Glacier-clad mountains rise up around Seward, a historic community nestled at the head of Resurrection Bay. Since earliest times, the “Gateway City” has been a transportation hub, a place to access Alaska’s many treasures. The area was once a crossroads for the Unegkurmiut Eskimo, akin to the Sugpiak/Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound.
In 1792, when Alaska was a Russian colony, Alexander Baranov sailed into the bay seeking shelter from a storm. It was the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection, so Baranov named the cove Resurrection Bay. He then built a ship-building yard where he and his men constructed the schooner Phoenix. Frank and Mary Lowell settled in the area in the early 1880s. Frank eventually abandoned Mary but she and her nine children built a life gardening, raising foxes, staking gold claims, and forwarding mail from monthly steamships to the Turnagain Arm gold fields.
The city of Seward’s birthdate is August 28, 1903, the day that John Ballaine and 82 pioneers arrived to build a railroad north to Alaska’s resource-rich interior. The new community was named Seward after Secretary of State William H. Seward, who had negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. The first spike of the Alaska Central Railway was driven in Seward on May 4, 1904. The Iditarod Trail system, also originating in Seward, provided a winter dogsled route through the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor to Alaska’s interior gold fields beginning in 1910.
Today, with a population just under 3,000, Seward continues as a transportation hub. It is the southern terminus for the Alaska Railroad and a destination of cruise ships traveling the Inside Passage. The 127-mile Seward Highway links this picturesque town with Anchorage and the interior. Buses offer daily round-trip service between Seward and Anchorage. A bus line also connects with Soldotna, Kenai, and Homer. Seward serves as a ferry stop for the Alaska Marine Highway System. Seward also has a small airport.
Home to nearly a dozen National Historic Sites, Seward is steeped in history, much of which is showcased at the Seward Museum on Third Avenue. Other historical sites include the Founder’s Monument on Ballaine Boulevard; Milepost 0 on Railway Avenue commemorating the Iditarod National Historic Trail; and the Benny Benson Memorial, a tribute to the 13-year-old Native youngster who designed the Alaska flag in 1927. Seward is also the site of the famous Fourth of July Mount Marathon race, a contest that began as a bet between two sourdoughs more than 70 years ago.
Seward boasts a scenic small boat harbor that hums with fishing activity during the summer months. A gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is also the site of the Alaska SeaLife Center, a favorite destination for many Seward visitors.
Grayling Lake Trail
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
DISTANCE: 1.4 Miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 450 ft
The Grayling Lake Trail is an easy and pleasant section of the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Accessed from the trailhead at mile 13 on the west side of the Seward Highway, this trail winds through hemlock and spruce forest with occasional boardwalk across open muskegs. Grayling Lake is a great place for fishing and wildlife viewing and the trail offers excellent berry picking in the fall. This can be an out-and-back hike or can be made longer by continuing on the INHT south toward Divide, or north toward Primrose.
National Heritage Areas are designated by an Act of Congress and administered by a local coordinating entity identified in the Act. Designation has no effect on property rights. Funding for locally initiated projects that enhance and preserve the area's historic, cultural, scenic, and outdoor recreational resources is provided by the National Heritage Area program through the National Park Service.