Exit Glacier trail, Alaska

Exit Glacier trail, Alaska

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 60.16611°N / 149.56924°W
Additional Information Route Type: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: steep but not hard
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: Class 3
Sign the Climber's Log

Getting There

Located in Kenai Fjords National Park, the trail head is about a 15 mile drive from Seward.


Hike the 7.4 mile Harding Icefield Trail, up along side Exit Glacier to the place that glaciers are born in 700 square mile of ice called Harding Ice Field. The trail gains about 1000' of elevation, so it is not a hard hike. Even though the stats of the trail are not impressive, the scenery cannnot be beat, don't miss this one, but like all places in Alaska this is bear country. The road to the glacier closes in the winter when it gets snowed in, usually in November, but the park is still open.

Exit Glacier exits Harding Ice FieldExit Glacier flowing out of Harding Ice field. In the backgroud nunataks, or lonely peaks

The bottom part of this trail follows along the glacier meltwater stream through spruce then willows and alders as you get closer to the glacier. A classic plant succession from the receeding glacier. The higher you get the sparser the plant life, until up at the ice field you are on scree.

Watch for patches of red in the snow, there is an algae that lives in the snow and even stranger, glacier ice worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus), they eat the algae. More on ice worms here.
Pink Snow where Ice Worms growIce Worms eat the algae that turns the snow pink

Harding Ice field recieves over 400 inches of snow a year. All of that snow gets squeezed out through 20 large glaciers and many more small ones. Exit Glacier is the easiest access of any of the glaciers. From Seward a short drive and a short hike will get you face to face with this glacier.

Exit Glacier lower mapthe lower area of the glacier trail

The hike up to Harding Ice Field is about 1 mile of level and 2 or 3 very steep miles, up to the top of Exit Glacier and the Ice Field, and then comes back the same way. The temp can be dramatically cooler on the ice (duh), so even if it's warm at the bottom be prepared for colder temps above. There is a visitor center at the bottom and you can walk to the bottom of the glacier, but what fun is that? There is a shelter up at the ice field, maybe 10'x10', but very sturdy. The day we hiked it, we saw Marmot, Mountain Goats and a Grizzly Bear.

Harding Ice Field mapmap of trail up alonside Exit Glacier upto Harding Ice field


Exit Glacier got it's name when it was used to exit Harding Ice field after the first documented crossing. Like many things in Alaska the mere promise of a visit by the president was enough to give in the Harding name, in those days they were lobbying heavily for statehood.

I shamlessly (we already paid for it, right?) copied the rest of this text from this government web site NPS.gov

Seward residents generally ignored the huge icefield west of town before 1922. The construction of the Spruce Creek trail that year, however, made it possible to view the upper portions of the icecap, and President Harding's promise to visit the territory was sufficient to bestow his name on the feature. Between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s, the increasing popularity of aviation had given a lucky few the opportunity to soar over the icefield. Up to this point, however, people had walked only on the icefield's margins.

In early 1936, a 27-year-old Swiss immigrant named Yule Kilcher disembarked in Seward. He was headed for Kachemak Bay, where he intended to take up residence, but he was so intrigued by the icefield he had seen from the steamship that he vowed to cross it before long. Unwilling to wait two weeks for a coastal steamer, Kilcher walked to the Homer area, probably by way of the Resurrection River valley. After securing a homestead, he returned to Seward, and in late July he hiked up the Lowell Creek drainage toward the icefield. Conditions on the icefield overwhelmed him, however, and a week later he was back in Seward.

About 1940, two Kenai Peninsula residents, Eugene "Coho" Smith and Don Rising, apparently were successful in their attempt to cross the icefield. They hiked from Bear Glacier west to Tustumena Glacier. The men, however, told no one of their intentions, and once they returned, Smith's wife was the only one that was aware of what they had done. Their trip remained a virtual secret for more than twenty years after they completed it.

Two parties attempted to cross the icefield in the mid-1960s. In 1963, a party consisting of Don Stockard, Tom Johnson, and Carl Blomgren tried a westbound crossing. Three years later, J. Vin Hoeman, Dave Johnston, and Dr. Grace Jansen made an eastbound attempt. Both attempts were unsuccessful.

In the spring of 1968, the first documented mountaineering party succeeded in crossing the icefield. Ten people were involved in the crossing, which went from Chernof Glacier east to Exit Glacier. Expedition members included Bill Babcock, Eric Barnes, Bill Fox, Dave Johnston, Yule Kilcher and his son Otto, Dave Spencer, Helmut Tschaffert, and Vin and Grace (Jansen) Hoeman. As noted above, Yule Kilcher, Dave Johnston, Vin Hoeman, and Grace Hoeman were veterans of previous attempts; of the ten, only four–Bill Babcock, Dave Johnston, Yule Kilcher, and Vin Hoeman–hiked all the way across the icefield. The expedition left Homer on April 17, bound for Chernof Glacier; eight days later, they descended Exit Glacier and arrived in Seward. Along the way, the party made a first-ever ascent of Truuli Peak, a 6,612—foot eminence that protrudes from the northwestern edge of the icefield near Truuli Glacier.