass. They were not obviously not planning on changing direction at all and dived directly under our boat. I could see the black and white shadow of the orca as it passed under us. I was ecstatic!
When I thought things couldn’t get any better they did. As we were following this one pod of orca another pod showed up. And magic happened! It was evident that these two pods were happy to see each other. We started seeing all kind of fun orca behaviour like breaching, spyhopping, tail-lobbing and fin slapping.
Breaching is just the whale-word for jumping. No one knows why orcas breach – some scientists say to communicate, some say to get rid of unwanted parasites on the skin. Since breaching occurs most when the orcas are socialising, many think they just do it for fun! I tend to agree with the last theory – based on my own observations this day.
Spyhopping it is when an orca lifts its head out of the water. Scientists think orcas do this to take a look around, which makes sense. We didn’t get any good photos of the breaching (you have to be faster then lightening), but did get this one of an orca peeking above the water.
I could go on and on about my excitement, but think I will just round off the orca part with this one last photo. We had more than 600 photos to sort through after this tour…
The whale watching tour ended with a trip around Race Rocks Lighthouse as the sun started to go down. The lighthouse is just outside Victoria and was first illuminated in 1860.
The area around the lighthouse is designated a Marine Protected Area and has an abundance of wildlife. We saw lots of steller sea lions and adorable sea otters.
I was truly grateful to have had this experience. The orca has always fascinated me and getting to see them up close and see their social behaviors was very rewarding.
What is your most rewarding wildlife moment? Please feel free to share, I’d love to hear about it.
Mount Rundle is one of the famous landmarks in Banff National Park. Any given evening you can expect to find photographers trying to get that perfect sunset shot of Mt Rundle with its reflections in Vermillion Lake. No worries – there is plenty of space so it never feels crowded.
Every sunset is different and sitting on the dock admiring the stages it takes is one of my favourite moments when visiting this national park.
This evening the sunset started off with a peachy colour while the last rays of the sun coloured the tops of Mount Rundle orange.
Blogging goals for 2016
As we are admiring the sunset I’ll spend some time reflecting over 2015 and try to set goals for 2016. Feel free to skip down to the next photo as I realise this might only be interesting to me – but I find putting things down on paper and sharing it is very helpful for goal setting.
Narrowing down my niche – ourdoorsy photography
2015 was my first year blogging and I learnt a lot. Photography is an area I would like to develop my skills on in 2016. I have started using Lightroom to improve my photos and did a Photoshop course at the end of 2015. I am also going to complete reading ‘Understanding Exposure – How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera’.
Being active on social media
I joined social networks Twitter, Instagram and Facebook in 2015. Trying to be active on all 3 channels takes a lot of time. My focus area for 2016 will be on Instagram as I find it great for sharing photos and reaching out to a different audience. You’ll find me as @69_degrees_north on Instagram.
I found that trying to blog about all our outdoor adventures actually made me spend less time outdoors. Hey – that wasn’t the intention! For 2016 there will not be more than one blog post a week, likely a bit less. The rest of the time you’ll find me outdoors.
As the sun set the colour cooled of and turned into a lighter peach – before it turned all pink.
I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring
– David Bowie
Have you set yourself or your blog any goals for 2016? Please feel free to drop a comment, we’d love to hear about it.
Time has come for the curtain to fall on our Alaska series Denali to Kenai. This is the 23rd and last post in the series. Thank you to everyone who has followed and commented on our posts – it has been a blast!
In this last post I will leave you with some wonderful sunsets and our personal Top 3 adventures from Alaska.
Hubby is documenting the sunset over Cook Inlet
NUMBER 1: Kayaking under a roaming glacier
We spent the morning kayaking under Harvard Glacier completely surrounded by floating icebergs. Read about it here.
Number 2 : Denali National Park and Preserve
Tundra, taiga, glacier, permafrost, wildlife, North-America’s tallest mountain – you name it, Denali has it all!
number 3 : Hiking the Harding Icefield
The Harding Icefield hike on Kenai Peninsula is one of the most spectacular hikes I have ever done. It left me amazed and full of gratitude.
To read about what else we were up to in the last frontier check out our post Denali to Kenai that sums up all our Alaska posts.
Which Alaskan Adventures would make your Top 3 list?
What is up next you say? The answer is Yellowstone. We spent 3 weeks in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in September this fall and can’t wait to share the photos and amazing experiences with you.
As we drove past old log buildings with vegetable gardens and decorations in form of lights and prayer flags my husband said ‘What is this town, is it some kind of hippie town?’ I bursted out in laughter.
We were driving south on Seward Highway and based on a recommendation from the chef on our earlier Prince William Sound cruise we had decided to take a side trip to the small town of Hope.
Hope was a mining camp for Resurrection Creek and was established in 1896. In the 1890s, Resurrection Creek was the site of Alaska’s first gold rush, even before the Klondike gold rush.
The steamer Utopia arrived from Seattle with 100 to 120 prospectors. Disembarking at the mouth of Resurrection Creek the men named the place ‘Hope’ in honour of the youngest member of the group, Perch Hope.
Many of the buildings from the days of the gold rush is still standing – earning Hope a spot in the National Register of Historical Places.
When you get down to Main Street and the shore line you will find Seaview Bar and Seaview Café. This is where you would find yourself a glass of draft in the evening, they even have live music in the weekends.
I found this curious photo of a man with a bear dragging his sled (source Hope and Sunrise Historical Society’s homepage). It really made me wonder how life must have been like here in 1890’s.
By 1989 the business was brisk enough at Hope for the Alaska Commercial Company to open a store. In 1899 there were in Hope 200 men, 2 white women and 1 native woman.
Eight years later the boom was over.
Photo and facts from Hope and Sunrise Historical Society.
Hope is located on the south shore of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet so vegetable gardens and historical buildings is not all it can offer. It is a popular weekend destination and has an RV camp at the end of Main Street with views over Turnagain Arm.
When we were there someone had camped at the mouth of Resurrection Creek. Call me a hippie – but it looked like paradise to me!
Icefields Parkway is without exaggeration one of the most beautiful stretches of road I know of. I was excited to spend the day with my new D750 along this parkway connecting Lake Louise and Jasper.
Herbert Lake is one of the first treasures along the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park. It is a small lake with a dense forest protecting the lake. You will often find spectacular reflections of the trees and mountains on the water. The parking lot is just a couple of kilometres after Lake Louise along highway 93 going north towards Jasper.
I played around with the photo in Lightroom a bit to get the desaturated look on the mountains contrasting the green trees.
After our stop at Herbert Lake we continued on along the Icefields Parkway to Mistaya Canyon. The canyon has beautiful curves cut out by Mistaya River. You will find it just south of Saskatchewan Crossing, the hike down to the canyon is only half a kilometre.
I can’t believe I haven’t stopped by Mistaya Canyon before. Beautiful scenery and lots of different angles to shoot from. It started snowing heavily just 15 minutes after we arrived so I didn’t get to try all the angles. We will have to return at another occasion. I bet it looks way different now covered in snow.
Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear what you think about the photos. After I got a new camera all my photos are now captured in RAW format where I take care of the processing myself. Do you use Lightroom or Photoshop for your photos?
“If you’re not going up you’re not hiking. You’re walking.”
The quote couldn’t be more true for the Skyline Trail in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. In a short 3.5 kilometres (2.1 miles) you ascend 820 meters (2690 feet). This is a workout – easy on the eyes, hard on the thighs.
Trailhead starts on the north side of the Sterling Highway just east of Mile 61 (the miles are marked on small signs along the road) close to Cooper Landing. The parking is a pullout on the south side of the highway.
The climb begins almost immediate and just keeps going up. Note! This is a hike where you don’t want to forget your bear spray, especially in the fall when bears feed on berries in these hills.
First first kilometre or so the hike is below the tree line, but as soon as you get up to the alpine zone splendid views open up. At the top of the tree line you will reach what is often referred to as ‘the Saddle’ and elevation will level out briefly before it starts ascending again. This is the only part of the hike your thighs will get a break.
We did this hike in September and was surrounded by a colourful fall foliage. The higher you get the better the view of Jean Lake and Skilak Lake.
Up here you understand why this trail is called the Skyline trail. The views over Kenai Peninsula is spectacular – on a clear day you might see Mt. Redoubt, which is an active volcano, to the west across Cook Inlet.
Close to the top the trail splits in two, one headed towards each of the two summits close by. There were no signs so we took the one heading west.
I suspect the official summit is the one to the east since there is supposed to be a orange box with a book you can sign on the summit. There was no box on the east summit, but we didn’t mind as the views were spectacular.
If you’re looking for hiking ideas on Kenai Peninsula also check out our hike to the Harding Icefield.
Hope you enjoyed our virtual fall tour to the Skyline trail and the views over Kenai Peninsula. Winter is soon upon us, do you hike during the winter season?
November is here and first snow has fallen. The mountain tops are white, but it has not been cold enough for the lakes to freeze over. This is a beautiful time in the Rockies.
Banff National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the world, but November is usually a more quiet month for tourism. To take advantage of the season we decided to bring our camera and spend the weekend in Banff.
Two Jack Lake is a favourite among photographers for capturing the sunrise.
At this time of the year the elk gather for their annual rut. It is a chance to get some photos of bugling elk. Since Banff townsite is in the middle of a National Park it is not uncommon to find large herds of elk at the outskirts of the town.
We found this herd of elk close to the hot spring Cave and Basin, which is the birth place of the park. Banff was the first national park in Canada and the third in North America, only beaten by Yellowstone and Mackinac National Park.
Driving Bow Valley Parkway offered some lovely scenes of red and green – it almost felt like Christmas! This spot is called Moose Meadows. The name relates back to the 50s when moose were common here, but you’ll likely not see one here today.
If you are planning on driving Bow Valley Parkway you should check out the awesome interactive map Friends of Banff National Park has pulled together.
We didn’t see any wolves this time along the parkway. While scouting near the golf course a couple of coyotes crossed our path and observed us from a distance long enough to capture a few pictures before they disappeared into the trees.
Lake Louise is usually the busiest place in Banff National Park so strolling along the lake only seeing a handful of other people was a treat. The lake itself with sparkling reflections in the water and snow-covered trees surrounding it was like winter wonderland. What a perfect transition into winter!
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If you find yourself in Alaska driving south on Sterling Highway towards Homer you should stop by the small village Ninilchik (Нинильчик). This is a community with strong Russian influence that will charm any visitor with its colourful boats randomly beached around the old village.
Don’t expect a big crowd, the community has a population of about 800 people. The Dena’ina people were the first to use the area for fishing and hunting, but the first to permanently settle down were Russian colonists who moved here in 1847. Makes sense since Alaska at that time was Russian, the ‘Alaska Purchase’ didn’t happen until 1867.
After the purchase in 1867 locals in Ninilchik had next to no communication with other Russians and kept their dialect without being influenced. In 1997 and 2013 Russian linguists visited Ninilchik to collect material for a dictionary and make recordings as they considered it Russian language’s most isolated dialect.
Ninilchik is recognised as a Alaska Native Village and the Ninilchik Village Tribe is made up of nearly 900 tribal members.
The community is located on the east side of Sterling Highway, but tourist usually head for Old Ninilchik Village which is beautifully located where Ninilchik River blends into Cook Inlet.
The faded log cabins and colourful boats makes a perfect postcard scene. There are a dozen of buildings including the iconic Russian Orthodox Church of Transfiguration from 1901.
Like all Alaskan coastal towns fishing has always been important and you can go on fishing charter tours from the harbour at Old Ninilchik Village. We were happy just talking a stroll along the beach watching this bald eagle having a meal of fresh caught salmon.
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When I first read about Homer the two quotes I found were “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” and “A Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem”. We were on our way to find out if these two statements were true. This could be an interesting destination!
Homer is located far south-east on the Kenai Peninsula in Kachemak Bay. A natural spot for sports fishing! And the picturesque Homer Spit also attracts its fair share of tourists. The view of Homer Spit with the glacier-studded mountains in the background welcomed us as we approach the village.
The most beautiful part of Homer I found to be the stretch of old colourful buildings sitting on the beach on Homer Spit. Homer Spit is quite a landmark. The spit is basically a long, narrow piece of land leading into Kachemak Bay. I guess no one knows for sure how it was developed, but one of the theories is that is was shaped by ice and moraine.
The spit is tourist attraction number one in Homer and is dotted with businesses, some have more charm that others. The Salty Dawg Saloon is one of the buildings with a history to it. It was originally one of the first cabins built in Homer in 1897. The building has served as everything from post office to school house. It’s location is not original and neither is its lighthouse tower. The saloon’s walls are covered with dollar bills from visitors – you can see some of them on the door in the photo below.
I found Homer a charming village, but it is smalls so a day trip should be sufficient to explore it – unless you are going on one of the adventures that are offered from Homer Spit. The surrounding area has lots to offer – everything from flying into the wilderness to see grizzlies up close to taking a ride across the bay to visit Halibut Cove.
So what is the conclusion – a drinking village or a fishing problem? We definitely saw more halibut than an average person would in a lifetime, but no drinking bonanza.
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If you visit Seward an absolute must is to take a day trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park. You will be amazed by a beautiful, lush green coastline featuring tidewater glaciers. More than likely you will also meet some of the locals, like killer whales, humpbacks, puffins, sea otters and other marine life.
There are numerous companies offering tours to the National Park that is named for this numerous fjords carved by glaciers. There glaciers origin from Harding Icefield which is one of the largest icefields in the United States. A boat trip is the only way to see its many glaciers, except Exit Glacier which can be reached by car.
The tours all start from the picturesque harbour of Seward. Surrounded by mountains and filled with colourful fishing boats the harbour is a beautiful spot in itself. This is also the perfect spot to see fishermen clean the catch of the day. As soon as we got on the water it didn’t not take long before we spotted our first glacier.
The park protects the icefield, a narrow fringe of land between the mountains and the sea, and the rugged coastline. All of which we got to experience on this trip.
I was crossing my fingers for orcas (or often referred to as killer whales) and humpbacks was thrilled when we got to see both! The humpback didn’t stay with us long, but did offer a lovely pose of it tails before it dowe under.
The orcas however seemed like they were hunting along the shoreline and we followed them for 20-30 minutes. It must have been around 8-10 orcas in the pod that we observed. I was surprised by how close to the shore they went.
I could have stayed with the orcas all day had it been up to me. But we were headed to see a tidewater glacier and had to move on. One last picture of the orcas before we continued further into Kenai Fjords National Park.
For those of you interested in geology, or the Ice Age animation movies, you’ll be excited to learn that this park has been landscaped by Continental Drift. Beyond the surface of this beauty large forces are at work as the continental plates collide. Did you know that some of the rock you see was once coral reef close to the equator. Pretty fascination to think about, right?
About half of the park is covered by ice and we were heading in Aialik Bay to see some of it up close and personal. Aialik Glacier is one out of 38 glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park with Harding Icefield being the source of all of them.
It is such an impressive feeling to be close to a tidewater glacier. You can feel the draft get colder the closer you get. When you get up close you realise the size of the wall and you hear the cracking and thundering when the glacier calves. And those deep blue colours are nothing less than stunning.
Aialik Glacier was our turning point, but the fun was far from over. On our way out Aialik Bay we came across the most adorable sea otters. If you have ready any of my previous Alaska posts you know I have a soft spot for these fellas. Just look at them clinging together in the water having a snack. So cute.
A bit further out on one of the more exposed rocks a group of seller sea lions kept it cool in the shadow. We saw a lot of sea lions while in Alaska, but this bunch I must admit was of the more relaxed type. It must have been far outside of breeding season.
A day cruise is the way to go if you really want to experience Kenai Fjords National Park. The tours usually run from May to September. You should at least do a 6 hours tour to have sufficient time to visit one of the tidewater glaciers. For those enthusiasts out there you will also find longer options. Should you be more adventurous you take a kayaking tour that includes overnight in a wilderness cabin in the park.
Thanks for reading, we would love to hear what you think. Have you been to Kenai Fjords National Park? What would be your favourite moment, the orcas or the tidewater glacier?
The Harding Icefield hike in Alaska easily makes our top 3 list of most memorable and wow-factor hikes. The hike starts from the foot of Exit Glacier just outside Seward and takes you to the top of the enormous Harding Icefield. Throughout the entire hike you have splendid views of Exit Glacier to your left. This hike left me amazed and full of gratitude.
First view of the glacier from the trail
The hike starts at the Exit Glacier visitor center. You follow the valley floor on a paved path, but soon take off from the paved path and start heading upwards. This part of the hike would have to be characterised as strenuous, the climb is not insignificant as you work you way up towards the tree line. But wow – as you start getting close to the tree line you forget all about it as the views of Exit Glacier is nothing less then spectacular. Also remember to look back when you hike upwards as you have beautiful views of the valley and river leading towards Seward.
Also check out: Seward – where the sea boils with silver
Lunch break at the Top of the Cliffs
Having passed the tree line you have completed the worst part of the climb and you can see the entire arm of Exit Glacier and start comprehending the size of Harding Icefield where Exit Glacier origins. This is an excellent spot for a lunch break. For many with limited time this is the turnaround point, but it is not the end of the trail. If you have set of the whole day for this hike I would highly recommend continuing. Hey – you have already completed the steepest part of the hike anyways.
Try looking for black bears up in the northern slopes. We spotted 3 of them during our lunch break. They were too far away to get any good photos, but as evidence for our observation I present the following photo of a black bear with her cub, can you see them? We did the hike in September and bears were moving to higher ground getting ready for hibernation.
Black bear and cub in the far distance
After lunch we continued on along the glacier for a while before the trail took us over a moonlike area consisting of moraine from the receding icefield. I can definitely imagine some rough weather up here on less nicer days. Ensure you have enough layers of clothing with you for cold and windy days. Towards the end of the moraine you reach an emergency shelter and at this point you are very close to the end of the trail.
Splendid Exit Glacier views
Hiking over moraine
At the end of the trail Harding Icefield reveals itself. There is ice as far as the eye can see. It brings you back in time and you can imagine how things looked like during the earlier ice ages. Of all the spectacular views on this hike this was my absolute favourite.
The enormous size of the icefield is almost impossible to imagine unless you are experiencing it, but I’ll give it a try. If you are looking at the photo below there are 3 persons in the picture. There is me off course, but further down in the background there are two persons who have walked closer to the icefield. They are a bit further to the left in the photo, you can just spot the tiny silhouette of them as they admire the icefield.
If that is not enough I have pulled some stats from Wiki: Harding Icefield is the largest icefield contained entirely within the United States with its 300 square miles / 777 square kms. If you include its 40 glaciers the number increase to 1100 square miles / 2849 square kms. That’s approximate the size of State of Rhode Island.
View over Harding Icefield from end of trail
We could have stayed much longer admiring the icefield, but the day was getting towards the end of the day and we had to start on the return. If you want to stay here overnight camping is allowed as long as you set up camp at least 1/8 mile from the trail on bare rock or snow. Camping in the emergency shelter is not allowed.
Hiking back over the moraine
View from the Top of the Cliffs
The hike back offers lovely views down the valley and I found it just as fulfilling as the hike up. I had been so focused on reaching the end of trail that I hadn’t taken time to look back on the way up, so I got a totally different perspective hiking back.
Elevation gain: 960m
Difficulty: Strenuous until you reach the Top of the Cliffs. Easy to Moderate the last stretch.
Source: National Park Service (click link for larger image)
If you are looking for more hiking ideas on Kenai Peninsula also check out our Skyline Trail hike.
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment, we’d love to hear what you think. Have you been hiking in Alaska?
Additional resources: National Park Service – Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield Trail Condition
Due to its ice free port Seward has been a natural tourist destination for hundreds of years. It started with the natives using the area as a crossroad, later the Russians took refuge here and during the gold rush this was a natural landing point for gold diggers headed north to the Hope-Sunrise area. In 1903 the town of Seward was founded as a result of railroad surveyors choosing Seward as the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. Today the major industries in this small town is tourism and fishing.
The town of Seward has about 3.ooo residents, but during summer this number increases significantly as the city is a final port for many of the cruise ships going north to Alaska. So what is it that makes Seward so popular?
Exploring the Kenai Fjords National Parks
Kenai Fjords National Park was established in 1980 and its establishment boosted tourism in Seward. The park is best explored by boat and several tour companies offers daily trips from the harbour in Seward. You can expect a snow-covered mountains, a stunning coast line and tidewater glaciers. The Harding Icefield and its 38 glaciers carving down the mountains are part of Kenai Fjords National Park. If you are lucky you might also see whales, puffins and sea lions amongst other wildlife in the park. We were lucky enough to see a pod of orca on our trip.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Historic downtown walk
Seward is Mile 0 of the Iditarod Trail, known historically as the Seward-to-Nome Mail Trail, and you’ll find a historical monument downtown. A beautiful mural dedicated to Seward as Mile 0 of Iditarod Trail is also located downtown. Many of the buildings have been here since establishment of the city in the early 1900’s. One example is the Brown and Hawkins colonial which is the oldest continually operated business in Seward.
You will find some of the homes from the initial establishment of the city on Third Avenue. They were built and occupied by Alaska Central Railway officials and the street was called ‘Millionaire’s Row’. Read more about the history of Seward here.
‘The Iditarod Trail’ from 2002 by Jon Van Zyle
Brown and Hawkins Store
Mural capital of Alaska
One of the things I found charming was the numerous murals on buildings downtown Seward. ‘The Iditarod Trail’ shown above was one of my favourites in addition to ‘Seaward Bound’ and ‘Wildflower Garden’, photo of both below. Seward was officially designated “Mural Capital of Alaska” in 2008 at the completion of the town’s 12th mural. Check out the full overview and locations of all murals here.
‘Seaward Bound’ 2011 by J. Pechuzal & L. McElroy
‘Wildflower Garden’ 2006 by Gail Neibrugge
Take part in the combat fishing
From July to September the silver salmon runs happen. This period can best be described as ‘controlled chaos’. Seward has an annual Silver Salmon Derby as well, which normally happens in August. You can go with a fishing charter or you can line up along the shore and throw out a line. If you can find an open spot that is…
Combat fishing in Seward
Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield
Seward offers one of the easiest accessible glaciers in Alaska. Exit Glacier Road is a spur road from Seward Highway and it will take you to about 1 km from the wall of the glacier. From the parking lot there is a pavel path to the glacier. Exit Glacier is the only part of Kenai Fjord National Park accessible by road. Be sure to stop at the look out to the glacier as this view point offers one of the best views of the glacier, unless you plan on hiking up the Harding Icefield trail.
If you like dog sledding you will find Ididaride Dog Sled Tours on the way to Exit Glacier. Ididaride is run by the Seavey family which is a well known name within the dog sledding business.
Exit Glacier from the Harding Icefield Trail
Follow us on the next two posts when we take a tour through Kenai Fjords National Park by boat and hike to the Harding Icefield. Want to read more about our Alaska adventures? Check out our post Denali to Kenai.