Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)
The Harding Icefield Trail is an 8.2 mile round trip trail in Kenai Fjords National Park outside of Seward, Alaska. At only 4 miles to the end of the trail, hikers might assume that it is an easy hike; it’s not. Travelers gain nearly 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile, putting this day hike firmly into the “strenuous” category.
I am putting this hike into our success bucket, because we kicked this trails butt and did it in 5 hours! We were the most prepared people on the mountain, and I don’t regret a single piece of equipment we brought with us.
The Harding Icefield Trail is difficult not only because of the elevation change (1,000 feet per mile is no joke), but also because of the terrain. The first 1.4 miles consist of a dirt path with the occasional rocky scramble, which provides steep but solid footing. Once we passed Marmot Meadows, snow began to cross the path, and once we reached the Top of the Cliff the path was completely covered by snow. This was when I was pretty happy we brought our trekking poles, as the extra stabilization made for a much easier trudge through the slippery, melting snow.
Conditions on the trail vary depending on the time of year and temperature on the mountain; we went on July 3rd, an especially busy day for Kenai Fjords National Park, and the combination of high temperatures (70 degrees Fahrenheit!) and lots of people made for a slippery slushy snow path. On the way back down we used our poles to quite successfully “ski” down the mountain – this was more of us being goofy than an actual necessity, but it was a fun, fast way down regardless.
How to Prepare
Bring Plenty of Water!
We each brought 2 liters of water and by the end both of our packs were completely empty. Watching other trailblazers eat snow because they didn’t bring enough water made me really happy we brought as much as we did!
Wear Proper Footwear
I highly recommend hiking boots! We saw every type of shoe on the mountain, from tennis shoes, hiking sandals, and even platform flip flops… but I can’t imagine the struggle of getting up and down the slippery snow covered trail in anything not secured to your feet.
Maybe I’ve gone soft since receiving trekking poles as a birthday present last year, but, oh my gosh, do they make hiking easier! On the way up, use your arm muscles to pull yourself up the mountain and give your legs a rest. On the way down, give your knees a break by stabilizing with the poles. On the snowy bits, feel more secure in your footing choices and don’t worry so much about sliding down the mountain. Although they aren’t necessary, if you have a way to bring trekking poles with you, I would definitely recommend it!
Food for Fuel
We were pretty zealous with our hiking, by which I mean we rocketed up and down the mountain in 5 hours, and even stopped to enjoy the amazing scenery and wildlife along the way! We always over-pack on food, and this trail was no exception, but I was totally fine with carrying a few extra Kind bars in my backpack because we needed all the fuel we could get.
Watch for Wildlife
Alaska is known for it’s abundance of critters, and this trail is no exception. We saw a family of mountain goats munching on shrubs and enjoying the sun in a cool patch of snow, as well as a marmot attempting to cool down by laying itself flat over the snow. These were close up and personal encounters, as the mountain goats were about 100 yards away, and the marmot was only 10 feet away from the trail. Although we didn’t see any, bears have been known to hang out on the lower part of the trail, so keep an eye out for them!
The Harding Icefield Trail is exceptionally popular, and although it is classified as ‘strenuous’, thousands of people hike it every year. Be prepared to see other people on your journey and be respectful towards them and the natural landscape around you.
Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail was a really fun way to explore more of the Kenai Fjords National Park as well as gain access to some of the most stunning views we’ve experienced in Alaska. The combined difficulty of the elevation and terrain changes made for a very interesting hike, and seeing wild animals so close added a thrilling element to the already breathtaking landscape. If you’re looking for a fantastic way to spend a day near Seward, Alaska, consider this trail; I promise it will be worth the effort!