Harding Icefield on a Sunny Spectacular Day
A Strenuous but Worthy Hike
Many visitors to Seward, Alaska, take the detour down Herman Leirer Road to Exit Glacier. The road, commonly referred to as “Exit Glacier Road” directs traffic to the Exit Glacier Nature Center and a short trail that leads to the terminus of Exit Glacier—a fascinating spectacle of flowing ice. But there is something else at the end of the road, the fuel for Exit Glacier and almost 40 other glaciers in the Kenai Peninsula, the Harding Icefield.
Hiking to the icefield starts on the Exit Glacier paved path that begins at the nature center and goes for about a third of a mile before intersecting with the start of the Harding Icefield trail. Altogether the hike to and from Harding Icefield is 8.2 miles. It is strenuous, but throughout the hike, and especially at the end, hikers are highly rewarded for their efforts.
The trail winds its way through brush for a ways and eventually leads above the tree line. The views of the glacier and the mountains beyond are amazing. Visitors will notice signs in certain areas directing hikers to travel along the designated path. Harding Icefield attracts many hikers and with steep slopes and fragile tundra foliage, erosion can be a big problem.
It was a warm day when we hiked to Harding Icefield and I was quite proud of myself for remembering to bring a water filter. Our group used it a couple of times on the trail when we would cross small streams on the tundra—it was some of the best tasting water I’ve ever had. As a kid, high in the Talkeetna Mountains near Hatcher Pass, I would drink water directly from the many streams and never experienced any adverse effect. As an adult, drinking unfiltered mountain water is no longer a risk I’m willing to take unless in the most dire of circumstances.
Harding Icefield trail information on the National Park Service website recommends checking the trail conditions before planning a trip and being prepared for just about anything, be it bad weather or snow on the trail. When we hiked to Harding Icefield we were not prepared for snow fields toward the end of the trail, but luckily they were passable, though, some of us weren’t able to keep snow out of our shoes.
Exit Glacier is massive, but when you reach the end of the Harding Icefield trail and look out across an endless frozen expanse of ice that is approximately 700 square miles and over a thousand feet thick in some places, Exit Glacier is dwarfed in comparison. We got to see the icefield on a sunny spectacular day, and the sight was unforgettable.
Photos by Cecil Sanders & Story by Anne Sanders of Last Frontier Magazine
Interested in reading about more great hikes in Alaska? Check out, “Flattop Mountain – Scenic Alaska Adventure.”