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Wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park

One of the most popular activities in Kenai Fjords National Park is wildlife watching. As one of only three national parks in all of Alaska that can be visited by car, Kenai has become one of the most popular parks in the state. Nearby Seward Harbor and Resurrection Bay are home to hundreds of species of birds and some of the most popular marine and land mammals in Alaska.

We were thrilled during our July 2017 visit to Kenai to see whales, sea lions, sea otters, and hundreds of different sea birds. It’s an incredible place to experience the southern coast of Alaska. But because the park is so large (and many parts are inaccessible by vehicle), it can take some planning to be in the right place at the right time to see wildlife.

Today we’re posting our guide to the best spots to view wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park. It’s a combination of the more easily accessible spots that we saw wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park and where the National Park Service recommends visitors check out during their stay.

What Wildlife Live in Kenai Fjords National Park?

Land, water, and sky–Kenai Fjords has it all. That’s why it’s such a great place for wildlife viewing. Here are some of the more popular animals to spot during a visit to the park:

Humpback Whale Fluke

Whales

The waters near and directly outside the boundaries of Kenai Fjords National Park are home to several species of migrating whales. Depending on the season, expect to encounter Orca (Killer Whales), Fin whales, Gray whales, Humpback whales, Minke whales, and Sei whales.

Bear seen from Kenai Fjords Boat Tour

Bears

Many visitors experience their first bear encounter in Alaska during a visit to Kenai Fjords. Both black and Alaskan brown bears fish and forage around the park’s coastline. Watch park ranger postings for information about recent bear encounters and avoid those areas when visiting the park.

Sea otter eating a fish in Seward Harbor waters

Sea Otters

Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction in Alaskan waters. Today about 168,000 live off the coast of Alaska and Russia, including a population that can frequently be spotted in the Seward harbor near the park’s entrance.

Sea Lions - Kenai Fjords Boat Tours

Stellar Sea Lions

Visitors that venture into the waters in Kenai Fjords National Park are often treated to a view of Stellar sea lions. These massive animals can weigh up to 2,400 pounds and be close to nine feet in length. It’s not unusual to see them cruising the harbor or traveling the area during the breeding season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list Stellar sea lions on the Threatened or Endangered species list.

Birds

191 species of birds call Kenai Fjords National Park home. Bald eagles, Peregrin Falcons, and several breeds of puffins are popular bird watching among visitors.

Other wildlife that call Kenai Fjords National Park home include:

  • Dall’s porpoise, Harbor porpoise, & Pacific white-sided dolphin
  • Harbor seals
  • Mountain Goat
  • Hoary Marmot
  • Moose
  • Gray Wolf
  • Black Oystercatcher
  • Stellar’s Jay

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The 5 Best Places to see Wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park

1. Exit Glacier Nature Center & Trail

The area in and around the Exit Glacier Nature Center and the Exit Glacier Nature Trail are some of the more popular spots to see land mammals in the park. Bears, moose, and many of the park’s bird species can be found in the immediate area around the nature center and the Exit Glacier trail.

We also list the Nature Center first on the list since we recommend you first stop in to talk to a ranger or naturalist when you arrive in the park. The park rangers here keep records about recent wildlife sightings. They can point you in the direction of where to spot specific wildlife and can share photos about the types of animals that live in the park. They’ll also have information about any closures due to bear activity.

For wildlife sightings in this area, it’s best to arrive early in the morning or late in the day. The crowds and human activity during the mid-day tourist rush can reduce the chances of spotting something in the area.

Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

2. Harding Icefield Trail

The 8.2 mile round-trip Harding Icefield Trail continues to be among the most popular in all of Kenai Fjords National Park. Departing from the Exit Glacier area, it’s also a great spot to see some of the park’s wildlife.

Black bears are spotted almost daily during the summer months along the trail. It’s a popular spot for bears to feed on salmonberries and other dense vegetation, so be sure to use safe bear hiking practices in the area.

As you approach the alpine areas along the Harding Icefield trail, watch for Hoary Marmot. These large rodents are active in the summer months, living in the grassy areas of the steep rocky slopes in the area. Listen for their distinct, loud warning calls as they warn their social groups of humans in the area.

Hoary Marmot, some of the wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park

3. Lowell Point Road & Caines Head Coastal Trail

While technically not inside the national park boundary, Lowell Point Road and the Caines Head State Recreation Area rank among the best places for easy access, family-friendly wildlife viewing.

Available a short drive south out of Seward, Lowell Point Road offers the chance to see humpback whales and the different species of porpoises. Sea lions and many of the pelagic bird species can also be spotted here. Lowell Point Road offers visitors with mobility issues some of the best viewing of the marine wildlife in the area.

If you time your visit correctly with the tides, you might also experience the Caines Head Coastal Trail, part of Caines Head State Recreation Area. The 4.5 mile coastal trail is only available at low tide and is a popular spot for photography, bird watching and wildlife viewing. Just be sure to allow enough time to hike back out before the tide rises again.


Sea Otter in the Harbor Seward Alaska
Sea Otter in the Harbor at Seward Alaska

4. Seward Harbor

During our visit to Kenai, we didn’t have to travel far outside of Seward to spot wildlife. Sea otters, Stellar sea lions, and harbor seals are all known to frequent the waters in and around the Seward Boat Harbor. Especially in the morning and late afternoons, the otters and immature male sea lions come to the harbor in search of trimmings and left over bait from the returning commercial fishing boats.


5. Kenai Fjords Boat & Kayak Tours

We saved the best for last in this list. Kenai boat and kayak tours mark the last (and our favorite) of the best places to spot wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park. The National Park Service recommends that in order to see the best of Kenai’s wildlife, visitors should hop aboard one of the many boat tours of the park.

Boat and kayak tours offer the best chance of spotting multiple different species of land and marine mammals. The tour operators work together to communicate about wildlife sightings. With all the other eyes on deck, there’s a greater chance you’ll spot anything that happens to wander through the area as well.

To see our complete guide for Kenai Fjords boat tours, check out our recent article: 10 Things to Know About Kenai Fjords Boat Tours


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