Alaska: Where the wild things are

By Zach Turner
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Situated just beyond the Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska, has some of the most breathtaking natural beauty found here in America.

“The fact that it is nestled in the corner of the Kenai Fjords makes it so picturesque that it is beyond words,” said Melanie Moline, administrative supervisor for the Seward Harbor.

Home to an extensive array of wildlife, outdoors activities, and destinations, Seward is a great destination for a potential traveler to Alaska.

A traveler can “see things that the rest of the state has to offer,” said Jhasmine Lamb, communications manager for the Kenai Peninsula.  “It’s great if you want an out of the box type of experience.”

Alaska is home to a wide range of wildlife, almost all of which can be found in and around Seward, depending on the season.

On land, this includes brown bear, fox, moose, caribou, bald eagles, porcupine and bell sheep along the Seward Highway traveling to and from popular destinations.  In the harbor, known as Resurrection Bay, common animals include stellar sea lions and beluga, orca, and humpback whales.

The bears are most commonly spotted in an area called Cooper Landing, where they can be found “literally feeding on fish right next to fisherman while they are fishing,” Lamb said.

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The Kenai Fjords National Park and areas surrounding it are consistently ranked in the top 10 for fishing in the United States, said Rebecca Lafell, superintendent of the National Park.  Common fish caught are salmon, halibut, rockfish and lingcod.

“The largest king salmon in the world was caught in the Kenai River,” Lamb said.

Seward is also a great “birding destination to check off birds in the United States,” Lamb said.

Interestingly, there is at least one golden eagle in Seward right now, according to Lafell.

In addition to the wildlife, there is a vast amount of outdoor activities and popular destinations for tourists and locals that make the area in and around Seward an exciting place to be.

“There’s all sorts of activities,” said Ge Neal, a representative of Membership Services and Bookkeeper for the Seward Chamber of Commerce.  “You can experience life to the fullest.”

These include kayaking, biking, hiking, rafting, zip lining, dog sledding, cruise ships and wildlife viewing.

“Paddle boarding is also an up and coming thing,” Lafell said.

For wildlife viewing, “one that is popular is bear viewing near Lake Clark National Park,” Lamb said.

There are dozens of hiking trails, which range in difficulty and destination. Specifically in Seward, there is Kings Head Trail where the trail takes the hiker back to an old monument to see war history.

There is another in Kenai Fjords National Park, which takes the hiker out to old World War II bunkers on state land, Lafell said.

“There are a lot of different hikes from a mile up to dozens,” Lafell said.

Some of the hikes can be extremely strenuous, and since Kenai Fjords National Park is larger than the size of Rhode Island, extremely vast.  One should come prepared with all the essentials in order to make the trek.  Expect great views along the way.

Obama recently paid visit to Exit Glacier in the area, which features a relatively easy 45 minute hike and where travelers “can learn about the 200 years of change that have occurred,” Lafell said.

Tourists can take a day cruise to view this glacier, among others, a popular activity in Seward.

There is also the famous Harding Ice Field, which features a four mile hike and is the largest ice field in the United States, according to Lafell.  Here, there is an elevation gain of 1,000 feat per mile, making for a difficult hike.

However, there is “360 degrees of beautiful views,” Lafell said.

The Kenai Fjords National Park captures the most tourists in the area.

Dotted along the trails are dozens of types of wildflowers, mushrooms, waterfalls, glacial lakes, wildlife and other forms of natural beauty native only to Alaska when in the United States.

“It is so big and vast and has different things to see,” Lamb said.

“You can’t beat the views,” Neal said.  “You’re never disappointed.”

Tourists “can rent a really rustic old cabin in the wild that can be accessed by boat or plane,” making for a firsthand, outdoor experience, Lamb said.

Since Alaska is situated so far north, the experience for a traveler is much dependent on the season.  In Neal’s opinion, the best season to visit is summer for the weather and hiking and the fact that all restaurants are open during tourist season, which lasts from May to September.

Fish and chips, and specifically halibut is a popular dish in the area.  In Seward, there is Chinooks which offers fresh seafood everyday.  There is also fine Italian places and the historical Sweet Darling, which offers fudge, gelato and candy where everything is fresh.

Also, there is the Cookery, which offers  “small portions with big flavor,” Neal said.  “It’s like a cooking show, they prepare everything right in front of you.”

A typical day for locals is waking up, getting coffee, getting “something to eat in one of the several places around town,” and enjoying any of the activities to do around Seward, Neal said.  “And never eat in the same place twice.”

Seward is an amazing place, with national parks, exotic wildlife, great restaurants and entertaining activities that the whole family can enjoy.

Seward is a great destination because a tourist “can experience firsthand the beauty of the area,” Moline said.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience, it really is,” Lamb said.  “Many tourist that first come as a group end up becoming independent travelers wanting to experience it for themselves.”

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