Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- The 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the continent’s largest, destroyed 90% of Seward.
- More than 100,000 birds feed on the 4.5-mile sliver of land called Homer Spit.
- The Harding Icefield is larger than Rhode Island and is half a mile deep.
- The first major Alaska oil strike (1957) occurred near the town of Kenai.
- The peninsula is home to one black bear per square mile.
Kenai Peninsula offers a taste of just about everything America’s largest state has to offer but without requiring tourists to travel the state end to end.
The peninsula, also called the Kenai, measures a modest 16,000 or so square miles, less than 3% of Alaska’s reach. It is 90% wilderness, and its largest city, Kenai, has less than 8,000 inhabitants.
The peninsula serves as the Alaska sampler because it has the wildlife; the dramatic glaciers, mountains and wilderness; multipurpose rivers; a fjord-lined coast — plus churches, mining towns and other attractions associated with Alaska’s settlement story.
The Kenai is doubly attractive because its towns are within manageable driving distances of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and a hub for travel within the state. Seward is about two and a half hours out of Anchorage, and, at the other extreme, Homer is a five-hour drive away.
On one side, the peninsula faces the relatively narrow Cook Inlet, but on the other, it looks onto the Gulf of Alaska and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. The descriptively named Kenai Fjords National Park is on the gulf-facing coast.
The Kenai has a special claim on anglers because the salmon that spawn in the eponymously named Kenai River are larger than anywhere else. The world’s largest sport-caught king salmon was pulled from this river.
For others, Kenai is a wildlife safari destination. Cook Inlet is home to white belugas, a genetically distinct group of whales. Visitors also look for orcas, sea lions, seals, sea otters plus other whales and seabirds, including puffins. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge — covering about a third of the peninsula — harbors black and brown bears, caribou, dall sheep, moose and more. Bears may be spotted in other, sometimes surprising, places, as well.
The scenery is another top draw. Active travelers bike, hike, ride horseback, paddle a canoe, walk on a glacier or float on a raft (with or without the rapids) as their preferred way to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. The less active grab the camera for a sightseeing cruise or a leisurely drive on the peninsula’s scenic byways.
No wonder the peninsula is called Alaska’s playground.
Things to do for Venturers
- Sign on for a multiday cruise trip into Kenai Fjords National Park to see wildlife (bears, sea lions and whales among them), to kayak among ice floes where seals may be hanging out and to walk on glaciers.
- Get a look at the peninsula from your seat in a canoe. The peninsula offers 150 miles of canoe trails for the enthusiastic paddler.
Alternatively, arrange a drop-off deep in Kenai Fjords National Park, with a rented kayak, for days of viewing glaciers and paddling among sea otters. Overnight at park cabins, which are available for rent.
- Hike the 8.2-mile Harding Icefield Trail. It is a workout; hikers gain approximately 1,000 feet per mile.
- Sign on for the ultimate in challenging whitewater experiences. Run the Class IV and Class V rapids on Six Mile Creek, which drops more than 50 feet per mile as it roars out of the Chugach Mountains.
- Compete for cash prizes in the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. The town is the self-described halibut capital of the world.
- Join the Mount Marathon Race at Seward on July 4. This foot race sends participants on a climb up Mount Marathon and back down.
Things to do for Centrics
- On a shoreline drive, count four active volcanoes across Cook Inlet. Also, drive the length of Homer Spit for the illusion of sitting in the ocean while taking in the dramatic scene distinguished by glaciers, mountains and the waters of Kachemak Bay.
- Attend the springtime Kachemak Kayak Festival in Homer. Participate in kayaking events and workshops.
- Make early-settlement history a theme of your peninsula tour. Captain James Cook explored here in 1778 and his journals are found at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The Russians colonized parts of the peninsula; look for their churches. The 19th century rush for gold inspired construction of the Alaska Railroad, which starts in Seward, and Hope was a gold mining town (1889).
- Head to the town of Kenai for salmon fishing in the lower Kenai River. Four of the five Pacific salmon spawn in the river. See the world’s largest sport-tagged king salmon at the Soldotna Visitor Center. Also, fish for rainbow trout on the Kenai.
- Rent a motorhome to provide your transportation and housing during a thorough tour of Kenai Peninsula.
- Hike in Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park, a water taxi ride away from Homer. Count the number of bald eagles you can spot while in Homer.
Things to do for Authentics
- Join a sightseeing cruise at Seward for a chance to view whales and other marine wildlife and to witness calving glaciers. Or, make that a birders’ cruise-tour in Kenai Fjords National Park.
- At the town of Kenai, watch the white beluga whales from land, at Beluga Whale Lookout.
- Absorb some culture in the so-called culture capital of the region, Homer. Choices include art galleries, a live theater, music venues and, for good measure, restaurants well above the caliber generally found in a small Alaska town.
- Take a daylong guided tour through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge.
- Join a walking tour of the Kenai Old Town, sponsored by the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. And pan for gold in Hope (the town) before or after a visit to the Hope Sunrise Mining Museum.
- Get close to octopus, puffins, sea lions and seals at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
For more information, consult the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council at www.kenaipeninsula.org