Kayaking Near Seward, Alaska

Seward Bay Harbor in Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula is considered one of, if not the, most scenic region of Alaska and the town of Seward is the gateway to all of the great adventures on it. Located about halfway down the peninsula on its eastern side, it’s one of the main terminals on the Alaska Marine Highway, which ferries passengers and cargo from Washington State, through the Inside Passage near Juneau, to all the communities along Alaska’s southern coast and Aleutian Islands. However, if you’re traveling from Anchorage to Seward, the best way to see the beauty of the state is by taking the Coastal Classic Route on the Alaska Railway, a six-hour journey through the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula.

1. Kenai Fjords National Park

You can’t mention kayaking in Seward without talking about Kenai Fjords National Park. Along with Glacier Bay National Park in the southeastern part of the state, Kenai Fjords is the best place to see glaciers in action. While you can reach its famed Exit Glacier by car, most of the other ones can only be reached by water taxi or kayak. However, due to Seward’s location on the Alaska cruise ship trail, you are likely to contend with a lot of day-trippers visiting the park with tour groups and outfitters.

Most trips in Kenai Fjords will leave from Lowell Point just south of Seward, as this is where the road ends. From there, you can either start paddling or take a water taxi to another area of the park. It’s a grueling fifteen-mile journey from Lowell Point out to Resurrection Bay where the glaciers begin, so most visitors choose the taxi option.

At this point, your options for where to go are pretty endless, defined only by your paddling stamina and vacation days. The narrow fjords are quite long and difficult to move in and out of, so it’s best to choose just one or two to explore. The little coves near their interior are frequently populated with massive glaciers and numerous icebergs floating in the surrounding waters. If you’re lucky, you might have the chance to see one of them calving (which is a good reason to keep your distance from them).

Most of the fjords in the park are not well protected from ocean currents, so they’re not the best choice for inexperienced paddlers. If you’re new to sea kayaking, go with a guide who will help you understand the dangers a bit better.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Miller’s Landing in Seward

2. Kachemak Bay State Park

Kachemak Bay is Alaska’s first state park and it’s not hard to see why they felt it was so important to preserve it. The 400,000-acre wilderness sits on the eastern edge of Kachemak Bay and the only way to get to it is by boat or float plane so you won’t need to worry about crowds. It’s just across the bay from the town of Homer though, the most southern community on the Kenai Peninsula. You can paddle to the park from there as it’s only a few miles, but there are also outfitters in town that can ferry you and your kayak over. Once there you’ll be treated to 79 miles of beautiful coastline. There are no major dangers to worry about paddling the park. You’ll need to contend with some boat traffic crossing the bay and the waters can get rough in a storm, but the numerous coves within the park are fairly protected.

Unlike Kenai Fjords you’re not going to see any glacier calving in the Kachemak Bay. The forests along the coast are more temperate and are home to lots of wildlife including black bears, moose, and mountain goats. To see any glaciers you’ll need to get out of your boat and head to higher elevations on the 70 miles of trails that traverse the park. You can camp just about anywhere there’s a level patch of dirt, but for a truly unique experience, it’s worth it to book one of the several log cabins overlooking the bay.

Where to Rent a Kayak: True North Adventures in Homer

3. Kenai River

If sea kayaking isn’t your thing, the Seward area still has some pretty amazing rivers and lakes to run in smaller boats. The Kenai River near Soldotna has some fantastic sections that aren’t too difficult, with most of it being rated as class I. You’ll need a basic roll and some experiencing with bracing, but there aren’t any strange obstacles to avoid or difficult water to read. The river is known for its world-class fishing though, so bring your gear, take it slow, and enjoy the journey,

One of the better paddles on this river is nearly ten miles long and starts at the Cooper Landing Bridge at the end of Kenai Lake and near mile marker 48 on the Sterling Highway. This section of the river is quite fast, so be prepared to hit the ground running. After about a mile you’ll encounter the Fisherman’s Bend Rapid, which is a class II or III depending on the flow. It has a pretty decent wave train following the rapid so expect to do some bracing. Three miles after Fisherman’s Bend you’ll encounter the class II Schooner Bend. The 180-degree bend in the river is followed by another exciting wave train to get your boat bouncing,

There are about four more miles of smooth water following the bend before you need to take out at Jim’s Landing Boat Launch. You can keep going into the Kenai Canyon section, which has some thrilling class III rapids, but afterwards, the river empties into Skilak Lake and it’s a fifty-mile paddle to the nearest boat launch. It’s possible to get a boat ferry to pick you up at the mouth of the river though, but it can be costly.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Alaska Canoe and Campground in Sterling