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Harding Icefield Out and Back

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 4.9 (31) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A Kenai Fjords Classic! Ascend high above Exit Glacier and earn stellar views in the process.


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Map Key

8.3

Miles

13.4

KM

Out and Back

3,506' 1,069 m

High

462' 141 m

Low

3,073' 937 m

Up

3,074' 937 m

Down

14%

Avg Grade (8°)

50%

Max Grade (26°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Family Friendly Although hiking this entire trail out-and-back is probably out of the question for most kids, a short trek up the initial switchbacks is not. You'll still get incredible views on a challenging trail.

The Exit Glacier Area is open year round. Around mid-November, when the snow season really begins, the road to Exit Glacier is closed to vehicles but accessible to a range of winter recreation including dogsleds, snowmobiles, XC skiers and fat bikes. The road usually stays closed until early May, so be sure to check the current conditions if you are visiting during the off season.

Overview

The 8.2-mile out-and-back hike along Harding Icefield is a spectacular outing. The trail itself is only 3.8 miles out, but you'll need to access it via the Exit Glacier Paved Path, which adds to the overall distance. Hikers can expect sweeping views of the Exit Glacier area as they ascend high above the trailhead.

Want some knowledgeable company? There are ranger-guided hikes on the Harding Icefield Trail every Saturday in July and August. You're not required to make a reservation and the outings leave from the Nature Center at 9 am.

Need to Know

Review the trail conditions before beginning your hike - the higher portions of the trail are regularly snow-covered through early July and there can be avalanche hazards. Be prepared for high winds, storms, sudden temperature changes, and intense sunlight. Pack plenty of layers, rain gear, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Bring enough water for your outing, or pack a filter.

There are no garbage receptacles or restroom facilities on the trail. Pack out all waste.

Camping is allowed along the Harding Icefield Trail, but you must travel at least 1/8 mile from the trail on bare rock or snow before setting up your camp. Camping is not permitted in the emergency hut at the end of the trail.

Description

Follow the Exit Glacier Paved Path for roughly 1/3 of a mile and look for the Harding Icefield Trailhead on the right.

Starting on the valley floor, the trail meanders through alder and cottonwood forest as well as heather-filled meadows. The trail rises through the forest and ultimately ends up well above tree line to an awe-inspiring vantage point of the icefield. The peak of the trail is a peephole to ice ages past. A horizon of snow and ice stretches as far as the eye can see, broken only by an occasional lonely peak, known as a nunatak.

The trail is quite strenuous. You'll gain roughly 1,000 vertical feet over every mile. Budget somewhere around 6-8 hours for the whole outing. While the view from the top is definitely worth the extra work, you don't need to hike all the way there to experience the aspects of this trail that make it so special. A short hike up the trail provides dramatic views of the valley and Exit Glacier's end.

Flora & Fauna

Please stay on the trail. Alpine plant life is very fragile. Cutting switchbacks causes tremendous erosion. Volunteers donate their time to help maintain this trail - please respect their efforts by staying on the trail.

This is bear country! The plants along the trail are dense and include salmonberry bushes, a popular food with black bears. Black bears are seen almost every day on this trail. Take care and be conscious of your environment at all times. Making noise as you hike can help you avoid startling a bear. Be particularly alert if you encounter a mother bear with cubs. You're likely to see the cubs first, but you can be sure the mother will be close by. Never put yourself between a mother and her cubs. More info on bears can be found here.

Contacts

Shared By:

Brian Smith

Trail Ratings

  4.9 from 31 votes

#203

Overall
  4.9 from 31 votes
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#1

in Alaska

#203

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Photos

There are opportunities to explore the end of the trail, especially as the snow levels recede. Take the opportunity to take in the different views, even if it means taking one of the small trails that fan out at the top.
Aug 17, 2019 near Bear Creek, AK
Exit Glacier from Harding Ice Field Trail
Sep 2, 2018 near Bear Creek, AK
As you approach the end of the trail, the Harding Icefield spreads out before you. It is an awesome sight to see the source of over 40 glaciers.
Aug 17, 2019 near Bear Creek, AK
Exit Glacier/Harding Ice Field, Seward, AK
Jul 20, 2016 near Bear Creek, AK
This is the Harding Icefield Trail that runs along Exit Glacier  (you can see in the background) in Kenai Fjords National Park. The trail ends at the Harding Icefield with great panoramic view. This was about 2 miles into the 8.2 mile roundtrip out and back hike.
Apr 16, 2015 near Bear Creek, AK
Exit Glacier/Harding Ice Field, Seward, AK
Jul 20, 2016 near Bear Creek, AK

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Check-Ins

Sep 10, 2020
Nick-Roy Green
Jul 28, 2020
Marc Daniel
With Mila — 11h 00m
Jul 4, 2020
Marcus French
9h 24m
Sep 9, 2019
Vincent Franzen
Great hike, amazing views.
Sep 3, 2019
Yi Ding
7h 00m
Aug 18, 2019
Jake Lins
Aug 15, 2019
Fei Gao
12mi
Jul 29, 2019
Sean Stockmoe