The Kenai Peninsula is over 25,000 square miles of scenic park lands, forests, volcanoes and glaciers. It has long been known for its exceptional scenery, fishing, ocean beaches and wilderness lakes and rivers. You’ll find unparalleled opportunity to get away from it all, which is the Kenai this is where Alaskans go to play.
Driving the Kenai Peninsula
The Seward Highway has been designated a National Forest Scenic Byway and connects Anchorage Alaska to Seward Alaska. It is a scenic 127 miles that travels past saltwater bays, ice-blue glaciers, and alpine valleys. Twisting and turning along the shores of Turnagain Arm, which boasts massive 37-foot tides. This is second in North America only to Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy. The waters racing out of the inlet expose miles of dangerous mud flats. When they return they frequently create 10-foot bore tides that can travel at up to 15 mph!
The first part of the drive leaving Anchorage passes numerous pullouts and rest areas with hiking, fishing and camping. Plan to take this part of the journey at a relaxed pace as there is plenty to see and do. the first town on the Kenai Peninsula you will reach is Girdwood. The main town is 2 miles off the highway and although it’s a small town, it has plenty to offer. The Alyeska Tram, at Alyeska Resort is definitely worth the trip to the top. From the peak, you can see seven glaciers and dine in the five-star mountaintop restaurant.
Just down the highway at mile 79 of the Seward Highway is turn off for The Portage / Whittier Highway. It is 11.5 miles from the Junction to the seaport town of Whittier. Along the way you will find two excellent Forest Service Campgrounds. At mile five is the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and the Portage Glacier. The town of Whittier is a further six miles and is accessed by the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. At 2.5 miles long, it is the 2nd longest highway tunnel in North America. As with many construction projects in Alaska, the driving force behind the tunnel was World War II. The road over Portage pass to access Prince William Sound was arduous so in 1914 the Alaska Railroad proposed a tunnel be built. However, it was not until the Japanese invaded the Alaska Islands of Attu and Kiska that the tunnel construction began. This is a toll tunnel, but well worth the expense to access beautiful Prince William Sound and the town of Whittier. For more detailed information visit the DOT website: www.dot.state.ak.us/creg/whittiertunnel
The Seward Highway continues past the Portage turn-off and next reaches the 15 mile Hope Road. Hope is a small Alaska community on the Kenai that has a fascinating Gold Rush History.
The Sterling highway is at mile 37 of the Seward Highway (Seward is Mile 0) and travels 142 miles to Homer at the southwest end of the Kenai Peninsula. It provides access to the towns of Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna, Kenai, Clam Gulch, Ninilchik and Anchor Point. This is a good two lane highway with lots of passing lanes. It was first opened in 1951 and was one of many roads surveyed by Hawley Sterling, an engineer with the Alaska Road Commission. Alaska. Some of the best fishing, camping, birding and hiking anywhere in the world can be found in the Kenai. The world record King salmon, caught on a line, was from the Kenai River.
After taking you through the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge the Sterling highway runs parallel to Cook Inlet and offers breathtaking views, across the water of snow capped Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt, and Mt. Augustine. All of which are active volcanoes. Mt. Augustine last erupted in 2006 creating spectacular ash plumes that reached 8 miles high.
Campgrounds are plentiful in the Kenai and when the fish are running, competition for campsites and fishing space can be a challenge so plan ahead. The area near the Russian River and Kenai confluence is especially busy when the Red Salmon are running.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is home to moose, eagles, brown and black bears, lynx, wolves, trumpeter swans as well as a myriad of other birds and animals. The main Visitor Center is in Soldotna but there is a visitor contact station at mile 60 of the Sterling Highway.