Alaska is truly magnificent! Its beauty – indescribable, the landscapes – awe-inspiring, the wildlife – diverse, and the choices of things to do are countless. Seward is a port city about a two hour drive south of Anchorage and happened to be the starting point for our Alaskan Cruise. On a multi-generational vacation in Alaska, you can find something for everyone from ages 12 to 70, from adventures to culinary delights to kicking back and relaxing. Our group consisted of 10 people: the grandparents, and two families with kids ages 12 to 18. My immediate family decided to fly in a couple days before our cruise to make sure we could satisfy our adventurous side and do a tour that not everyone in our group would enjoy.
We began our trip on the 8 am Alaska Airlines flight (they have multiple flights daily to Alaska with a stop in Seattle), and arrived in Anchorage at 3:15 pm. Anchorage is a beautiful city with many activities and gorgeous views, but we opted to head straight to Seward in order to get settled and rested before our long hike the next day. The only way to get to Seward at that time of day is to rent a car from Hertz (they are the only company that lets you make a one-way rental reservation). The rest of our group stayed in Anchorage for a night before taking the early 6 am train to Seward, which offered amazing views that you can enjoy from the comfort of a seat while you relax and enjoy the ride.
A quaint little town, Seward was once a small fishing village before becoming a cruise port that transformed it into a popular tourist destination. Seward is known for incredible hiking and fishing, but you can also find dog-sledding, kayaking and day cruises to the Kenai Fjords National Park. My family wanted to do something we had never done before, that would test our limits and keep us active before embarking the cruise ship, so we booked a guided Glacier Trek and Ice Climbing tour with Exit Glacier Guides.
This tour is not for the weak, the weary, or the faint of heart as it includes seven miles of steep hiking, donning crampons onto heavy boots to trek along Exit Glacier, and using climbing axes, harnesses and ropes to repel and climb the glacier crevasses. Our family of four had two experienced and extremely knowledgeable guides, Sabrina and Cameron, who outfitted us with packs that included water, ice climbing boots, a harness, hiking poles and crampons, gloves and a fantastic lunch and snacks. We met at 10 am to get sized for our gear, pick out our snacks and lunch, and prepare for the day. The guides recommended sunglasses, as the glare off the ice can hurt the eyes, gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges on the ice, and plenty of layers. Having multiple layers available proved critical as the temperature changed dramatically once we stepped on to the glacier.
Our family wore light hiking pants and brought rain pants (that we thankfully didn’t need), a light tech t-shirt, a long sleeve pullover, a rain jacket, hat, gloves and a light puffy jacket. After getting outfitted and packed, we received a safety brief and demonstration showing how to put on crampons, prior to jumping into the van and driving 20 minutes to Exit Glacier. The drive was beautiful as Seward is surrounded by mountains and sits next to Resurrection Bay, no matter what direction you turn, you will be treated with incredible sights. Seabirds are common on the waterfront, and if you’re are lucky you will see one of the many bald eagles that call Seward home. Sabrina, who is also a biologist working for the city of Anchorage, pointed out a lone tree in the middle of an RV park while she explained that it’s illegal to cut down a tree with a bald eagle nest. As we continued our drive we began to catch glimpses of the glacier we were about to climb. Exit Glacier looks like a blue tinted ice flow in between two beautiful snow-capped mountains.
To access the glacier, we hiked halfway up the Harding Ice Field trail to Marmot Meadows then turned onto an unkempt path down to the edge of the glacier. During the hike, Sabrina pointed out a location where the glacier had been the previous year, an area approximately 150 feet from where it is now. She mentioned that the rate the glacier melts accelerates each year.
After the 2 ½ mile steep hike and finally arriving at the glacier, we all took a quick break to get a snack and don our gear. We left our hiking boots at the base and made our way onto the glacier, carefully trying out the crampons as we ascended the beautiful face. With running waterfalls, crevasses, ice ponds and various shades of white to blue ice, the glacier was breathtaking, something that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We all became sturdier as we used our hiking poles and crampons to steady us on the ice. We were the only group out ice-climbing and had the glacier to ourselves.
Our first stop was at a small ice wall offering the guides an opportunity to teach us how to use the axe and crampons to climb. Both guides gave thorough instructions making us feel confident we could do it. We then trekked out a bit farther and Sabrina and Cameron secured the ropes to the ice to set up the belay system before the boys started their first repel into a crevasse. It was a terrifying sight to watch your children drop over the side of a crevasse but they loved it! They climbed back up with the axes and felt a great sense of accomplishment. We each repelled and climbed out a total of 5 times in different areas. The natural beauty combined with the adrenaline rush made for an incredible day. After two miles on the ice, we made our way back down the mountain as Sabrina pointed out the various flora and fauna along the way and picked some miner’s lettuce to let us try the local greens. Our tour concluded at 6:30 pm and we were all exhausted, starving, and thrilled with the experience we just had.
Seward’s small downtown area has a number of restaurants to choose from but the culinary highlight of our trip was The Cookery. The Cookery is 5-star fine dining in a casual atmosphere that allows you to enjoy your meal in your hiking gear or after a day of fishing. Chef Kevin Lane has an incredible ability to combine delicious flavors that will satisfy even the most discerning palates.
The Cookery does not take reservations but you can sit in the back outdoor area and order appetizers as you wait. We had the local oysters and the mushroom toast, which were both wonderful. The fried chicken came highly recommended and it did not disappoint as it was tender, juicy with a spicy crust, and mouthwatering good. Being in Alaska, I couldn’t pass up the chance to eat local fish and ordered the halibut along with the fresh summer chopped salad. The fish was cooked to perfection with a delicious sauce and beautiful presentation. The farm fresh vegetables on the salad were crisp and refreshing. If you are in Seward, it is definitely worth the wait (which can be long) to eat at The Cookery.
At the end of the day we returned to our room at Resurrection Lodge on the Bay to relax and get some rest. The lodge is 4 miles from downtown Seward and has unbeatable views and a family of sea otters that were outside our window during our stay. It is a bit off the beaten path but offers comfortable, large rooms and picture windows that overlook the mountains across the bay.
If Alaska is a travel destination you are interested in (and it should be on everyone’s bucket list), I would highly recommend adding a short trip to Seward during your travels.