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 that offers incredible views (and serious bragging rights). Those looking for an adrenaline rush can book a rafting trip down Six Mile Creek. For those looking for a more relaxing trip, there are heaps of cabins with cozy porches ideal for cracking into a book, the Dirty Skillet makes for a solid dinner spot, and the Seaview Cafe attracts some of the better Alaska bands for nighttime entertainment.
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 and international athletes get to the top, and back again, in one of Alaska’s most iconic footraces each year (traditionally held on the Fourth of July, but moved to July 7 for 2021). Looking for something the whole family will enjoy? Don’t miss the touch pool at the Alaska SeaLife Center and look for vessels with pun-inspired names in the harbor. Complement your adventures with a meal at one of the local eateries, many of which are housed in historic buildings.
Soldotna and Kenai
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. (Be advised: The area’s dipnet fishery is deservedly famous but open to state residents only. See our fishing guide for an overview of other great options, and always make sure you have the correct permits; the Department of Fish and Game’s We Fish AK site is a good place to start, or call 907-267-2218.)
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 Soldotna’s Homestead Museum showcases homesteaders’ cabins with free guided tours.
Visitors to Homer find there are many ways to explore “the end of the road.” 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 fishermen, 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 at The Saltry Restaurant and stunning scenery.