Sign Up for Our Monthly Explorer Newsletter
The mountains were wrapped in mist. A fish appeared in front of me, several feet above the water. While the first jump took me by surprise, I savored the next one and the next one: Each time, the silver salmon flew like a figure skater in the throes of a triple axel.
One might assume that this marine-life encounter was the highlight of my kayaking trip, but just 30 minutes before, my partner and I had dug our paddles into ice shed from Aialik Glacier. Breaking through the thick layers while surrounded by fog was extremely satisfying, like popping bubble wrap in a cloud.
We had arrived there after a long paddle from our lodge to a tidal lake, then from the lake to a black-sand beach. Both times, we were totally alone, interrupted only by the thunderous bang of the calving glacier.
We were on a private all-day kayaking excursion with a guide from Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge in Kenai Fjords National Park off the coast of Seward, Alaska.
By that point, I was keenly aware that staying at the lodge was the most exclusive way to experience the glaciers, waterways and land of the 670,000-acre park. The only other overnight options include camping or staying in one of the park’s few cabins.
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is a special collaboration between the Port Graham Native Corporation — which received this land as part of the AK Native Settlement Act — and Alaska Wildland Adventures, which has operated the eco-lodge for the last 10 years.
The deal allows guests access to a wild, remote chunk of the U.S. that feels anything but ordinary. For example, visitors can only reach the lodge via a 40-mile cruise from Seward’s pier. And the sailing is an excursion in itself, full of opportunities to spot marine life and glaciers. In fact, most visitors to Kenai Fjords do little more than see the park via a short cruise. But, oh, what a shame that is.
On our first day at the lodge, we saw six black bears. There was one around the corner of Aialik, chomping on roots atop an islet of purple lupines, some 20 feet above sea level. We discovered another bear on the black-sand beach that unfurls like a red carpet to the lodge’s entrance.
And then, after a brief welcome at the lodge’s expansive lobby, we spotted them along the coastline opposite the guest cabins while canoeing around the property’s lagoon. It was a peaceful paddle, but I was overwhelmed with options.
Should I try to keep tabs on the bears, or turn around to behold Pedersen Glacier? I was hard-pressed — until I remembered that both my cabin and the dining room faced the glacier, too.
Meals taste better when served with such a view. Here, homey entrees are prepared and savored at long tables, encouraging guests to share their day’s highlights with one another. (Each evening, clients sign up for one or two of several guided activities; so it’s possible that folks sharing a meal — even those from the same family — could have enjoyed totally different experiences.)
Over dinner, fellow guests recommended we try a guided hike on a trail created by lodge staffers. The next day, we traveled on a magic carpet of moss and lichen through spruce and alder trees until reaching a steep incline, which we ascended with ropes to a vantage point featuring a 360-degree panorama. From there, we could see both the glacier lake that directly faces the lodge, as well as the greater sea that we would sail the next day back to Seward.
It wasn’t easy to leave the lodge, but we should have known that our experience wouldn’t end so quickly. On the boat ride back, we spotted a trio of orca whales eclipsing the water’s surface — the cherry on top of a killer time.
The DetailsKenai Fjords Glacier Lodge www.kenaifjordsglacierlodge.com