Exit Glacier & Harding Icefield

Kenai Fjords National Park
This hike was rated 5 stars.
Difficulty
Easy; walking around the terminus (bottom of the glacier) is flat. However, the hike up to Harding Icefield is very steep and only people who are in reasonably good shape should attempt it.
Miles One Way
4.5
Miles from Anchorage
112; just north of the Seward city limits
Season
July to September; expect snow at higher elevations as well as extremely windy and cold conditions (especially in September).

Description

One of the best day hikes in Alaska!

If you are visiting the area, I would put this at the top of my list – no kidding!

This is the hike that clinched it for me to move up here. Mostly vertical, it can be a real A** whupper, but ohhhhh, the reward is sooooo worth it. The scenery is incredible as you hike up the mountain and get increasingly better views of the glacier and the Kenai Mountains. And then you get to the top where you will see the incredible Harding Icefield. Words cannot describe it. You’ll feel like you’re on the top of the world!

The chance of seeing bear, dall sheep, mountain goats, and eagles is extremely high.

If you are coming up here in season and you could only do one hike, this is the one I’d pick. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing in the lower 48 to compare to this.

After the hike, head down to the terminus for up close views of the glacier. If you are not in good shape, you could spend hours down here and have a very enjoyable time.

There is a great interpretive center as well.

Important Information

If you pace yourself and you are in reasonably good shape, you should have no physical problem hiking to the Icefield. The real challenge is mental. Because of the way the mountain slopes from the glacial grinding, it seems like you are almost there and when you get higher you see more stretch of trail that was hidden. It can be quite daunting, but keep telling yourself that the reward will be worth it. You should keep on going, even if there’s snow, until you get to the Icefield (trust me-you’ll know it when you get there). DON’T GIVE UP!

Do not walk on the glacier! Unless you’re experienced in glacial hiking, you are putting your life in extreme risk. There are many deep crevasses that are covered with snow. If you fall in, it was nice knowing you.

The Icefield, especially if it’s windy, can be winter like, even if the temperature is warm down at the terminus. Pack a warm coat or fleece, windbreaker and hat. If traveling in September, consider gloves and a hot thermos. To avoid hypothermia, change into dryer and/or warmer clothes at the emergency hut located 1/4 mile before the edge of the Icefield.

You are not allowed to camp up there. This is a day hike only.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail. They are very serious about this rule!

There are designated campsites before the entrance to the glacier. Better yet is to find your spot on the many pull offs on Exit Glacier Road and camp right by the river.

If you’re a shutterbug, the angle of the sun coming across the Icefield can really ruin the shot. Bring filters for clearer pictures.

Etc.

There is a $10 entrance fee to get into the park. Your Alaska State Park Pass is not valid here.

If you’d like to educate yourself about glaciers and their awesome power, please visit All About Glaciers, a great introductory website.

Topo Map

Exit Glacier & Harding Icefield topo map

Comments on hiking Exit Glacier & Harding Icefield

  1. Bob Hatty — March 28, 2017

    My adult daughter and I completed the hike to the end of the trail in August 2013. To say that is was a challenge would be an understatement – to say that it was breathtaking and a once in a lifetime experience would be accurate. The changes in the surroundings from the bottom to the top are remarkable – it is like walking through climate zones. Neither of us were in great shape and it was both a mental and physical challenge. I would highly recommend the trail but do be prepared with plenty of water, snacks and layered clothing.

    To put the experience in a nutshell: Whenever I can share the adventure of my daughter and I hiking the Exit Glacier trail people are fascinated.

  2. Amy lee — September 10, 2016

    This Hike sucked. Last time I did this hike, was around 2005..not bad then …. I Was Super disapointed today, When was not “allowed” to bring my dog (so was my dog!) . Who the hell thought of that?! Seriously! I’m a born and raised Alaskan and This is a park paid for by MY tax dollars. I never voted to keep pets out, and now I can’t bring my damn good dog on a walk in the great outdoors?! Wtf. We need to STOP Turing into California. If anyone knows who came up with this asinine “rule”, please let us all know. They at least need a shout out on social media.

  3. Ingrid B. — September 9, 2016

    We just did the hike today! What a stunning hike! The views are unreal. We made it to the end, but the last mile or so was with huge winds…. another hiker said he thought it was 60mph! We had to crouch on the ground or get blown down. It was a fantastic Fall hike with marmots, sheep, snow, ice, sun, clouds…. Bring layers – short sleeves at the bottom, but gloves, down jackets, rain jackets and hats for the top. We should have brought more food so stopped for milkshakes and ice cream on the way home. We earned it! We loved every step of it.

  4. Joshua Horn — April 8, 2013

    I did this hike with my family the first week of July, 2012. It certainly is amazing. When we went there was still a lot of snow on the trail. We made it 1/2 to 2/3 of the way to the ice field, and decided to turn around because of conditions and limited time. I would love to return and finish the hike!

  5. The following was submitted by Christen on June 12, 2010:

    Just thought I would let you know that Exit Glacier is now FREE. There is no cost to get into the park or to park in the parking lot… the National Park kiosk has been boarded up for some time. Makes the hike more enjoyable, eh? Also because the glacier has receded so much, the hike to the edge of the glacier is now a moderately strenuous hike. It’s a good hike for those out of shape (like myself)…. it’s 1.3 miles up to the glacier, with a steep section right at the end. Anyway, I’ve been about 4 times in the last week… great place to walk that’s close to home. Hope the updates have helped!

  6. The following was submitted by Gonecampin:

    I think you did an excellent job in describing this hike.. We knew just what to expect on this one, and that actually made it easer. However, for many people it would be very difficult.

    I was so overdressed and even had another jacket in my backpack. The hike is so strenuous that too much clothing is not a good idea. I saw a girl start out in a tank and shorts and at the top put on long pants and a jacket. That was smart.

    This hike, with all the diversity it offers along the way, is like several hikes in one. As a lady we met along the way put it, “Stunning”. And that was just part of the hike.

  7. The following was submitted by Brian Meeker:

    Thanks again for the helpful information re: the Harding Ice field hike. I did it on Mon 7/14/08 with my 11 yr old son. We both enjoyed the experience immensely. I was prepared to turn back at Marmot Meadow, but we decided then to push to the top as the weather broke nicely then. FYI, I found the information and waypoints on this site very helpful: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip.aspx?TripID=10249

    Black bear sightings are very common there this summer. Just south of Marmot Meadow we bailed off the trail to watch “Pokey the Bear” amble by (we were on the way up, he was slowly making his way down). What a thrill!

  8. The following was submitted by Anne Kelly:

    This hike was definitely the highlight of my trip. It was a kind of unexpected adventure that ultimately proved to be life changing. We hiked the trail in early September and encountered no washouts, snow, or unexpected detours. The only warning I would like to give is to be aware of the rapidly diminishing daylight hours in late summer. For those that may be amateur hikers- don’t underestimate this trail- bring ample snacks and water and pace your self. We were passed by a fellow that regularly runs this trail, if he ever sees this posting, we all applaud you! Keep up the good work and maybe we can race next summer!

  9. The following was submitted by Jon B.:

    Did the Harding Icefield trail yesterday based in part on the glowing review on your website. You are right — it was amazing. Once again, your website helped me pick a great hike.

    I did want to correct one thing on your site about the hike though — according to the NPS web site, camping is actually allowed at the top, provided you are on bare rock or snow and more than 1/2 mile from the trail.

    Boy, if the weather was good, this would be quite an overnight. The Icefield at sunrise/sunset must be incredible. I may have to try it sometime if I can psyche myself up to haul a pack up there.

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