Kenai Peninsula—Where Alaska Goes to Play

The Kenai Peninsula is a relatively short, hour drive from Anchorage. It is a world away. Our primary destination was Homer, at the end of the west side of the peninsula; we wanted to get at least a flavor of the entire area.

Our Homer Experience

Our Homer Experience, as explained in our previous blog, consisted of two primary and a number of supporting experiences. The primary experiences were:

  • Our day of salmon and halibut fishing which yielded enough salmon to last us a month, and halibut for a year; and
  • Our cruise to and dinner at Halibut Cove, an fishing and arts community with some of the most beautiful and tranquil views you could ever hope for.

These were supported by unexpected pleasures such as the views, the galleries, the Coal Creek Shipping Company, the Salty Dawg saloon and a fun evening with Hobo Jim, Alaska’s official State Balladeer.

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The Best of the Rest of the Kenai

Although the Kenai trip was focused primarily on Homer, there were four other things that we wanted to at least see, if not fully experience.

Razor Clamming. This was the third priority of our Kenai adventure. In fact, we timed the days in Kenai around a specific day that typically occurs only twice a month. That is “negative tide” day in which tides are low enough to permit the harvesting of razor clams at coastal towns including Ninilchik and, of course, Clam Gulch. We prepared for our own clamming experience by reading and watching an online video as to how to find, dig for, capture and even clean these elusive, but tasty bivalves—and to avoid having our hands shredded by the incredibly sharp shell chards from which the clams got their name. We planned to buy a license, rent one of the specialized shovels and have our own clamming experience (something else we had never done). But, after watching and speaking with other aspiring clammers, we decided to let them do the messy, frequently futile work and take the risks of bodily harm. We decided instead to watch them and spend the rest of our time, exploring the towns (especially Ninilchik’s scenically-sited Russian Orthodox church) and sampling the wares and buying lunch at a couple local fish smokers (Deep Creek and Alaska’s Best). We would limit our razor clam experiences to restaurants.

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Combat Fishing. Although the Kenai is known for fishing and attracts anglers the entire season, there are a few days every year, during the peak of the salmon run, that fishing becomes almost a combat sport. Thousands of anglers line up shoulder-to-shoulder along the prime stretches of rivers, especially those at and near the confluence of the rivers in the Russian-Kenai River Area of the Chugach National Forest. The park is laid out explicitly for fishing, with reinforced metal and rubber-matted trails that parallel the rivers, metal staircases from which anglers can reach the water without harming the fragile shoreline, and cleaning stations set up mid-river, so entrails will flow down the river, rather than laying around to attract ever-present bears that are in much greater need of their annual salmon fix than are humans. Unfortunately, unlike with the clamming tides, which can be precisely predicted, the precise timing of salmon runs depend on subtle nuances of climate and biology that are impossible to precisely time months in advance. As it turned out, this year’s run was about a week late. We did, however, have a pleasant walk along the pretty riverside and watched a few anglers practicing for the “main event.” This will have to suffice till our next trips when, hopefully, the salmon gods will be with us.

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Seward: The Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. The only way to see the Kenai Fjord National Park is by boat; specifically cruises that last between four and eight hours apiece. Although we would have loved to take one of these trips, time constraints precluded doing so., Besides, we already had plans for two other all-day fjord cruises, in Glacier Bay and along Tracy Arm (see following posts). We did, however, want to see Seward, which is supposed to be one of the most historic towns in Alaska, and especially the magnificent peaks at the head of the fjord. From our perspective, the most interesting part of the town was the Alaska SeaLife Center, a research facility that was funded as part of the Exxon Valdez settlement. Unfortunately, we did not have time to stop. We were, however, awed by the views from the town park and along much of the 20+ mile drive to and from Seward. This is also marked for a return visit.

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Bear Viewing. Bear viewing is another Kenai pastime. Although we would have absolutely liked to see them (as long as we did not meet them along a trial), it was not a priority for this trip to Kenai. After all, the next day was to be our big bear event—a day trip to Brooks Camp and the famous bear viewing spot, Brooks Falls, on the much more remote Katmai Peninsula.

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