Driving non-stop from Anchorage to Homer would take a good 4.5-5 hours. However, you'll find plenty of reasons to pull over on the drive south: Wildlife often appears along the roadside. Pullouts offer photo opportunities of whales, waves, and volcanoes. Trailheads lead to fabulous alpine and ocean views. Restaurants offer lunch breaks beyond the usual fast-food fare. Enjoying all the scenery and activities along the way could easily stretch this trip into a daylong adventure. For those traveling by RV, here is our list of campgrounds on the Kenai Peninsula.
Explore History En Route
The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area is a vibrant corridor of natural, cultural, and historic riches, and many sites are accessible as you travel from Anchorage to Homer. This dynamic area runs from the “Gateway City” of Seward north to Indian, and spans Whittier’s Prince William Sound port on the east to Cooper Landing on the west.
Although travelers can now drive to all of these communities within a few hours, early roads were often seasonal. Pack and dog team trails were a bargain to build at $100 per mile to construct and winter sled roads ran $250 per mile. Year-round wagon roads cost $2,200 a mile, but the ride through boggy areas wasn’t paved in gold. Large logs, infilled with gravel, were the roadbed in these low spots. Such “corduroy” roads were passable by horse team in the early 1900s.
Within these still-rugged miles is hidden a treasure trove of stories. From Native peoples to Russian fur traders, European explorers, and American gold prospectors, the quest for trade and treasures tested the limits of human endurance and inspired remarkable ingenuity. Discover the story as you explore the KMTA National Heritage Area.
Anchorage to Portage Turnoff
Here you’ll find one of the most accessible wildlife viewing areas in Alaska. The marsh is a rest area for migratory birds including trumpeter swans, rednecked grebes, golden eyes, and pintails. Also watch for beavers, moose and bald eagles. You may even spot salmon spawning in the deeper water.
This rest area is the site of a railroad section house. The restored house and its outbuildings were built by the Alaska Railroad to house the section foreman and his family. The foreman was responsible for maintaining a 10-mile stretch of railroad track. You’ll find an old train car and rotary plow that used by the section foreman to clear snow off the tracks in winter. This is a fun stop for kids to take a look at railroad history and… ...more
Older books might have referred to this as the old Johnson Trail, but another trail of the same name on the Kenai Peninsula made it too confusing for them to both keep their names. This trail is the first of the trails available for hiking in the spring. It follows the highway, with mild elevation gains to allow awesome views of the Turnagain Arm.
With just a short walk from the parking area you will find a beautiful 20 foot water fall. The trailhead starts off paralleling the Turnagain Arm and there are a number of small trails that go to different lookouts. Take the trail to the left for a short distance and you will find the McHugh Trail branching off to the right. The trail zig-zags upward through the woods and provides ever better views of the Turnagain Arm and mountains.
This is a popular stop as you travel the Seward Highway. Here you’ll find 180 degree views of Turnagain Arm with spotting scopes and interpretive signs. Look for beluga whales rolling in the surf, often seen from mid-July to August following the salmon run. And, try and catch the bore tide, and incoming tide that stretches the entire width of Turnagain Arm and can be up to six feet high.
Update: As of March 27, 2019, this area is now closed. After the November 30, 2018 earthquake, it is a high rock-fall risk area. We’ll keep an eye out for a new great spot to grab fresh Alaska water! Drive just a few miles south of Anchorage, and you can taste the best water that Alaska has to offer. No fees, no gimmicks: just a 5‑foot pipe protruding from a granite cliff face that gushes crystal clear water capable of causing instant brain ...more
This mine played a significant role in the early settling of the Turnagain Arm. The building here are on the National Register of historic places and the mine is unique because of its association with load mining. Indian Valley Mine was founded in 1910 by a vagabond who ran away from home at the age of 12, joined the circus and then finally traveled to Alaska during the gold rush. The Cowles family will tell you all about the history of this… ...more
This is one spot you don’t want to miss. July through September you’ll witness a spectacular run of Silver Salmon. Fishermen from all over the world come into Alaska to cast a line here. There will be hundreds of people coming and going from Bird Creek on any given day. In their hands will be the days bounty; a nice big silver salmon that is delicious when smoked and even better when grilled and coated with lemon and a honey mustard glaze.… ...more
This hike is popular in spring for those looking for an aerobic workout. It is very steep, but offers secure footing. One of many highlights along the scenic Seward Highway, Bird Ridge Trail climbs 3,000 feet in a little more than a mile to magnificent views of the fjord-like Turnagain Arm.
Here’s another great stop to take in the scenic beauty of the mountains and the Turnagain Arm. Here you can access the Bird to Gird paved multi use pathway. From this spot it’s a six-mile journey down the trail, which features stunning views and interpretive signs. Take a walk or a bike ride to Girdwood for a bite to eat. And don’t forget to look for Beluga whales a few hours before high tide (as they come in with the tide to feed on the… ...more
The 1964 Earthquake devastated transportation routes from Anchorage to Seward. A daring rescue of the rail bridge over Twenty-Mile Creek helped keep the line open in the days following the quake.
At the 200-acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, see Alaskan wildlife up close. The center’s mission is to provide refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals — those that can’t survive in the wild. The center, which opened to the public in 1993, educates visitors about Alaska’s wildlife. Coyotes peer out from behind the brush while a bald eagle swoops in on the salmon remains left by a grizzly bear. Wood Bison plod through 65 acres of tidal ...more
Portage Valley southeast of Anchorage at the head of Turnagain Arm offers so many potential adventures that you might have to tow a trailer loaded with gear to sample them all. What will you find here? Biking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, potential iceberg sightings — plus a natural history visitor center packed with interactive displays about the ecosystem of the valley and Prince William Sound. It’s like an outdoor ...more
Portage Turnoff to Sterling Highway Cutoff
The wildflowers are abundant and verdant undergrowth can be check high sometimes. Most of the trail lies below treeline, so there are established camp clearings along the way that are nestled into the trees. One of the best campsites is 10 miles in from the northern trailhead, set among trees on a spruce-covered knoll looking over the trail and Bench Lake.
Turn here for a scenic drive to an off-the-beaten-path town that sits on the edge of Turnagain Arm. Established in the 1890’s, it was one of the first gold mining towns in Alaska. Many of the town’s original buildings are still standing, including the Seaview Café and Bar. There’s still a hitching post in front of the mercantile, just in case you decide to bring your horse. Hope is also known to have suffered the some of the worst damage… ...more
Well-maintained and suitable for summer hiking and biking, the 10-mile Devil’s Pass Trail features a steep route up a spectacular V‑shaped valley that intersects with the Resurrection Pass Trail and a rental cabin in the alpine realm. The country is rugged, with great access to cross-country tundra exploration and berry picking.
Located at the intersection of the Seward and Sterling highways at Milepost 37. This area hosts a myriad of animals, birds, fish, and unique plants. Common loons, bald eagles, and arctic terns share the area with a variety of songbirds and shorebirds like the northern water thrush, golden-crowned sparrow, and the greater yellowlegs. Beavers, river otters, muskrats, and salmon ply the cold, clear waters of Tern Lake. Moose, Dall sheep, and… ...more
This 86-room lodge not only has endless views over a vast valley, but it also sits on the banks of the Kenai River, which teems with fish. With vaulted ceilings made of naturally finished wood, cozy sitting areas with wood-burning stoves and private porches, it’s easy to feel like the whole place is yours. The area is famous for its fishing, but you also have easy access to Kenai Fjords National Park, a wild land filled with glaciers, marine ...more
Alaska Heavenly Lodge offers the best of both worlds: all the seclusion and luxury normally associated with fly-in lodges, as well as the affordability and convenience of being on the road system. Built in 1974, Alaska Heavenly Lodge is made up of three hand-hewn log cabins. The Main Lodge features a full kitchen, a 16-person dining room table, a comfy sitting area with a wood-burning fireplace, a loft library, and a deck overlooking the Kenai ...more
If you have your own canoe or kayak, stop for a paddle on Skilak Lake, located in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. For a quick hike with good views, go down Skilak Lake Road, past Hidden Lake campground, to Skilak Lake Lookout Trail. Get a glimpse of Skilak Glacier and look out over the lake. You can be up and back in 1−1.5 hours. Up for something longer? Here are two good day hikes: Depending on time, tackle the Skyline Trail. Right… ...more
This little town 10 miles northeast of Soldotna shares its name with the highway that cuts through the Kenai Peninsula. Ironically, one of the best reasons to pull over here is to steer a different kind of vehicle: a canoe. The Swan Lake Canoe Route starts 12 miles down Swan Lake Rd and offers a 17-mile float into town on the Moose River and over 60 miles of lakes and short portages, great for everything from day trips to week-long… ...more
As the sister city of Kenai, the town of Soldotna is in many ways the heart of the Kenai Peninsula. As proof of its fishing mecca status, the 97-lb world record salmon was caught here; you’ll find more elevated fishing platforms here than anywhere else, which helps protect the waters for fish and anglers to come. One hundred forty miles from Anchorage, Soldotna offers pretty much any activity that fits with the Kenai’s “playground” vibe,… ...more
The town of Kasilof (pronounced kuh-SEE-loff) has a lot of the great activities that other Kenai Peninsula towns do — fishing, camping and wildlife viewing. But this tiny town 15 miles south of Soldotna, on the Sterling Highway, is also a vibrant dog sledding community — while here you can visit the kennel of Dean Osmar, an Iditarod champion, and take a ride behind champion dogs. The best fishing is at the Kasilof River and Johnson Lake — both… ...more
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game operate the Crooked Creek hatchery, adult salmon may be viewed moving up the stream and fishway into the hatchery raceways; king salmon in late June and early July and coho salmon in late August and September. Each salmon is identified and counted as it swims through the chute using an underwater video camera.
Sounds Wild: Porky BabiesPorcupines are not often seen along the main paved roads of the Kenai Peninsula. You have to get off on the gravel side roads that pass through their habitat. Tustumena Lake road travels through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and ends at the Kasilof River campground. This road is great for viewing various birds including spruce grouse, thrushes and chickadees. Moose are found along this road and if you are really lucky, a… ...more
In an area that’s famous for fishing, here is one spot where you don’t need a tackle box to blend in. As the name implies, this is a clamming town— with thousands of razor clams harvested annually from the sandy beaches. Best of all, there is a pretty short learning curve for clamming: all you need is a little gear, a few safety pointers and a license, all of which you can get at one of the general stores in town, or through most B&Bs if… ...more
Stop at the Scenic View RV Park for a breathtaking view of four volcanoes. Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Augustine and Mt. Spurr. These smoldering mountains are part of the pacific “ring of fire” with Mt. Redoubt erupting as recently as March 2009. Look for the interpretive sign to learn more about Alaska volcanoes.
Russian fur traders colonized this fishing village in 1820. Steeped in the history of early Russian America, it offers an old-world setting with its Russian Orthodox Church on the hill, quaint fishermen’s cottages and log homes. Information signs tell the history of Ninilchik and walking tour maps are available at local businesses. A trail leads to the church and cemetery on the hill. The road continues to the beach where campsites are available. ...more
Many events are held here throughout the year, the largest being the Kenai Peninsula Fair held annually the 3rd weekend in August. Locals call this the biggest little fair in Alaska. The festivities include a rodeo, parade, livestock competition, horse show and exhibits ranging from arts and crafts to produce.
This tiny town along the Sterling Highway may be known as “North America’s Most Westerly Highway Point,” but it has another, lesser publicized claim to fame: this is where locals love to come fish. In the spring, it’s king salmon, followed by Dolly Varden and silver salmon in the summer; in the fall, you can catch steelhead until freeze-up. Non-anglers here will enjoy beachcombing, browsing the art studios and gift shops, watching a… ...more
Visitors driving down to Homer (south west from Anchorage) find a perfect pull out rest stop on the right side of the highway on the hill above town. From this vantage, they get a preview of the pleasures to come. Fishing boats’ windows twinkle out in Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay, the Spit stretches half way across Kachemak Bay, and the snowy mountains on far side of the bay, embracing Kachemak Bay State Park, plus of course the the town ...more