Alaska's attractions are often separated by great distances, which discouraged us from making this trip the year before. This gave us time to find where our attractions were combined in one place. We found fishing, fjords, glaciers, wildlife, flying, boating, museums,
culture, tons of sites for seeing and good roads for motorhoming on the Kenai
Peninsula. A day's drive from anywhere, this became our favorite
part of the trip.
As we left Anchorage on the Seward Highway, we watched the city fade 'into the woods' and we watched an enormous mud flat on the right which was 'Turnagain Arm' at low tide.
Captain James Cook picked very descriptive names, when he wasn't naming things after the royal family.
When his lieutenant (William Bligh of 'Bounty' fame) returned to report it wasn't the Northwest Passage, he let Bligh name it 'turnagain arm' after what they were forced to do. Tourists, however, find it fascinating when the tide comes in all at once as a tidal bore and beautiful the rest of the time.
We knew the Kenai isn't that big so we started looking for our first night's Kenai campground around 5:00pm, we were looking on the right and suddenly spotted a sign on the left for 'Granite Creek' Campground so thought we better check it out or we'd be in Seward the first night.
We went down a dirt road behind another motorhome and, when it turned into the first campsite, we tried to grab the next one. Someone behind us was too quick and we started to worry.
As we went around the bend we found the perfect site, complete with a turquoise glacier stream and snow capped mountain view.
We parked and walked up to the fee collection box, expecting the worst for Granite Creek motorhome campers, but the charge was only $5.00 for the night! Amazing!
Next day, we started driving down to Seward. On the way, we went to see Exit Glacier, billed as the only glacier you could actually touch.
... if you can get to it. Exit Glacier was melting so fast, every path was blocked by melting streams.
It became a race to see who could get there without wading.
In the end, we settled for pictures.... and dry shoes.
Just click on 'First Trip to Seward' to see our 'Seward' page with RV camping in the picturesque seaport and the boat trip to the Kenai Fjords and Fox Island.
We would leave Seward and backtrack up to the Sterling Highway, in the rain, and go over to the flat side of the Kenai and down to Homer.
The bears know this and, crossing a bridge, Gabi saw something moving on the opposite shore. We pulled over to a parking area on the left side of the road where we thought we could see this 'thing'. Some people emerged from the dense foliage along the river and pointed us to an overgrown path we could use. The mysterious shape turned out to be a good-sized young grizzly boer eating salmon.
Plan to stop a lot along the way. There is much to see and while it is difficult to pull over in a motor home and find parking it is definitely worth the effort - every single time! Cars are much easier for this purpose but you can't use them for a hotel room!
We stopped frequently, even in the rain, to see the Kenai sights and activities. There were lots of elaborate walkways, viewing platforms and informational displays on fishing for your comfort and curiosity. We learned there are five
kinds of Alaskan salmon and from the early Kings to the late Silvers they make the Kenai one of the best fishing areas on earth.
Just click on 'First Trip to Homer' to see our 'Homer' page with RV camping on the glacial 'Spit', halibut, museums, and flightseeing around Kachemak Bay.
We were sad to leave Homer, but we had to start getting back to Anchorage... and the trip home. After taking a long last look at Kachemak Bay and a couple of
lonely eagles on the beach, we checked out of Heritage RV Campground and headed off the spit and up the Sterling Highway out of town.
We wanted to spend one night before we hit the bright lights of Soldotna, so we were ready when we saw the sign for Ninilchik Campground. It was a scary getting the motorhome down to the beach, but turned out to be a good choice. We saw dories on the Rogue River two years earlier and were surprised to see them used on the Kenai River and out on Cook Sound, too.
Alaskans are real comfortable with heavy equipment and they have no trouble loading and unloading boats that seemed too big for trailers.
We were reading about the 'famous' Clam Gulch, but Ninilchik seemed to be a pretty good clamming spot, too. Here is where we saw and heard mysterious
splashing out beyond the surf. Couldn't see anything but assumed they were salmon.
Joe had taken to collecting beach rocks. They are broken down by glaciers and worn smooth by wave action.
You can see they come from many different places by the varied colors and patterns.
We would pick the 4th of July to blow into Kenai and the 4th of July Parade. The entire population was making it's way down the main street. After finding every no way
around, we parked the motorhome and wandered out on foot until traffic cleared.
We found several of these beautiful old Russian Churches between Ninilchik and Kenai. They are still in use and many of their members are descendents of the Russian builders.
Soldotna is on the Kenai River but the city of Kenai is on the river and the ocean so we decided to camp there. Salmon is a big thing in both towns as you can tell....
Kenai is an oil town and doesn't depend on tourists that much.
Campgrounds are not easy to find and a park host gave us his personal discovery which turned out to be a not-yet-opened
campground where the river runs into the sea. Next to the water treatment plant, it wasn't glamorous but it was all ours. At the beach, we could watch the fishing boats filing down the river into Cook Inlet. The campground connected to a city park with a path leading up to a sheltered lookout.
Next morning on the day before we left, we wanted to drive to Girdwood to see the Alyeska Ski Resort and, maybe, let JJ go paragliding. We drove out of Kenai city and through Soldotna and out the Sterling Highway to meet the Seward Highway at Girdwood. After almost running out of fuel, we reached Girdwood and, after gassing up and more coffee, we drove up through Girdwood to what looked like Switzerland... the stunning Alyeska Ski Resort. Nestled in a small glacial valley, it is connected by a tram from the grand hotel at the base to dazzling ski center at the top. Looking down on the fairy tale setting below, we found a perfect ending to a great Alaskan vacation.
Girdwood Airport is where the Rachel Rosales and TK Erwin crossed the finish line first to win the Amazing Race and one million dollars. Maybe you will be able to discover this now famous spot where TK said, "Nice guys can definately finish first."
We wanted a nice forested campground for our last night in Alaska and a lady in Girdwood mentioned Bird Creek, on Turnagain Arm. She also said bears had been a problem there lately.
Well, the campground proved to be just what we wanted... and no bears! The dense stands of red alders at Bird Creek Campground gave new meaning to 'lost in the forest'. Even with the Alaska Railroad's 'Coastal Classic' running right by us, the sound barely reached us through the muffler of trees.
Next morning we left the Kenai Peninsula with enough pictures in our minds and cameras to last a lifetime.
The Kenai is an amazing concentration of 'all that is Alaska' and is really an easy place to visit. Time really flies and we had to make hard choices of how to spend the time we had available. Some things we did not do but you might be interested in are:
Sightseeing in and around Whittier
20-Mile River Jetboat Safari - You can take the same fabulous trip the Amazing Race finalists took racing up the 20 mile River on a high speed jet boat all the way up to Carmen Lake (water levels permitting). You will see animals, icebergs and simply georgeous vistas everywhere you look. Carmen Lake is an excellent place to picnic and fish and maybe even climb on a glacier! You can stop on your way down the Kanai or have the tour operator pick up at your hotel in Anchorage. Call Turner Alaska Adventures 907-250-1598 - prices vary depending on what is included.
Whittier (gateway to Prince William Sound) - has an interesting access through an old WWII tunnel with only one lane that is shared by the railroad. You will have to wait your turn and pay a toll to use the tunnel (approximately $12 for cars and $20 for motor homes). Most of what is wonderful about Whittier is found after you get on a boat and leave Whittier, from all we had read and heard. You can see glaciers, fjords and of course wildlife galore. And, there is fishing…..charter boats offer all sorts of fishing but halibut is the main target.
Sightseeing in and around Cooper's Landing
We stopped briefly at the bridge launch and mailed a few letters at the Post Office but this little town is interesting and you may wish to stop for a few days, especially if you are there to fish. Cooper's Landing is a group of stores, outfitters and lodging situated on the Kenai and Russian Rivers. The historic Resurrection Trail from Hope to Seward passes right through the town where Joseph Cooper found gold in 1884.
Ride the Russian River Ferry - there is a nominal fee to cross the river at the Russian River Campground and it is said Teddy Roosevelt rode the earlier version when he visited Alaska.
Hike to Russian River Falls - reported to be a wide, fairly easy train - it is 2.5 miles to the falls. Along the way you may see eagles, moose and other wildlife (bears?) and salmon leaping in the river at the observation deck when you arrive.
Sightseeing in and around Girdwood
Stay at the Alyeska Prince Hotel - The resort is one of the best in Alaska - beautifully appointed and talk about location!! The saltwater pool is fabulous and there are four resturants for your enjoyment. The tram takes off right from the property to Mt. Alyeska and season appropriate you can go skiing or paragliding.
Dine at the Musky Inn - this restaurant serves Cajun/New Orleans fare amid a ski bum atomosphere and was made world famous by the Food Network. They do not take reservations but we understand the service and food are flawless.
or...dine at Chair 5 - somewhat less expensive but every bit as famous. Locals meet their friends at Chair 5 and there are many stories about famous people (Bob Dylan etc.) playing pool and dining on steaks and burgers apres ski!
Girdwood is located close to Anchorage so it is often crowded with locals on weekends and during the summer season. It is a great place to meet new friends, kick up your heels and have some fun...but forget about solitude for a few hours!
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