Accessible wilderness, heaps of trails, and enough trophy fish to spawn “it was THIS big” stories for years to come, it’s easy to see why the Kenai Peninsula is often referred to as “Alaska’s playground.” While there are oodles of worthwhile spots to visit, here are just a few to get you started.
Impossibly charming, Hope is a worthwhile detour for those zipping down to conquer the Kenai Peninsula. The atmospheric downtown with stunning views of Turnagain Arm offers a good jumping-off point for a variety of hikes. Gull Rock Trail, an old wagon road, is a local favorite — it’s 5 miles one way with negligible elevation gain. Hope Point is a strenuous climb following an alpine ridge offers that incredible views (and serious bragging rights). Nova River Runner and Chugach Outdoor Center each offer rafting trips down Six Mile Creek for those looking for an adrenaline rush. For those looking for a more relaxing trip, there are heaps of cabins with cozy porches ideal for cracking into a book, and the Seaview Cafe attracts some of the better local bands for nighttime entertainment.
At just over 120 miles away, Seward could make a nice day trip from Anchorage. But why rush? It has all the Alaska elements: water, mountains, forests, fishing and quirky local charm. Want to see a glacier up close? Access them by water in Kenai Fjords National Park or by land at Exit Glacier. Want to see sweeping views of Resurrection Bay? Meet Mount Marathon and marvel at how local racers get to the top, and back again, in under an hour on the Fourth of July every year. Looking for something the whole family will enjoy? Don’t miss the touch pool at the Alaska SeaLife Center and look for the best-named vessels in the harbor. Complement your adventures with a meal at one of the local eateries, many of which are housed in historic buildings.
Drive through these towns in the height of summer and you’ll notice many cars laden with big, round dipnets, rods and reels with all the bells and whistles, coolers and muddy Xtratuf boots. The salmon that return en masse to the Kenai River are legendary, and locals look to fill their freezers with the muscular kings, shiny silvers and ruby reds. If fishing doesn’t call to you, there are breweries with airy patios, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters & Visitors Center offers naturalist-led outdoor programs, and the Soldotna Homestead Museum totes a series of homesteaders’ cabins and free guided tours.
Visitors to Homer find there are many ways to explore The End of the Road (and perhaps nearly as many monikers for the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World). Just 220 miles from Anchorage, the town sits between the water and the mountains and extends out onto a skinny, 4.5-mile-long spit. It’s a town where fisherman, artists, beer-lovers, foodies, musicians, adventurers and beachcombers all feel at home. It’s easy to while away a few days — tramp along the beautiful trail systems, check out the tide pools, eat at first-rate restaurants, pick through the various art galleries and handicraft stores. You can learn a bit more about the 49th state’s local ecosystem at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies or the Exxon oil spill at the Pratt Museum. If time and budget allow, tick off some bucket list experiences: Get a bird’s-eye view of nearby glaciers and wildlife on a flightseeing tour; cruise around on a water taxi looking for sea creatures; try your hand at reeling in a “barn-door” sized halibut on a charter; or take a water taxi across the bay to Halibut Cove, an artist enclave known for divine dishes and stunning scenery.