The best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park is during summer from June to August, when there's plenty of daylight, hiking paths are clear of snow and animals stop by during their yearly migration. Since summers are usually short in Alaska, there'll be high visitor numbers, booked-up restaurants, but plenty of boat tours and shuttles to take you into the national park and surrounding peninsula. While the park itself is open year-round, there are reduced services and limited access to the park in the shoulder months (May and September) before the roads are no longer plowed in the winter months, making it inaccessible to motor vehicles.
Best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park for Exit Glacier
Arguably the jewel of the Kenai Fjords National Park is Exit Glacier. Located within the Harding Icefield, Exit Glacier is a key destination for visitors wanting to see the best of Alaska. The best time to visit Exit Glacier is from June to August, when there are plenty of services that can take you from Seward into the Exit Glacier car park. This is a great option for those who don't have their own vehicle and want to go to hike the small or larger trail to the icefield. There's also limited parking around the Exit Glacier Nature Centre, so it's recommended to use a shuttle or taxi service.
When the snow begins to fall again around October/November, the road to the glacier won't be cleared of snow, making it inaccessible to cars. The road will likely remain closed for motor vehicles until May, but you can still get to the area via winter vehicles such as snowmobiles, fat bikes and cross-country skis.
Best time to visit Kenai Fjords National Park for the Harding Icefield Trail
The Harding Icefield Trail is an intense 4 mile hike rising to nearly 3000 feet above sea level. Because of the elevation, there'll likely still be snow in the summer months, and conditions can change quickly while at higher elevations. The best time to visit Kenai Fjords to hike the Harding Icefield Trail is July and August when conditions are at their best and you're more likely to have better visibility with longer daylight hours.
The trail becomes much more difficult during the winter. It will also be more hazardous in the shoulder months of May-June and October-November. Because the trail will be covered in snow, the hike will require specialty snow equipment and mountaineering experience. Expect avalanche hazards, steep snow-covered slopes and intense weather with high winds and possible storms.
Our tours in Kenai Fjords National Park
Best for: hiking, animal spotting and kayaking
Did you know that Alaska has snow for 9-10 months of the year? Starting in June, summer marks the only time of the year without snowfall in the lower areas. But because this is Alaska, you'll probably still see some snow in higher regions, and the daytime temperatures won't get super hot, even in peak summer. Expect temps to sit around 64°F during the day and 50°F at night with about a maximum of 19 hours of sunlight in June. This makes it a perfect time to hike the Kenai Fjords trails and look out over the impressive arctic glaciers and nunatak (lonely peaks) of the neighboring mountain ranges and ice formations.
Summer is also the best time for animal spotting in Alaska as many migrating species stop over for the nutrient-rich waters and a conveniently low number of local predators. You might be able to see newborn moose on land and witness harbor seal pupping season from June onwards (keep an eye on the rocks as harbor seals and sea lions are known to sunbathe). Some of the best animal spotting will be from a kayak or cruise through the Kenai Peninsula as species such as minke and humpback whales travel to feed in the Alaskan waters for a summer holiday. If you're there from mid-July to September, you'll also get the opportunity to see a salmon spawning stream while kayaking to Tonsina Creek.
Best for: mountaineering, humpback whale migration and fewer crowds
Autumn is a pretty short season in Alaska as snow often begins falling around October, starting off a long winter season and road closures into the park. Around this time, the Harding Icefield Trail turns into more of a mountaineering route due to snow and ice. Only experienced mountaineers are recommended to attempt it in the shoulder and winter months. However, for those used to embracing cold weather, the start of the season can be a great time to see the lower regions of the park, especially since autumn colors have brightened up the valleys and there are fewer travelers to contend with.
September is a shoulder month for the park and with 12 hours of sunlight, you can enjoy long days out exploring the glaciers, fjords and trails. Although it might be a good idea to prepare for a little rain as September has the highest average rainfall of about 10 inches. The next few months will start seeing about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight and temperatures hitting negative numbers alongside reduced services into the national park. Generally, the daily high temperatures will sit between 33°-54°F highs and the lows can drop to 16°F. There may also be rough seas starting around October/November, which can make some coastal areas unreachable.
Best for: cross-country skiing, moose spotting and snowshoeing
Winter in Alaska isn't typically a time for the average traveler to visit Kenai Fjords National Park. Because of its northern location, Alaskan winters can have as little as 5-6 hours of sunlight and reach as low as -2°F. But with up to 19 inches of snow in December alone, the area is perfect for winter sports lovers. If you are planning on visiting in winter, January will be the coldest month, and the road into Exit Glacier will be inaccessible to motor vehicles for the duration of the season and into spring.
However, even though there's less daylight and lower temperatures, Kenai Fjords is a great place for a whole range of outdoor winter fun. From ice climbing and snowshoeing to dogsledding tours, cross-country skiing and snowmobiles, you can have just as much fun in the cooler seasons and the peak summer season. Just be sure to check the Kenai Fjords National Park website for the current conditions and motor vehicle regulations before heading out.
Best for: animal spotting, dry weather and kayaking the peninsula
The first day of spring starts on March 20th and begins the de-thawing time for Kenai Fjords National Park. There's usually still plenty of snow on the ground until about mid-April, often it can turn slushy and unsuitable for hiking. May is the driest time of year and temperatures can sit between 25°F to 55°F between March to May. Daylight hours will also be increasing throughout spring as Alaska moves into its summer season. Expect up to 18 hours of sunlight around May and watch as the landscape turns green again.
With an upturn in weather, the end of Spring can make for great days to the Kenai Fjords park. You might even be lucky enough to see newborn moose calves around May and June or even some mountain goats climbing along the Harding Icefield. If you're planning on visiting Southcentral Alaska, then it's likely you'll stop by the town of Seward, known as the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. While you're there, see the park a new way on a kayaking adventure through the Kenai Peninsula.