Alaska Realized: Exploring the Kenai Peninsula

Gorp.com
Paddle through the lily pads in Kenai Lake  (courtesy, Alaska Tourism Marketing Council)

Alaska's sheer size and unique geography rank it high on most travelers' must-see list. But the state's chief assets also articulate a major challenge: With so much to do and so many places to go, where do you start? The Kenai Peninsula beautifully simplifies this quandary. Soaring mountains, deep blue fjords, miles of wilderness and ice fields, and scores of wildlife make this 9,000-square-mile region the very best place for a one-stop embrace of Alaska. Opportunities for hiking, camping, sea kayaking, and animal observation abound, but most flock here for rafting, boating, and the ever-popular "combat fishing," where fishermen stand elbow-to-elbow in rivers, vying to land that next king salmon.
Cook Inlet, near Anchorage, and Kachemak Bay, just outside of Homer, rank as the best places to indulge your fishing fantasies. The salmon and halibut will keep you casting from dawn till dusk. But, if you've got your sights set on Alaska's king salmon, target Kenai River, the only place in the world where you can hook these massive beasts. The Class II-III rapids of Kenai's rivers may pose only a modest challenge to the average river rat, but the scenery—deep fjords framed by mile-high glaciers; water-bound humpback whales, orcas, and sea lions; the sky dotted with bald eagles—will easily excuse the dearth of whitewater. Sea kayakers can slide into the glass-smooth coastal waters of Kenai Fjords National Park, navigating around tidewater glaciers while searching for breaching whales. Should you not be too paddle-savvy, rest assured: this aquatic wonderland can also be explored via less-labor-intensive day cruises.
All of the Kenai Peninsula is remarkably accessible, even by Alaskan standards. The town of Seward forms the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, its horizon adorned with mile-high mountains rising above the sweeping expanse of Harding Ice Field, one of the four major ice fields in the United States. Homer, the artistic and cultural pulse of the Kenai Peninsula, is a small, colorful community dotted with theaters and art galleries. Fishing charters depart from nearby Homer Spit, a natural sand boardwalk. Kenai, the peninsula's largest and oldest city, lies between the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. The town has become crowded of late, and it lacks some of the area's scenic beauty, but the 2-million-acre Kenai Wildlife Refuge—a well spring for canoeing, hiking, and biking—more than makes up for its mainstream trappings.

Published: 3 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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