Seward | Kenai Fjords
In 1867, turning to manifest destiny after prevailing in the ravages of the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward signed the treaty by which the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. The tsarist empire needed funds to pay debts incurred in its own conflict, the Crimean War, and was concerned that its antagonist in that conflict, England, might otherwise try to seize Alaska without compensation. Accordingly, Russia parted with Alaska for the bargain price of $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre.
American public opinion was mixed on the subject of the acquisition, leading to the satirical term, “Seward’s Folly,” for the new territory. Seward’s patronymic was used more constructively, however, in the naming of one of the important towns on the Kenai Peninsula, known today as Seward, Alaska. Other areas are named for him as well, including the peninsula that contains the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
Seward is a bustling tourist town that can be reached from Anchorage in a couple of hours by car, on the Alaska Railroad or by a tour bus. In addition, the Port of Seward is a terminal stop for many of the Inside Passage boat cruises, so there is a lot of infrastructure catering to tourists and connecting the town to Anchorage. In 2014, for example, the Alaska Railroad announced summer day-trips, leaving Anchorage at 9:45 am daily, and returning either at 6:45 pm or 9:45 pm, depending on the evening itinerary. For more information, click here.
Because Seward is so close and easy to get to, it makes for a convenient excursion from Anchorage. A visitor can easily spend a few hours at the Alaska Sea Life Center, which has many engaging exhibits on marine ecosystems and the diverse animal species who live there. Just outside of town, you can also park at a trailhead and take a short walk on well-maintained trails to visit Exit Glacier.
The best reason to visit Seward, however, is the opportunity to get out on the water of Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. Several tour companies offer day cruises that explore the fjords and their many glaciers. These cruises offer many opportunities to view marine wildlife, ranging from seals and sea otters to humpback whales, as well as seabirds and shorebirds such as colorful puffins and murres and guillemots.
A fun trip for a couple of days is to take the Kenai Fjords cruise that includes an overnight stop on Fox Island, where you can stay at the comfortable Wilderness Lodge. A few years ago, I left Anchorage with my wife and daughter early one morning and drove down to Seward. We were at the lodge on Fox Island in time for lunch and were in rented sea kayaks, paddling around in Resurrection Bay, by early afternoon.
The next day, we were picked up after breakfast by one of the day cruises heading into the national park to view glaciers and marine wildlife. We saw lots of humpback whales both while getting to the island and while on the cruise. Back in Seward for dinner that evening, we first took a short hike out to the terminus of Exit Glacier, the only glacier I have ever walked up to on foot, then dined on fresh seafood from the Bay. We stayed in Seward that night and returned to Anchorage the following morning. It was a perfect weekend get-away.