Day 1 Our exploration begins at 8AM, meeting in downtown Anchorage at previously arranged locations. Dispatching quickly with Alaska’s largest city, we’ll head for more tranquil locales, turning south and hugging the shore of Turnagain Arm where the Chugach Mountains meet the sea. Rising up over Turnagain Pass in the Kenai Mountains we’ll then descend toward the Gulf of Alaska and the scenic town of Seward, situated at the uppermost reaches of Resurrection Bay. A deep water port that remains ice-free all year, Seward was one of the earlier Alaskan settlements, serving the mining and various trades of the Interior, as the southern terminus of the state’s single rail line. It is also the historic start of the Iditarod Trail. Surrounded by mountains the scene is quite impressive, with the quaint downtown nearly at water’s edge. After lunch we’ll head out to Lowell Point for our afternoon sea kayaking exploration of the west side of Resurrection Bay. Back to land, we’ll head back through town to the turn-off accessing Exit Glacier of the Kenai Fjords National Park, walking up to its terminus while noting the dates of its historical retreat (-hint: where we parked was mighty icy about World War I). After all this fine fresh air, it’s time to check in at the Harbor View Inn and have a nice dinner downtown.
Day 2 After breakfast we’ll be first in line at the impressive Seward Sea Life Center, to garner a good background for the day’s foray into the maritime world. Boarding our vessel late morning, we’ll head out of the bay and around the point, and into the Chiswell Islands Wildlife Refuge, sliding between the rocky islands that are home to an incredible variety of marine mammals and sea birds. Reaching Kenai Fjords National Park, the vast majority inaccessible by road, we’ll head into Aialik Bay and linger off the face of a calving glacier for an otherworldly experience. We’ll cruise right up to the rugged coastal cliffs, providing wonderful opportunities for viewing murres, puffins, harbor seals, and sea lions, with the stretches in between always holding promise of porpoises, sea otters, humpback whales and maybe even orcas. Arriving back in late afternoon, we’ll then head back up the road through the Kenai Mountains to the end of the road and the delightful little town of Hope on the shores of Turnagain Arm. One of the oldest gold rush communities in Alaska, Hope boasted three thousand souls long before Anchorage existed. As gold rushes pass so did many of the people, with now about two hundred folks in the community. Its unique atmosphere is quite palpable, in the many log cabins, the log Social Hall, the one room schoolhouse and certainly in the local folk that have chosen to call it home. It’s a piece of Alaska many have in mind before they come. We’ll lodge for the night in Discovery Cabins on the edge of rushing Bear Creek.
Day 3 After an early breakfast we’ll hit the road to Homer to arrive in time for our 11AM appointment with a boat. Enroute we’ll follow the beautiful Kenai River through Cooper Landing and pass through Soldotna to skirt the eastern side of Cook Inlet with the towering volcanoes of Iliamna, Redoubt and Augustine framing the other side. We’ll dawdle a bit more on the return trip, but the views are nonetheless, quite regal in any direction. Arriving at the end of the Homer Spit, we’ll board the boat to cross picturesque Kachemak Bay. With the nearby mountains and glaciers on the other side of the bay and the Alaska Range across the mouth of Cook Inlet, it is truly a beautiful mix of geography. Aiming toward the mouth of the Bay, our captain will circle Gull Island and a few others enroute to our destination, giving great explanation to the sights before us. Early afternoon finds us on the dock in the unique community of Seldovia, inaccessible by road. Originally and still a fishing village, the name comes from the Russian word for salted herring, as this fish was the reason for its existence, prior to the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Seldovia is also a place of refuge for artists and those looking for a little less access and the pace of life that it brings. It’s a special little town to wander, with the great Sitka spruce forests unlike any other we’ve seen, starting at the end of almost every street. A good stroll is in order before dinner on Main Street. Our lodging for the night is in a lovely waterfront Inn overlooking the boat harbor, where sea otters are a frequent sight.
Day 4 The morning is as leisurely as it should be, with time to further explore town or just watch the tide come in out the back door. Those looking to stretch their legs might try the “Otterbahn”, a great little trail starting by the school that weaves through tall grass and spruce thickets to end at the ocean for an unlimited opportunity to stroll or beachcomb. We’ll then catch our return flight with a quick hop across the bay to Homer. It’s almost hard to get back in a vehicle again, but we’ll have to to peruse some of Homer’s singular shops, in this town known for its artist community drawn to the local beauty. Lunch will be in a local eatery. Heading back north, we’ll pass through Anchor Point and make a photo stop at an old Russian Orthodox Church on a high bluff overlooking Cook Inlet. The faith of Alaska’s earliest non-Native settlers remains strong among many of the coastal Native communities. We know the way, so Hope will seem like home when we get back to our snug log cabins. A barbecue is planned on the deck of the lodge, with a creekside campfire an apt possibility afterwards. Or, there might be those that prefer to head “downtown”, to Main Street that ends in the ocean, and the Seaview Bar that is often a colorful mix of visitors, locals, and gold miners still eking an income from the creeks.
Day 5 After breakfast, we might try our luck at gold panning (optional – $25) with some local miners instructing, with an optional hike in the plan as well. After a stop at the Portage Visitor Center for some wonderful Forest Service displays, we will then follow the road to the small town of Girdwood, home of the world-class Alyeska Ski Resort situated here due to a much higher level of precipitation than even the adjacent valleys. It is a microclimate that gives rise to a temperate rainforest (yes, rainforest) with flora completely different from Hope, just a couple dozen miles away. Lush ferns and undergrowth along with large spruce trees are dominate. Some might want to explore this environment directly, following the trail up Winner Creek to its beautiful little gorge, while others might opt to take the tram to the top of Mt. Alyeska for a commanding view. It might be a late lunch but worth it at the Bake Shop upon return. The Seward Highway hugs the edge of Turnagain Arm and we just might have to stop at Beluga Point to see if any of the creatures for which it takes its name, might make an appearance. And then it’s on back to Anchorage in the late afternoon, each of us probably just a bit different than when we left, and most likely figuring out just when we can return. The Kenai is some of the best of Alaska, but then there are still many other Alaskas that remain . . .
With wildness ranging from the icefields that feed tidewater glaciers, to the bountiful wildlife of the countless coastal estuaries and the rugged mountains in between, the famous Kenai Peninsula is a wonderful capsule of many, “Alaskas”. This five day tour offers the Kenai at its best, with a delightful and leisurely variety of contrasts including overnight stays in world-renowned Seward, a coastal village inaccessible by road and an historic end-of-the-road mountain town.
We start by following along Turnagain Arm through the mountains to reach Seward at the head of Resurrection Bay, for an afternoon sea kayaking and a hike to Exit Glacier. The next day we explore the spectacular marine world of the Kenai Fjords National Park and Chiswell Islands Wildlife Refuge, lingering off the face of the calving Holgate Glacier. From Seward we travel the Kenai Mountains to the scenic gold rush community of Hope, overnighting in log cabins on the edge of rushing Bear Creek. On the third day the road leads along Cook Inlet and the towering volcanoes of the Alaska Range to Homer and the end of the “Spit”, for the boat trip across Kachemak Bay to the secluded fishing village of Seldovia and our waterfront lodgings. On Day 4, we cross the bay by air taxi, before heading back to quiet Hope and the creekside cabins. Day 5 we round Turnagain Arm and stop in Girdwood and the famous resort of Alyeska, before returning to Anchorage in the afternoon. If time is somewhat limited, or you’re looking to add some authentic Alaska to your existing plans, this special tour carefully skirts the crowds and promises an unencumbered and wild tranquility guaranteed to satisfy.