Things to do in Seward, Alaska
Located at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Alaska isn’t the state’s most famous city, but it’s known to both Alaskans and tourists as a major port on the Pacific Ocean. Named for William H. Seward, who brought Alaska to the United States, Seward serves as a major port of call for cruise ships, airplanes, fishermen, and more.
If you’ve booked an Alaskan cruise, chances are you’ll be able to disembark and return in Seward. But Seward is far more than just a place to hop on a boat: it offers countless activities and sights for tourists, whatever their interests. Here are some of the top attractions in Seward.
History of Seward, Alaska
The area that Seward is in has historically been a point of interest for traders and colonizers because of its strategic location on Resurrection Bay, mild weather, and access to interior Alaska. In 1791, Alexander Baranov, an employee of the Shelikov-Golikov Company, a Russian fur trading company later converted into the Russo-American Company, established a trading post at which Seward is located.
In 1867 Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the Alaska Purchase, buying the territory from Russia for $7.2 million. While some Americans welcomed the move as it was seen as an easy way to expand American influence into Asia, opponents of Seward referred to the deal as “Seward’s Folly” as Alaska was seen as worthless and containing no valuable resources. After the Alaska Purchase, virtually all Russian settlers left the area.
The discovery of gold in Alaska in the late 19th century inspired a rush by North Americans. The site of Baranov’s old trading post was quickly repopulated. In 1912 it was officially incorporated as the city of Seward, named for the man who brought Alaska to the United States.
Seward played a significant role in World War II as it served as the focal point of US military buildup in Alaska. Fearing Japanese attack, the military established Fort Raymond near Seward as well as Walseth Air Force Base, which became Seward Airport after both facilities closed at the end of the war. In the 1939 Slattery Report, which suggested allowing Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to settle in Alaska, Seward was named as a possible resettlement site. However, the report was never implemented by the government. The city was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1964.
Seward has grown into a major tourism hub since World War II, fueled by the cruise industry. Cruise ships cannot dock in Anchorage as the facilities there are primarily geared towards commercial shipping. They therefore usually start in Seward or near Whittier. Because of this, there are a variety of things to do in Seward before or after your cruise.
Tour the Seward Highway
This winding road connects Anchorage and Seward and is considered one of the most beautiful not only in the United States but in the world. You’ll pass mountains, glaciers and other beautiful scenery, and you’ll see Dall sheep, beluga whales, moose and other native animals. All road transfers between Anchorage and Seward use the Seward Highway. Remember to pack layered clothing in case the weather changes at any given time (which often happens in Alaska).
Visit Exit Glacier
Located just 4 miles north of Seward, Exit Glacier is considered one of the easiest glaciers to walk to in Alaska. He is the only one accessible by car. A short, easy hike from the visitor center takes you to Exit Glacier. There are also guided tours that are free and do not require prior reservation.
While Exit Glacier is easy to approach, touching it is a different story. Due to increasing global temperatures, the glacier’s size is shrinking every year, meaning the park is constantly striving to build new viewing platforms and expand the trail to accommodate the glacier’s slowly decreasing size. Because of this, the trail may not extend to Exit Glacier when you visit. While it is possible to venture off the route on your own, which many tourists choose to do, you do so at your own risk.
Tour the Harding Icefield
Exit Glacier is just a small portion of the Harding Icefield, a massive sheet of ice that spans much of the Kenai Peninsula. You can explore the Harding Icefield via the Harding Icefield Trail, which is just over 8 miles long and gives you an up-close look at the glaciers. However, due to the treacherous territory, the trail is only suitable for experienced hikers. Park rangers also offer trips to the Harding Icefield once a week.
Take a tour of the Kenai Fjords
Take a water cruise for a hassle-free and scenic view of the Seward area. Many companies offer boat tours of the Kenai Fjords, often with a guide who will fill you in on the history of what you are viewing.
Check out the Waterfront Park
Located north of the Alaska SeaLife Center, Waterfront Park is an excellent spot for wildlife viewing. Enjoy magnificent views of Resurrection Bay. The Waterfront Park offers both a campground and a trail that is free and open to the public.
Visit the Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is an aquarium dedicated to the study and conservation of Alaskan marine life. Here you can see seals, walruses, fish and a variety of other wildlife native to our state’s waters. While it’s not free, it’s one of the best places to reliably view Alaskan marine life.
Fish in Resurrection Bay
Due to the low level of pollution and the abundance of fish in the water, fishing is a common pastime in Seward. There are numerous tour companies that offer fishing trips in Resurrection Bay that allow you to easily get to where the most fish are and get out of the water with ease. They will also help you clean up and ship your catch home.
Not only that, if you visit Seward during the annual Salmon Run you can fish essentially anywhere in the city that has a stream connected to the ocean. However, to prevent overfishing by tourists, anyone who does not live in Seward needs a permit from the city government to fish during the Salmon Run. There are also strict restrictions on the number and type of salmon you can fish. However, this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your fishing.
Explore the marina
Seward Marina is one of the hubs of life where cruises depart, boats dock and fishermen show off their catch. From the marina you have a wonderful view of Resurrection Bay.
Visit the Seward Museum
If you are interested in Seward’s history, this small museum offers a tour of the region, its heritage and important aspects of its past. Admission is cheap and the entire museum can be explored in an hour or two.
Seward is known as one of the best whale watching spots in Alaska. At Lowell Point, just south of town, you can watch whales from the safety of the shore. Bring your binoculars so you can see far into the distance. Alternatively, take a cruise to Resurrection Bay, where boat guides can guide you through the best whale watching spots.
Seward is home to the famous Iditarod sled dog race. When you’re not racing, the Seavey family, local legends for their achievements in racing, offer a series of dog sledding tours that give you a taste of what it’s like to “sled” down Alaska’s sledding trails. While not cheap, this is a unique experience that can only be found in Seward.
Seward offers a wealth of walking trails through the beautiful surrounding area, some suitable for experienced walkers and others for beginners. Examples of hiking trails include the Tonsina Point Trail, the Lost Lake Trail, and the Caines Head Trail. You can easily search for trails online and determine which ones are right for you based on your available time, experience level, and the parts of Seward you want to see.
As you can see, Seward is hardly a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere, but one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in all of Alaska. Whether you’re away for a day or a week, whether you’re into nature or just want to spot wildlife in comfort and safety, Seward has countless treasures for you to discover.