How to visit the Kenai Peninsula: Homer, Seward and other attractions

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Martí Micolau
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The Kenai Peninsula, which stretches from the south-central coast of Alaska, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting regions to visit in the northernmost of the United States. Kenai Fjords National Park is perhaps its best-known attraction, but many other treasures are enclosed behind the peninsula's rugged shores.

What makes it unique and different from other Alaskan regions is the prevalence of rivers, lakes and swamps. This complex freshwater ecosystem covers 40% of the 30.000 sq km of the Kenai Peninsula and has made it one of America's top fishing destinations. At the same time, it is one area rich in history, both of the native peoples and of the populations that arrived in recent centuries: Russians and Americans. Museums and quaint marinas, wildlife and breathtaking landscapes: the Kenai Peninsula will not leave you disappointed.



Index

  • How to reach us
  • Climate and temperatures
  • Seward
    • Alaska SeaLife Center
    • Vicino a Seward: Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Homer
    • Kachemak Bay
  • Kenai
  • Il Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
    • How to visit the park (on foot, by car, by canoe)
  • Where to sleep on the Kenai Peninsula
    • A Homer
    • A Kenai
    • A Seward

How to reach us

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most easily accessible areas of Alaska. Whether you want to explore it thoroughly, or are planning a hit and run at just one of its many points of interest, you will have more options to choose from when traveling here from Anchorage or other areas of the state.

  • Car. The Seward Highway connects Anchorage to Seward (200km) and the Sterling Highway connects this road to other towns on the peninsula. If, as is likely, you will fly to Anchorage, you can rent a car from here and embark on an Alaskan road trip heading south. The Seward Highway is considered to be one of the most scenic roads in the entire state.
  • Train. Although the Alaskan railway consists of only one line, Seward is part of it, indeed: it is one of the two terminus. If you leave from Anchorage, you can reach Seward in just over 4 hours by train and, what has been said about the road, also applies to the railway: it is one of the most scenic lines in the whole of Alaska. Of course, as well as from Anchorage, you can also get here by train from all other train locations between Fairbanks and Seward. On the official website of the railways you will find updated timetables and prices. The other cities of the peninsula, on the other hand, are not connected by rail.
  • Bus. Compared to the other Alaskan regions, this one has a good bus service that regularly connects the various cities of the peninsula with Anchorage. In summer, there are also shuttles connecting one town to another. On this site you will find timetables and prices of the bus that connects Seward to Anchorage; on this other instead you will find timetables and prices of the bus that connects Homer to Anchorage and Seward.
  • Plane. Virtually every Alaskan town has its own airport, as much of the state can only be reached by air or sea. The peninsula's small airports are also connected with the rest of Alaska.
  • Ship. The ports of Seward and Homer are some of the sea ports of the Alaska Marine Highway System, the ideal highway that connects all coastal towns in southern Alaska. It is therefore possible to arrive by ferry. There is also an excellent bus connection between Seward and Whittier Harbor, which is one of the main ferry ports.

Climate and temperatures

The peninsula is as big as Belgium and sees a mix of glacier-covered mountains, forests and swamps, all surrounded by the sea. The climatic conditions then they are not unique throughout the region, but each area has differences which can be significant depending on the season.



The southeastern coast, where Seward is located, is quite mild. The hottest months (July and August) are characterized by maximum daytime temperatures on average 16/17 ° and minimum night temperatures close to 10 °. In the coldest month (January) there is an average of -5 / -6 ° at night and during the day it is usually close to zero. This area is not very rainy in terms of mm fallen, but the rainy days are well distributed throughout the year (between 11 and 16 rainy days per month).

The northwest coast, where Kenai and Homer are located, has a more continental climate, as can be seen from greater thermal excursion seasonal. In summer, the maximum temperatures are always around 16/17 °, but the minimum temperatures in the same period are around 8/9 °. In winter, the situation is even more different. Taking into consideration the coldest month, January, Homer it has an average maximum at 0 / -1 ° and the minimum at -7 / -8 °. Kenai instead in the same period it has the maximum at -5 ° and the minimum at -13 °, highlighting a greater temperature change.

With regard to rainfall, although they are always fairly well distributed throughout the year, they are much rarer on the north coast, also due to the Harding Icefield which blocks many of the ocean disturbances. Homer experiences only 600mm of annual rainfall, while Kenai does not even have 500 per year.

The mountainous area ofHarding Icefield, covered by perennial ice, is the most inaccessible. Even in summer, to get close to the glaciers it is good to cover yourself adequately from the cold.


Seward

Seward has only 2700 inhabitants, but it is one of the most visited places by tourists who travel to Alaska. One of the reasons is that the tours to the Kenai Fjords National Park, but that's not the only reason. The marina, fundamental to local life as for all coastal Alaskan cities, it is located outside the historic center and serves as a base not only for fishermen, but also for tour operators. To connect it to the center, a 1,5km walk which follows the waterfront, full of explanatory signs on numerous topics including rainforest, fishing and rail.


There are no actual museums, but you can visit the Seward Community Library Museum (238 6th Avenue), which houses books on local history, paintings by Alaskan artists, Russian icons and the original flag of Alaska: designed in 1927 by a boy from a local orphanage. Seward was also devastated by the 1964 earthquake that razed Valdez, and here you can see a video that testifies to the tragic event.

La Resurrect Art Coffee House Gallery (320 3rd Avenue) is instead a bar housed in an old Lutheran church, where in addition to having a coffee you can admire a collection of local contemporary art. A blast from the past you can instead do it at Van Gilder Hotel (308 Adam Street): The corridors of this hotel are lined with historic photographs.

In the vicinity of Seward you can visit the Fort McGilvray, a command center dating back to the Second World War to defend the port from the Japanese army, which was stationed on the Aleutian islands. You can explore the underground labyrinth with the torch and take up positions in the artillery positions overlooking the promontory.


Alaska SeaLife Center

However, Seward's main point of interest is the Alaska SeaLife Center. Much more than an aquarium: here wild animals are treated and the aim is to raise public awareness of marine ecosystems. You can acquire yourself scientific information and understand the damage resulting from the accident that led to the Exxon Valdez oil company to dump millions of liters of crude oil into the sea in 1989. It is above all the underwater tunnels, from which it is possible to observe undisturbed fish and seals in their natural environment.

Families with children are fascinated by Discovery Pool, where the little ones can touch anemones and starfish, and from theaviary, in which to discover the habits of guillemots, puffins and other sea birds. Inevitable the training of the sea lions: unlike the dolphinaria scattered all over the world, here these nice and intelligent seals are not trained to perform in a show, but they are protected and cared for.


The center also offers special visits such as the Behind the scenes tour  andEncounter tour, where you can learn more about the animals and the work done with them by the park's scholars. As it is mainly a place of care for animals, it is frequently possible to attend medical visits to seals and birds, learning a lot about these species.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is located at 301 Railway Avenue. In summer it is open from Monday to Thursday from 9 to 21, from Friday to Sunday from 8 to 21. In winter it is open from Monday to Thursday from 9 to 17, from Friday to Sunday from 8 to 17. The cost of the ticket is $ 29,95 ($ 17,95 for children ages 4 to 12). Updated prices and timetables are available on the official website.

Vicino a Seward: Kenai Fjords National Park

Seward is the gateway to one of the most interesting parks in Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park. A truly suggestive stretch of coast, where the sea meets the mountains and where you can see marine animals of all kinds, choosing from organized trips by ferry and sports activities such as kayaking and mountaineering. You can find out in depth in our article dedicated to how to visit Kenai Fjords National Park.

Homer

Larger than Seward, Homer has about 5000 inhabitants, but it can be said that it was born as we see it now only after the 50s, when it was connected by the Sterling Highway. This area has always been famous for its mollusks, collected by Russian natives and traders. Only in 1867 the first settlement was born, for a coal mine, which however lasted a few decades. The road link, making it easier to reach it, allowed Homer to repopulate and become one of the most eclectic towns in Alaska. A mix of artists and sailors, Russian 'Old Believers' and sixties freaks settled here. Today it is the gateway to the opposite bay and other natural wonders of the Kenai Peninsula.

Any visit from Homer should start fromAlaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center (95 Sterling Highway). It is not a simple tourist office, but a real high-tech museum, dedicated to local culture and natural sciences. The museum's main theme is the animals that inhabit the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge: the reserve spread over 2500 Alaskan islands, famous for its seabird colonies. If you can't afford to set sail for an island, the Seabird Theater offers a virtual view of a bird colony, complete with sounds and smells. In addition to this, you will find other interactive attractions always linked to the world of biology.

Homer is home to some of the most famous art galleries in the state. The most unique is the Bunnel Street Arts Center (106 W. Bunnel Street): A non-profit institution located in the largest and oldest commercial building in the city. In addition to the numerous works of contemporary art, it regularly hosts shows, concerts, conferences and events of various kinds. On Pioneer Avenue there are three other museum spaces of considerable importance. There Fireweed Gallery, dedicated to Alaskan works, the Ptarmigan Arts, with works and objects of all kinds, the Picture Alaska Art Gallery, which in addition to art and crafts exhibits 350 vintage photos. Not far away we find the Pratt Museum (3779 Bartlett Street). Artifacts from natives, settlers and fishermen are exhibited here, but temporary exhibitions are also regularly held and there are the skeletons of a beluga and a hyperodon. The main attraction, active in the summer, is the webcam on Gull Island: visitors can rotate it to see the birds up close.

Just outside the city you can visit the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: an area of ​​57 hectares of flowery meadows and forests, full of trails. Moose and baribal bears can be seen. Another unmissable place is theHomer Spit: a 7km long finger of sand and pebbles, from which boats for sport fishing leave. In summer, hundreds of fishermen set sail every day, usually returning laden with halibut, king salmon and other fish.

Kachemak Bay

Homer is located at the mouth of the Kachemak Bay, on the opposite shore of which there is an area not easy to reach, but rich in natural beauty. Human presence is limited to Seldovia e Halibut Cove, reachable by boats or small airplanes. When you reach the opposite coast of the bay from Homer, you can rent a kayak and maybe reach Gull Island to spot the many seabirds that populate it.

Here you can also visit two small but characteristic towns:

  • Seldovia it has about 250 inhabitants and among the points of interest stand out the Russian Orthodox church of St. Nicholas and the small museum Seldovia Village Tribe. The surroundings of the maritime village are full of paths and pools where the high and low tide create the habitat of many animals and molluscs famous in this area.
  • Halibut Cove it is one of the most unique places you can visit in Alaska. There are no streets in this village with just over 50 people living in wooden houses. To get around the inhabitants use kayaks or rowing boats, as well as a network of footbridges. Visitors can only walk there from 13pm to 21pm, taking care not to disturb the privacy of the locals. If you think that Halibut Cove was home to nearly 1900 herring salting factories in the early 40s, the situation has changed dramatically over the course of the century.
Seldovia
Halibut Cove

During the summer there are some tourist boats which depart from Homer on tours of the bay, lasting a few hours or all day, with more or less long stops in Seldovia, Halibut Cove and points of interest along the coast of Kachemak Bay State Park.

Kenai

Kenai, with less than 8000 inhabitants, is the main city of the region of the same name and is located at the mouth of the river, also Kenai. This area rich in fish and game, but at the same time flat and fertile, has been the home of the Dena'ina people. The Russian fur merchants built a fortified station there in 1791, which lasted 6 years, until the battle between the Russians and Dena'ina, in which the natives prevailed. The Americans revived the city with the construction of Fort Kenay in 1869 and the development offish canning industry starting in 1880, followed in the 50s by discovery of gas and oil nearby.

To get information about the city, the advice is to start a visit from Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center, an information center which, as is often the case with small Alaskan towns, also serves as a museum of local history. In this case, indigenous artifacts are mixed with Russian objects and contemporary art. The Russian period is also architecturally well represented by the Orthodox Church Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Not far away, there is also the St. Nicholas Chapel, an Orthodox chapel made of logs.

The historic center of the town is less interesting than that of other locations. What it deserves is the surroundings, starting from Kenai Beach Dunes. This beautiful beach, on the north side of the Kenai River estuary, is lined with low dunes. It is true that in Alaska you do not look for beaches to sunbathe, but it is a place where it is worth walking in peace.

Not to be missed, just south of the town, are the Kenai River Flats: over 1200 hectares of marshes where you can spot an incredible variety of birds. In spring, thousands of snow geese congregate here as they migrate to Siberia. Between May and June the caribou come here to breed and it is not difficult to see the cubs of the American reindeer try to stand up and take their first steps. During the summer salmon migration, seals and belugas also go up the river to hunt them.

Kenai is not the only settlement on the peninsula that bears Russian origins. Further south, near Homer, it is located Nikolavesk. Founded in 1968 by five Russian families, today this community has around 300 inhabitants and is one of the leading Russian communities in Alaska. Here the traditions are jealously preserved and the inhabitants still use traditional clothes. Also in the Kenai Peninsula, similar communities are those of Voznesenka, Razdolda and Kachemak Selo.

Il Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Over half of the Kenai Peninsula is protected within the borders of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: 800.000 hectares of forests, lakes and glaciers where animals are masters of their own habitat. Moose protection is the reason the national park was established, but besides these majestic quadrupeds you can easily see other large mammals such as brown bears, baribals, Dall sheep, caribou, wolverines, beavers, lynxes. There is no shortage of birds, including eagles and Canadian cranes.

To start the visit, please refer to visitor center which is located in Soldotna. From here the Keen Eye Trail: 1,2km trail that leads to an observation platform where with a telescope it is possible to see Headquarters Lake up close. This is just one of the 4000 lakes of the reserve, which mixed with rivers and large marshes make it a real aquatic world. One of the largest lakes in Alaska is also found here, the Tustumena, which is 303kmXNUMX wide.

There are no entrance fees to the nature park, but there are guided tours available at the visitor center.

How to visit the park (on foot, by car, by canoe)

There are several ways to visit this large aquatic ecosystem. The most comfortable means of transport is the car: the Skilak Lake Road it is a 30km long dirt road that branches off from the Sterling Highway and allows you to enter a beautiful section of the park.

Obviously, using your legs you can push yourself much further in than you can with the car. The Bear Mountain Trail andHidden Creek Trail there are two paths, respectively 2,5km and 4km, which allow you to see many animals up close.

The vast lakes region is ideal for rowing enthusiasts, so much so that a real system of canoe routes has been set up: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Canoe Trail System. This curious waterway is divided into two parts. There Swan Lake Canoe Route, 97km long, connects about thirty lakes and is ideal for organizing day trips. There Swanson River Canoe Route, 129km long, connects 40 lakes and 80km of river, and is perfect for multi-day excursions.

On the official website you can find additional information on all the routes and the various possibilities of visiting the natural park.

Where to sleep on the Kenai Peninsula

The region is large and if you intend to spend many days there I suggest you stay overnight in at least two different cities so as not to waste too much time traveling. Here are some tips on hotels in the main centers.

A Homer

  • Alaskan Suites. Located on the hill overlooking the city, it is one of the most beautiful places to stay in Homer. Spacious and luxurious log chalet immersed in an enchanting landscape.
  • Alaska Adventure Cabins. Do you want to sleep in the carriage of a train or a fishing boat, transformed into apartments? This extravagant yet luxurious accommodation option is worth considering.
  • Baycrest Lodge. Do you want an outdoor hot tub, where you can relax in nature? If yours is a romantic stay, you will not be disappointed with this choice.
Alaska Adventure Cabins
Alaskan Suites
Baycrest Lodge

Look for accommodation in Homer

A Kenai

  • Uptown Motel. It is the best solution for those who want to stay in the center of the town, feeling good without spending an exorbitant amount. A quaint motel furnished with antiques.
  • Aspen Suites Hotel Kenai. A hotel without too many frills, but which fulfills all needs, with good services, in a good location.
  • Eagle Rock Lodge. To sleep in nature, in a well-furnished place with all the services, this lodge has a garden and barbecue, as well as being in a strategic position for visiting the Kenai surroundings.
Uptown Motel
Eagle Rock Lodge
Aspen Suites Hotel

Look for accommodation in Kenai

A Seward

We covered the recommended hotels in this city in our article on where to sleep near Kenai Fjords National Park.

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