Mountains, bald eagles and the smooth, balancing exercise of stand-up paddleboarding. This guided outing combines a refreshing workout with gorgeous scenery and wildlife sightings out of the Kenai Peninsula’s Cooper Landing.
Adventure Guru dates back to 2011, and started as a recreational concierge booking agency to connect travelers with day cruises out of Seward and Kenai River fishing charters. (This facilitating spirit comes naturally. Founder Courtney Larsen says he has actually been booking activities for his friends and family since he was in the 6th grade.) Over the next couple years, the company diversified into helping travelers book recreational activities in the Kenai Peninsula, from sea kayaking and ziplining to sled dog and helicopter rides.
Like Riding a Bicycle on Water
Most recently, Adventure Guru has intensified its focus on stand-up paddleboarding—rentals as well as entry-level lessons and guided outings. All tours begin and end in Cooper Landing, at the junction of Bean Creek road and Sterling Highway, and right before the first Kenai River bridge. You’ll start by getting some pointers on SUP, especially if this is your first time. The most difficult or intimidating part of SUP is that initial balance: for the first few moments, you’re back to being a 6-year-old learning how to ride a bike. Tours include a mandatory PFD (minimal, light-weight CO2 inflatable), and optional dry or wet suit.
There are multiple tour options—ranging from beginning experiences to seriously challenging rides. Here are four that are the biggest crowd-pleasers, ranging from the easy to advanced:
Geared to beginners, this tour is on the shallow, warm waters of Rainbow Lake, but with breath-taking panoramic vistas of alpine meadows, forest and snow-capped mountains. You’ll start with a brief tutorial on getting on the board, using a wider, shorter, and more stable beginning board; next, you’ll learn how to start in beginning kneeling (or “prayer”) position, and then move to standing for greatest balance and mobility. Next, you’ll get the basics on the power paddle stroke—to get past that initial inertia and create greater balance—and then basic turning techniques.
Then, you’ll follow your guide along the perimeter of the lake’s small island—where blueberries abound in season—and portage to the adjacent lake and back to your starting point. Along the way, you’ll hear and see song birds and other waterfowl—like mergansers and sometimes even loons.
Kenai Lake and Porcupine Island
For this intermediate-level tour, you’ll paddle on “tour boards”—longer, 12'-6" boards with less drag than beginning boards—and cruise around Porcupine Island to a designated Chugach National Forest picnic and rest area. The peaceful, scenery-rich tour disembarks next to a mountain hemlock forest trail to Kenai Lake, and passes picturesque waterfalls that you wouldn’t be able to see from the highway. You’ll have a great chance of seeing porcupine, waterfowl and bald eagles.
This 6-mile, 4-hour is another intermediate-level tour—an invigorating ride into picturesque Portage Valley. Some describe the cloaked scenery as being a little like the Disney ride “It’s a Small World,” with almost surreal views of blue hanging glaciers, cascading waterfalls and snow-capped mountain vistas. You’ll see the deciduous forest floor—a coniferous alpine mountain tapestry—and possibly spot beaver, river otter and coyote.
Kenai River Surfing
This exhilarating advanced tour moves along the famous glacier-fed flowing river, giving you both momentum and speed, and challenging you to keep your front-to-back balance, given the periodic roller waves (similar to ocean) that move the board. (You’ll wear a wetsuit, convenient if you get wet from time to time.) As you make your way along the majestic, glacier-blue Kenai, you’ll move past all the slow-stationed drift boats and rafts, and get guaranteed views of bald eagles and, if it’s evening, moose, coyote and sometimes even bears. It’s a real adrenaline-pumper.
You can also rent board and paddles to head out on your own, but a guided tour helps up boost your skills and illuminates the sights along the way. Karl Mittelstadt is the one of the guides for the Portage Creek tour: the self-described “aging sourdough” is passionate about SUP and its fun, low-impact benefits. No matter which tour you choose, you’ll get the all-natural high of healthy burning of calories in a glorious setting. Guests end their tour, Courtney says, with a bright flush in their faces and big smiles.