On Sunday, July 25th, Mrs. Animal and I took our two visiting daughters down the Kenai Peninsula to the small town of Seward, the first of many neat little places in Alaska that we intend to visit – and on which I will report to you here.
Like many places in the Great Land, Seward was originally a Russian community. In 1793, Alexander Baranov of the Shelikhov-Golikov company wandered into Resurrection Bay, a fjord in the Gulf of Alaska, looking for a site to set up a trading post for what was to become the Russian-American Company. The community remained small until statehood, when growth of the town resulted from the growing fishing and tourism industries. Today, it’s still a small town that sees a big influx of visitors every summer, by road as well as by cruise ship and railway.
Things to See
Along the Way
Unless you arrive by sea, there’s only one way to get to Seward, and that’s to take Alaska Highway 1 from Anchorage or the Kenai area to Tern Lake, where you turn south on Alaska Highway 9 to Seward. Most folks will be arriving from Anchorage, though, and there’s some interesting landmarks along that route. Right at the bend in Highway 9 where you reach the end of the Turnagain and start to head west by southwest towards the Kenai Peninsula, you’ll find two attractions in short order: The road to Portage Glacier and Portage Creek, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
You can’t always count on seeing wildlife that is, well, wild, but here you can see some wildlife that has been rehabilitated for one reason or another and is now living a comfortable life and serving as teaching tools into the bargain. For a nominal fee ($15 for Alaska residents, $17 for non-residents) you can see black and grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, elk, and a variety of smaller critters. The setup is ideal for kids, as it doesn’t involve a lot of tramping through wilderness for hours and hours for a possible glimpse of a wolf or bear. The facility is well-kept and it’s not a bad walk through all the exhibits, plus you get some great views of the end of the Turnagain Arm.
The Portage Glacier/Portage Creek
Just across the highway from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, if you turn east off Highway 9 on to Portage Glacier Road.
It’s about six miles up the road to Portage Lake, where there is a small visitor center and, in summer, a ferry that can take you on a rather pricey tour of the lake. Early in the summer the lake has chunks of glacial ice still floating around, which can make boating… interesting.
Downstream from the lake there are a few viewing spots on Portage Creek where, in season, you can see spawning salmon. And if you take Portage Glacier Road on past the lake, you will eventually come to a toll station allowing entry into a railroad tunnel that you can drive through to come to the small town of Whittier, which is at the top of Prince William Sound.
Now in Seward itself, there are some great views of Resurrection Bay, but most of the sightseeing to be done is on the drive south from Tern Lake, rather than the town itself. Highway 9 runs along the southern end of Kenai Lake and then, farther south, offers some great views of Bear Lake and the Resurrection River. There are several good trails along the way if you want to go for a walk (bring mosquito repellent) and, in summer, you can take the Exit Glacier Road along the Resurrection River from just north of Seward almost to the Exit Glacier proper. The rivers, streams and lakes all offer good fishing. I haven’t yet explored hunting in the area, but the country looks like it would be full of spruce grouse and bears and moose are known to hang around.
Things to Do
If you have a chance to spend a day or two in Seward, there are a number of things to do. The town’s main drag has a few restaurants and a bunch of gift shops, if you’re into that sort of thing. For a fishing charter, as far as I’ve been able to determine you’ll have to go over to Whittier or on down the Kenai Peninsula to Kenai, Anchor Point or Homer.
But there are a couple of things unique to Seward.
The Alaska Railway
Seward is the southern terminus of the Alaska Railway, which offers passenger service north to Fairbanks and, rumor has it, soon around the corner south again to Delta Junction. This scenic trip in fact takes you within a mile or so of the Casa de Animal as it transits up the Susitna Valley on the way up to Fairbanks. It’s a pretty decent way to see a big stretch of Alaska without worrying about driving.
The Alaska SeaLife Center
This is probably Seward’s biggest attraction, for most folks.
The facility isn’t huge, and the admission isn’t cheap – $29.95 for non-residents, $23.95 for Alaskans – but that’s not that much as these kinds of places go. What you get for that price is a pretty neat exhibit with marine mammals, including a few sea lions as well as spotted and harbor seals, a lot of fish and invertebrate life native to the Gulf of Alaska, a big sea bird exhibit and some “touch pools” which are especially popular with the kiddies. Facilities like this aren’t really my bag, but our daughters wanted to see it, and I did enjoy the walk-through, mostly because it wasn’t a particularly crowded day. When we have grand-kids up to visit this and the Conservation Center will be on the to-visit list.
Alaska is full of neat places to see, of which Seward is just one. But its location on the tourist-friendly Kenai Peninsula makes it a pretty obvious spot for vacationers. There’s some great fishing in the area, both in the local lakes and streams and in Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. Down sides: Like many places in Alaska, Seward is on the end of a single roadway; once you’re there, the only place you can go is back. And while some of the restaurants in town are quite good, there aren’t too many of them, and if you’re around in the off season, quite a few of them are shuttered.
Still, a place worth the visit, if for the Alaska SeaLife Center alone.