Alaska - Western Canada Journey

Day 14

Seward Bound


Day 14 is similar to Day 13 which involved traveling and several stops for hiking in search of wildlife. Wildlife spotting was more misses than hits. The pre-trip impression and hypes about abundance of wildlife did not turn out to be true for us as we travel from place to place, since wild animals would avoid human as much as human don't want to get too close to them. Several day hikes yielded only a few encounters with eagles. Our search of salmon runs was also fruitless. By late evening, we happened to spot a mother grizzly bear walking with her cubs along a river. We also visited Exit Glacier, one of a few glaciers reachable by car.

Day Journal

Kenai Peninsula

Our destination of the day was Seward. With a distance of roughly 150 miles around Kenai Peninsula, we had ample time for stops and hikes along the way. We would retrace our path back on Alaska Highway 1 (also called the Sterling Highway) over rather monotonous sceneries back toward Kenai and the Seward Highway junction. From there, we again go south to Seward located on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula. There were a few points of interests we had in mind for the day - drive the Skilak Lake Loop to visit Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in search of wildlife, especially grizzly bears, and spawning salmon. In Seward, we wanted to see the Exit Glacier and book a tour to a tidal glacier. With that sketch in mind, we started out early in the overcast morning, which turned worse as the day progressed.

Our first stop was not for scenery but for a hot cup of cappuccino at a quaint roadside coffee shop. Hugging the warm cup of coffee while taking in the wonderful aroma, I was all set for the day! Out of curiosity, we made a stop at Clam Gulch State Recreation Area since the name intrigued us. There is a nice campground high on the bluff protected by trees against the howling ocean wind. Had we driven a bit further the previous night, we could have a more restful sleep. From the campground, there was a steep dirt road down to the beach, with warning sign requiring 4-wheel drives. People come to this beach to harvest hundreds of thousands of razor clams each year. Razor clams can be found in abundance from Alaska to California. There is also a great view of Cook Inlet and the Aleutian Mountain Range. Since we did not come here to dig clams, we only stopped long enough to drive around the campground, and to the beach and back. We spotted a few people half-heartedly trying their luck at the time, and soon left - perhaps they were just curious people like us. From the photographic perspective, the beach was not very appealing at that time under cloudy sky. Under better weather, I surmise there would be great view of the Aleutian Mountain Range and its three tallest peaks - Mount Iliamna, Mount Redoubt and Mount Spurr across Cook Inlet. For this day, it was not to be. However, there was an abandoned trailer propped up on posts on the beach that may be a good subject. There were also juvenile eagles perching on the bluff overlooking the beach, sometimes harassed by seagulls. The place was not well-kept and we saw trash in streams and on the sand. Our next trip to this place if there is one, would be more prepared with shovels and buckets in hand, and photo gears safely hidden in the car.


We wound our way back toward Kenai and made several hiking stops in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Kenai NWR is a world famous location for wildlife viewing, including moose, bears, eagles and salmon among others. Fishing and backcountry canoeing is also popular. To serve visitors, there are several campgrounds located on lakeshores or riverbanks, some are free and others not. There are several boat launch facilities as well. With our budget of time, we could only skim the surface of a few attractions. We first stopped at the Visitor Center where my wife inquired about bears and how to stay away from them, then I came in inquiring about the same thing, but how to best get close to them! The ranger must have been amused at our opposite intents. We then strolled along the easy trail to Headquarters Lake and visited Andrew Berg's Homestead Cabin. We found no wildlife other than a few birds and a family of jackrabbits.

Leaving the visitor center empty-handed, we followed the Skilak Lake Loop, a dirt road spun off of highway 1. This road skirts along Skilak Lake which must be abundant with salmon since we saw many people fishing along the bank of the Kenai River as well as in boats in the lake. The view was quite beautiful with panoramic views of the lake and distant glaciers. We drove by several campgrounds and found nice campsites with great views of the lake and mountains. The view of Skilak Lake, surrounding mountains and glaciers on Bear Mountain was breathtaking. This picture was not taken by me as the norm, but rather by my wife who was inspired by the majestic scenery in front of her. Our most significant adventure was hiking the 1.5 mile Hidden Creek Trail. Being the only souls on the trail with plenty of warnings from the Visitor Center about what to do if one encounters grizzly bears, we were definitely on the lookout for these beasts. The hike, while exciting with this mindset, did not yield any bear encounters much to my disappointment and my wife's relief. The telephoto lens setup was only used to capture views of glaciers. The weather also looked threatening but fortunately did not soak us. After several such fruitless stops, including one with a fresh posted warning about recent bear sighting the day before, we got back on highway 1. Along the way, we made one more stop at a state park in search of spawning salmon. Several people spotted a black bear catching salmon on the river, but by the time I arrived, it was long gone. I found neither spawning salmon nor bears. Somewhat dejected, we resumed our trip to Seward.

By the time we reach the intersection with Seward Highway, the rain was pouring down. The scenery was as beautiful as we remembered it two days before. The road cuts through boreal forests with beautiful lakes dotting along the road, nearby mountains covered with snow and glacier-covered distant mountains. The foul weather only managed to take away a little from the beauties of nature. We reached Seward by late afternoon in the rain. As it turned out, most motels were booked so we wound up with another bed & breakfast stay. Our hope of another wonderful Camai B&B experience (Day 11) was quickly dowsed by both the pouring rain and the view of a utilitarian apartment B&B. The room was just acceptable, and the breakfast was coffee, banana and cereals! After securing the room and a boat tour for the following day, we set out to visit Exit Glacier that we spotted on the way in to town. Fortunately, the rain let up briefly during our hike to the glacier, making the steep hike easier, and gave me opportunities to capture some images of the wonderful glacial view. This was our first close encounter with a glacier, even though we could not step on the glacier behind the safety ropes. It was awe inspiring both from a distance and up close. Humans appeared so insignificant next to the giant ice river. In lieu of pristine white snow colors, the close up view of the glacier was a debris-filled white and blue field of ice river. As the glacier moves, it carved away rocks from the mountains into large boulders, rocks, pebbles and powder. Together, they give the glacier an appearance of an icefield passing through a dusty coal mine region. Amid this dirty white ice field, there was a wonderful turquoise blue color emanating from the crevices. With the ice being compacted greatly by weight, most sunlight spectrum was absorbed by the ice, reflecting only the blue waves, thus giving this color. At the base or toe of the glacier, we could see the beginning of the Resurrection River, a milky dusty stream of water flowing down the slope. Again, this silty/milky color comes from the rock flour ground up by the glacier. This gives us first hand proof of what we saw back in Fairbanks where the clear spring-fed Chena River met up with the glacier-originated Tanana River creating a strange scene of clear/cloudy water fighting for dominance with no clear winner. Our first close encounter with the glacier was a memorable experience.

Having scrambled to find a place to eat, consumed our dinner, then drove to the glacier, climbed up to a close-up viewpoint and back, we could now relax on the way driving back to town under the faint light of Alaska evening, feeling mostly satisfied that we have been rewarded with beautiful sceneries at Skilak Lake and exciting time at the Exit Glacier, with only the disappointment of not finding the elusive grizzly bears or spawning salmon. Packing up our gear for the night, we drove back to Seward. As we approached the town, there was some unusual hawking activities around the bridge so we glance over to the riverbank when my wife exclaimed "bears, bears!". A quick stop at the nearest place I could park, pulling out my camera gears in record speed, and hopping over the center road barrier with cameras in hand, I soon found myself joining the small crowd peering over the bridge and saw a mother grizzly bears with her two cubs walking along the riverbank probably in search of salmon. I was able to snap a few shots before the mother decided that there was too much commotion above, and decided to take her cub back into the woods. As much as I wished that they lingered a bit longer, I myself could not linger on since a police car with flashing light approached and warned us to get away from the bridge for everyone's safety. This last few- minute surprise encounter made our day now complete!

By the time we reach town, the downpour was quite heavy and it turned cold, giving us concerns about the next day boat tour. So we drove downtown in hope of finding some rain gears and warmer clothing. Fortunately, a few stores were still open at this late hour and we snapped up gloves, jackets and beanies, then returned to the apartment and prepared for the following day.

Roads and Weather

The road was good in the Kenai Peninsula. Even the dirt road of Skilak Lake Loop was well maintained. We had no difficulties with our drive.

The weather was cloudy through the morning and then turned wet for the afternoon with only brief moments of relief. The rain became heavy the whole evening through the following day.

The temperature in Kenai Peninsula was colder than in Anchorage and substantially colder than inland. Extra warm clothing would be necessary for boat tours and hikes up glaciers.


Clam Gulch State Recreation Area

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kenai Fjords National Park official site, tours and cruises, more tours and cruises, and many more on the web; Exit Glacier