Located on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Alaska is not the most famous city in the state, but both Alaskans and tourists know it as an important port on the Pacific Ocean. Named after William H. Seward, who was responsible for bringing Alaska into the United States, Seward serves as a major port of call for cruise ships, airplanes, fishers, and more.
If you are booked on an Alaskan cruise, odds are that you will be disembarking and returning via Seward. But Seward is far more than a place where you just get on a boat: it offers countless activities and sights for tourists no matter their interests. Here are some of the top sights in Seward.
History of Seward, Alaska
The area where Seward is located has historically been a point of interest for traders and colonizers due to its strategic location on Resurrection Bay, its mild weather, and its access to the Alaskan interior. In 1791, Alexander Baranov, an employee of the Shelikov-Golikov Company, a Russian fur trading company that would later be reconstituted as the Russian-American Company, established a trading post where Seward is now located.
In 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the Alaska Purchase, buying the territory from Russia for the cost of $7.2 million. While some Americans applauded the move as it was seen as an easy way to expand American influence into Asia, opponents of Seward labeled the deal “Seward’s Folly” due to the fact that Alaska was seen as worthless, containing no valuable resources. Following the Alaska Purchase, virtually all Russian settlers in the territory left.
The discovery of gold in Alaska in the late 1800’s inspired a stampede of Americans north. The location where Baranov’s old trading post was was rapidly repopulated. In 1912, it was formally incorporated as the city of Seward, named after the man who brought Alaska into the U.S.
Seward would play a significant role in World War II, as it served as the focal point of the U.S. military buildup in Alaska. Due to fears of Japanese attack, the military established Fort Raymond near Seward, as well as Walseth Air Force Base, which later became Seward Airport following the closure of both facilities when the war ended. In 1939, the Slattery Report, which proposed allowing Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to settle in Alaska, named Seward as a possible relocation site. However, the report was never implemented by the government. The city was famously hit by a devastating earthquake in 1964.
Since World War II, Seward has become a major hub for tourism, driven by the cruise ship industry. Cruise ships are not able to dock in Anchorage due to facilities there being primarily oriented towards commercial shipping, so they generally depart from Seward or nearby Whittier instead. Because of this, there are a variety of things to do in Seward before or after your cruise.
Tour the Seward Highway
Connecting Anchorage and Seward, this winding highway is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful in not just the U.S., but the world. You’ll get to zip past mountains, glaciers, and other gorgeous scenery, as well as observe Dall sheep, beluga whales, moose, and other native wildlife. All road transfer services between Anchorage and Seward travel via the Seward Highway. Just remember to bring layered clothing in case the weather changes on a dime (which it often does in Alaska).
Visit Exit Glacier
Located just four miles north of Seward, Exit Glacier is famed as one of the easiest glaciers in Alaska to reach on foot, and the only one that is reachable by car. A short, easy hike from the visitors’ center will take you right up to Exit Glacier. There are also guided tours available: these tours are free of charge and do not require a reservation in advance.
While getting close to Exit Glacier is easy, touching it is another story. Due to increasing global temperatures, the size of the glacier has been shrinking every year, meaning that the park is in a constant race to build new viewing platforms and extend the trail to accommodate the glacier’s slowly decreasing size. Because of this, when you visit, the trail may not extend all the way up to Exit Glacier. While it’s possible to go off the trail on your own—many tourists choose to do it—you do so at your own risk.
Tour the Harding Icefield
Exit Glacier is just one small part of the Harding Icefield, a massive ice sheet that stretches across much of the Kenai Peninsula. You can tour the Harding Icefield via the Harding Icefield Trail, which runs over just over eight miles and gives you an up-close look at the glaciers. However, due to the treacherous territory the trail crosses, it is only suitable for expert hikers. Park rangers also offer excursions into the Harding Icefield once a week.
Take a Tour of the Kenai Fjords
For a low-stress and scenic look at the landscape surrounding Seward, hit the water for a boat tour. Many companies offer boat tours of the Kenai Fjords, often including a tour guide who will fill you in on the history of what you’re looking at.
Check Out Waterfront Park
Located north of the Alaska SeaLife Center, Waterfront Park is an excellent place for wildlife watching and also offers gorgeous views of Resurrection Bay. Waterfront Park boasts both a campground and a trail that are free and open to the public.
Visit the Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is an aquarium dedicated to researching and protecting Alaska’s marine wildlife. Here, you can observe seals, walruses, fish, and a number of other animals native to our state’s waters. While not free, it’s one of the best places to reliably observe marine life in Alaska.
Go Fishing on Resurrection Bay
Fishing is a common recreational activity in Seward due to the low levels of pollution and large amounts of fish in the water. There are numerous tour companies who offer fishing tours of Resurrection Bay, allowing you to get to where the highest concentrations of fish are and pluck them out of the water easily. They’ll also help you with cleaning up and shipping what you catch back home.
Not only that, if you visit Seward during the annual Salmon Run, you can essentially fish 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 requires a permit from the city government to fish during the Salmon Run. There are also strict limitations on the number and type of salmon you are allowed to fish. Don’t let this get in the way of enjoying your fishing, however.
Explore the Harbor Marina
The Harbor Marina is one of the hubs of life in Seward, where cruises depart, boats moor, and fishermen show off their catches. You can also get some gorgeous views of Resurrection Bay from the marina.
Visit the Seward Museum
If you’re interested in the history of Seward, this small museum will give you a tour of the area, its heritage, and important aspects of its past. Tickets are inexpensive and the entire museum can be explored in an hour or two.
Seward is famed as one of the best whale watching locales in Alaska. At Lowell Point, located just south of the city, you can observe whales from the safety of the shore. Bring your binoculars so you can see far out into the distance. Alternatively, you can take a cruise onto Resurrection Bay, where boat captains will be able to show you around prime whale-watching spots.
Go Dog Sledding
Seward is the home of the famous Iditarod dog sledding race. When not racing, the Seavey family, local legends for their performance in the race, offer a number of dog sledding tours that will give you a taste of what it is like to “mush” across the Alaskan sledding trails. While not inexpensive, this is a unique experience that you can only find in Seward.
Seward offers a wealth of hiking trails through its gorgeous surroundings, some designed for experienced hikers and others usable by amateurs. Examples of trails include the Tonsina Point Trail, the Lost Lake Trail, and the Caines Head Trail. You can easily look up trails online and determine which one(s) are right for you based on your available time, your experience level, and what parts of Seward you want to see.
As you can see, Seward is hardly some sleepy burg in the middle of nowhere, but is one of the finest tourist destinations in all of Alaska. Whether you’re visiting for a day or for a week, whether you’re into the outdoors or just want to watch wildlife in comfort and safety, Seward has countless treasures for you to discover.