Overland’s Best Day Hikes: Harding Icefield Trail near Seward, Alaska

If you’re looking for a great day hike in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska, read on to learn more about the Harding Icefield Trail


Name of Hike: Harding Icefield Trail

Location of Hike: Outside of Seward by about 20 min and south of Anchorage by about 2 hours

Location of Trailhead: Located in Kenai Fjords National Park. The entrance is about 20 minutes north of Seward, located here.

Difficulty Level: Challenging, but there are many turn-around points

Round Trip Miles: Approximately 8.5 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: About 3,000 feet 

Typical Duration of the Hike for Overland Groups: Approximately 6-7 hours (not including stops)


What It’s Like?

The Harding Icefield is a 700 square mile icefield located in and around Kenai Fjords National Park. This trailhead is located in the national park and the hike follows a well-maintained trailhead. Parking is plentiful at the bottom, and depending on the time of year, the visitors center and nature center will be open at the bottom of the trailhead. There are plenty of facilities before you start the hike and it is important to fill up on water as there aren’t any good places to refill along the trail.

The trail begins on a flat, paved path that winds through the deciduous forest. You quickly turn off the trail and begin ascending through the forest. This part of the trail is gorgeous as the sunlight comes through the leaves and you cross glacial creeks. After about a mile and a half of climbing, you clear the forest and find yourself walking along an alpine ridge. The views here are incredible! You can start to see the icefield while you look up the entirety of the Exit Glacier. This area is called the Marmot Meadows, and they are a great place to stop for a snack and water. The hike continues through the alpine ridge for another mile when you reach the Top of the Cliffs Overlook. If you choose to continue past this point you will be rewarded with another landscape change. The last section of the hike can only be described as otherworldly. The temperature drops as the foliage disappears and you are surrounded by snow and ice. I would recommend taking a break at the cliffs and then putting on another layer for the last bit of the hike. You will eventually hit the emergency shelter and this is a great place to put on another jacket before continuing to the final viewpoint. Walking along brown crushed rock, you find yourself face to face with an endless expanse of snow and glaciers. 

Why I Loved It:

The variability of the landscape is what makes this hike unique. Starting in the forest, ascending into the Alpine zone, and finishing at the snowfield you are rewarded with new views throughout. Second to the views, is the fact that there are multiple points to stop and turn around. Marmot Meadows, Top of the Cliffs, the Emergency Hut, and finally the very end of the trail. Each one provides an incredible view that easily makes for its own hike. As a result, this trail is very friendly to groups of all abilities. For the adventurous, the full 4.2 miles to the top is a great day, but for a family, Marmot Meadows might be more appropriate. 

Anything Else That Is Memorable:

The emergency shelter near the end of the hike is worth checking out. One can only imagine the stories of any individuals who have had to use it and the stories of those who built it. It could not have been easy to carry in the wood and rock used to construct the shelter. 

I would strongly advise that anyone visiting the area stop and read the signs at the trailhead talking about the recession of the glacier. There are signs along the trail (and road) showing you where the ice was depending on the year. Seeing the change in the glacier is sobering, but it allows you to put the efforts of the national park in perspective as you learn about how they are preserving the land.

If you have time, venture into nearby Seward and stop by Resurrect Art and Coffee house for delicious pastries and local art and jewelry. 

Overland Leader Will Savage At-A-Glance

Hometown: Austin, Texas
College, Major, Year of Graduation: 2021.5

Summers on Overland staff: Three – two as a leader and one on the full-time team
Overland trips: Alaska Explorer, Sierra Expedition (now Sierra Challenge)

Current Responsibilities on the Year-Round Team: Member of our Leader Hiring Team. Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and managing our 180-person staff.

What One of Will’s Co-Leaders Had to Say:

“Will’s strengths include excellent communication, organization and leadership. Will was so supportive and it was a pleasure working with him. Will has many hard backcountry skills and he enjoys sharing these with the students. We shared decision making and risk management decisions. Will was great with the students. He knew both how to laugh with them and how to reign them in and discipline them.” – Rena Schwartz


National Park Service: Kenai Fjords National Park

National Park Service, Kenai Fjords National Park: Harding Icefield Trail

AllTrails: Harding Icefield Trail

Earthtrekkers: Harding Icefield Trail

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    Tom Costley

    When Tom Costley founded Overland in 1984, he sought to create experiences for young people that were fun, where new friendships could grow, where natural beauty was embraced, where there were real and varied challenges, and where Overland’s students would achieve something of importance to them. Overland’s focus on small groups, carefully crafted trips, and superlative leadership has made it a leader in the summer camp world. Overland’s commitment to excellence in everything it does has led to its success: over the past four decades, Overland has served 40,000 students and 5,000 trip leaders. Tom writes about the outdoors and travel from Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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