If there is one peninsula you don’t want to miss out on in your life, it’s definitely the Kenai Peninsula. It is located in South central Alaska and extends approximately 150 miles southwest from the Chugach Mountains. It is south of Anchorage and is divided from the mainland by Cook Inlet on the west and by Prince William Sound on the east. With glaciers and mountains rising up to 7000 feet and the Kenai Fjords National Park inside of the peninsula, you’ll have views to remember for years.
Every mile offers new adventures. Not only is the Kenai Peninsula a geographical and geological wonder, it is also extremely popular for its history, nature, hiking trails, birds, lodges, food and bears! In the following sections, I will craft an itinerary which will start in Anchorage (check out my other article to find out what to do in Anchorage), and will end in Homer. Make sure you take a couple of days (I’d recommend at least a week) to explore the Kenai Peninsula; there is so much to do in so many different places!
Girdwood & Alyeska
After driving south for approximately 45 minutes on Highway 1 (check out the amazing views of Cook Inlet on your way!), you will arrive to the small town of Girdwood. This town is one of the favorite spots for skiers in the winter, and you’ll find various ski-resorts and lodges. It is also home to the luxury resort “Hotel Alyeska”, which is located at the base of Mount Alyeska.
One of the town’s most popular attractions is the Alyeska Resort Aerial Tramway, a tram that goes up the mountains, offering incredible panoramic views along the way. The tram ride is approximately seven minutes and will offer you views of the glaciers, mountains and wildlife. Once your reach Mount Alyeska’s observation deck (at 2300 feet), make sure to stay for the sunset! Tickets for the Aerial tramway are $29 for adults, $22 for students, seniors between 60-69 and military, $15 for kids above the age of 5 and seniors 70 and up, and free for kids under the age of 5.
If you are in Girdwood, make sure to go on a hike, as the town offers a great starting point for various trailheads. The three main ones are the Winner Creek Trail, the Alyeska North Face Trail and the Crow Pass Trail. The Winner Creek Trail is a 3 mile hike on a well-developed trail that starts at the Hotel Alyeska and which has a gentle elevation gain. It crosses a bridge, a blue-water gorge, connects to the Glacier Creek and ends on Crow Creek Mine Road.
The Alyeska North Face Trail is a 2.2 mile hike that starts right past the Winner Creek trail on the right side of the dirt road. The trail has many switchbacks along a steep incline, and will bring you to the top of the Gondola, where the views will blow your mind. The last trail, Crow Pass Trail, is a 21 mile long trail, so not the best option for a day hike (unless you want to only do part of the trail). It’s considered to be one of the best hikes in the Chugach Mountains, and the first four miles already will take your breath away. During your hike, you will come across waterfalls, wildlife, glaciers, mine ruins and wildflowers.
In the summer, you can also enjoy a typical Alaskan activity: Iceberg Sea Kayaking. Yup, you read that right. If the cold doesn’t bother you, get on a tandem sea kayak and paddle through the icebergs while you approach a massive glacier. The kayak tour lasts six to eight hours and starts at the Tramway Circle next to the Hotel Alyeska. The total cost of this incredible sea adventure is $337 and includes lunch, kayaking, and van transportation. To book tickets, visit the Ascending Path website.
Another fun activity that starts at the Tramway Circle next to Hotel Alyeska is the Spencer Kayak Glacier Hike. You will get to kayak through the icebergs as well, but will also explore Spencer Glacier. When you arrive at the glacier, you will get geared up with harnesses, helmets and crampons and get to climb the glaciers for two hours with the assistance of a guide. You will learn about glaciology, climate change and ‘ice’ climbing! The journey lasts 10 hours and starts at 12:00 pm. The price is $389 and includes the guides, kayaking, transportation, lunch, safety equipment-and glacier hiking lessons. To book a tour, click here.
Last but not least, stop at The Grind for coffee: it’s the bomb. This cute little coffee shop offers fairly traded organic coffee, and is located at 236 Hightower Road, Girdwood 99587.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
When you are finished exploring Girdwood and its surroundings, make your next stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a 200-acre wildlife refuge located at Mile 79 on the Seward Highway and 15 minutes away from Girdwood. The Conservation Center is set up in different road loops and you can drive through or just park your car and go for a walk.
The animals are all located in the different areas of those loops and each habitat area has a sign that will explain to you the habits and history of each species. You will see a variety of animals, such as black bears, brown bears, caribou, bison, deer, eagles, foxes, elk, lynx, moose, musk ox, wolves, porcupines and owls! Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for active military and seniors, $10 for youth and free for children under the age of six.
Byron and Portage Glacier
Make your next stop at the Byron and Portage Glacier, which are located only 10 minutes away from the Wildlife Conservation Center. As you drive on the Portage Glacier Road, you will notice a well-market pullout where you can park your car and access the Byron Glacier Trailhead. This is DEFINITELY something you will want to do while visiting the Peninsula. This 0.8 mile trailhead will let you access the foot of the glacier where you can get a close up of the blue glacier ice. The beginning of the trail is a mostly flat and winding road that follows Byron Creek. The closer you get to the glacier, the most the trail becomes characterized by rugged cliffs and gravel. In order to get to the glacier itself, the chance is high that you will have to climb over some rocks to get to the other side.
If you don’t have a lot of time but would love to get a close-up of a glacier, the Portage Glacier Cruises will be perfect for you! The MV Ptarmigan has an open-air observation deck and a heated cabin, and will bring you to the face of the glacier. This cruise is an hour long and you’ll be navigating around icebergs and close to the Portage Glacier. You can buy tickets at the Portage Glacier Bay lodge for $39 for adults or $19 for children. The cruise departs at 10:30am, 12:00pm, 1:30pm, 3:00pm and 4:30pm. You can find more information on their website.
Once you are done with both Byron and Portage glacier, drive to Whittier, a small village of 200 residents. Don’t let the size of this small town fool you; Whittier is a beautiful gem and a main hub for outdoors activities and adventure. The town is located on the coast with panoramic views of Prince William Sound. With spectacular views on the glaciers, and a sea full of whales and otters, Whittier is an amazing place for kayaking, cruises, and hiking. Cruises are particularly popular in this area because the waters are so calm that it offers a way for those prone to seasickness to take a proper cruise.
Here are the three main cruises you’ll want to choose from during your trip:
26 Glacier Cruise – This cruise is offered by Phillips Cruises and brings you on the waters of Prince William Sound. You will get a close-up view of the glaciers, and mountains and get really close to wildlife. This tour lasts for five hours, travels 140 miles and includes lunch. It runs from May to September and costs $159 per person, $99 for children. You will explore College Fjord, Surprise Glacier and Barry Arm. The boat will come as close as a quarter mile from the glacier, giving you the opportunity to hear the glacier move. For more info, click here.
Blackstone Glacier Cruise – This 4.5 hour cruise is offered by the famous Major Marine Tours. During this cruise you will go to Blackstone Bay and witness the 700 feet tall Blackstone and Beloit glaciers towering above the boat. You will get to float among the iceberg and the boat will make a stop at each glacier, allowing you to take in the beauty of the magnificent ice sculptures. The cruise runs from May to September and costs $119 per adult and $59.50 per child. For an additional $19, you can also add an “all-you-can-eat” Alaska Salmon & prime rib buffet.
Surprise Glacier Cruise – This cruise is another popular Major Marine Tours cruise. It is 5.25 hours long and will bring you through the peaceful and gorgeous Esther Passage. You will get a close-up view of the Surprise Glacier as well, located in the Harriman Fjord. During the cruise you will quickly become captivated by the floating icebergs and the blue ice sculptures, and will encounter waterfalls, salmon, bird rookeries and more. The tour runs from May to September and costs $149 per adult and $74.50 for children.
This town of 2619 residents is considered to be the center point of the Kenai Peninsula. Located at 120 miles south of Anchorage, it is the endpoint of the Alaska Railroad and the Seward Highway. Furthermore, it is also a main cruise hub and port of embarkation and disembarkation. The town is located right next to the Kenai Fjords National Park, and is therefore a great starting point if you want to go cruising, fishing, kayaking, whale-watching, glacier hiking or more.
Alaska Sealife Center
The Sealife Center is the only place in Alaska that combines marine research, wildlife response, and education with a public aquarium. They use the center mostly for research and education, but it is also used for marine mammal rescue (the only rehabilitation facility in the state of Alaska). During your visit, you will encounter a variety of marine animals, such as puffins, sea lions, harbor seals, harlequin ducks, giant pacific octopus, moon jelly, bald eagles, sea otters, belugas, pacific walruses, sea urchins and more. The entrance is $24.05 for adults, $21.95 for seniors, and $12.95 for children aged 4-12.
Kenai Fjords Cruise
Major Marine tours has offered different cruises across Alaska for over 25 years now, and their Kenai Fjords cruises bring you inside the fjord and close to marine life. The shortest cruise they have is 3.5 hours long. You will depart from the port in Seward and make your way across the glacier-carved fjord while witnessing an abundance of animals such as sea otters, mountain goats, sea lions, puffins, eagles and even whales and orcas. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and I highly recommend anyone going to Seward to get on a cruise.
Major Marine tours offer seven other cruises that are lengthier in time, going to up to 8.5 hours long. The longer the cruise, the further away from the port you go, the more glaciers you see and the higher you chances at seeing marine life! The 3.5 hours cruise is $84.00 for adults and $42.00 for children. To find out about the prices of the other cruises, check out their website.
Kenai Fjords National Park
This national park was created back in 1980, and spreads over 587,000 acres of land. Its impressive landscape, which includes the massive Harding Ice Field from which tidewater glaciers pour down into coast fjords, and its large amounts of marine wildlife makes this park a very popular tourist destination.
Exit Glacier & Glacier Hikes
A common activity inside the Kenai Fjords National Park of Alaska are glacier hikes at Exit Glacier. The glacier is accessible by road and offers a breathtaking close-up view of the glacier. The glacier ice climbing hikes are always accompanied by trained guides who have years of experience in glacier travel. Before hiking the glacier, you will be get a safety briefing to make sure that you have a fun and safe glacier hiking experience. The hiking trail goes up an incline, through an alpine valley and on the surface of the glacier itself. Although it takes a little effort and work to get to the glacier, the views offered from there make it totally worth it. A glacier ice climbing hiking trip costs $130 per person and lasts for approximately 6 hours.
If ice climbing is not really your thing, opt for a regular hike instead. You can take a few guided trail hikes on Exit Glacier, which are considered easier than the ice climbing hikes. The Exit Glacier Naturalist Hike is a 1.5 hour easy hike and is a great way to learn about the history of the glacier itself. The Lost Lake Hike is a moderately difficult hike, mostly because of its length. It is 4 to 10 miles long, depending on how far you want to go and therefore lasts 6-8 hours. This trail is considered one of the best of the entire Peninsula, and goes through a northern rainforest, a boreal forest and end in a wild tundra landscape. The views are breathtaking and the chances are high that you will spot wild animals during this hike.
The Harding Icefield Hike is a difficult trail of 8.2 miles, and gains 3000 feet in elevation. You will hike for 5 to 8 hours until you reach the 700 square mile Harding Icefield, which is the largest ice field within the United States. As you make your way to the ice field, you will spot various wild animals such as mountain goats and black bears. Take a look at the Exit Glacier Guide website for more information on time, costs and other activities.
Resurrection Bay Kayaking
If you’re feeling even more adventurous why not rent a kayak and paddle through Resurrection Bay? Liquid Adventures is only one of the many companies that offers kayaking tours in the region. One of their popular kayaking tours is the Tonsina Creek Half Day Kayaking. This tour is perfect if you have a tight schedule, or if you want to get on the water but don’t want to spend your entire day kayaking. This is a three hour scenic trip and the paddling happens in a pretty relaxed environment.
After being introduced to basic sea kayaking, you will head out to the water and experience the geological history and features of your environment as well as witness fascinating sea creatures. You will get close to salmon habitat, but will also watch out for otters, eagles, sea lions and orcas. The half day tour costs $69 per person and includes the kayak, a homemade snack and a drink.
As you make your way from Seward down to Homer, make sure to stop in Cooper Landing. This tiny town of 357 residents is located along the Kenai River at mile 48.7 of the Alaska Sterling Highway. In the summer, it attracts thousands of adventurous souls as well as fishermen. Aside from the many activities taking place on the river or riverside, the town is also set beneath towering mountains in a picturesque setting.
Kenai River Rafting
If you’re going to go rafting or floating anywhere in Alaska, make sure you do it on the Kenai River when you stop in Cooper Landing. There are various companies offering scenic rafting in Cooper Landing, which serves as a launching point for rafting. The staff is always very knowledgeable and will point out wildlife and inform you of the surrounding area as you advance on the river. When the rafting is over, a shuttle will bring you back to the starting point. There are many companies offering river floats and rafting, such as the Alaskan River Company, Alaskan River Adventures and Alaskan River Trips. They offer half day (2-3 hours) and full day scenic river floating or rafting trips, and the prices range between $55-65 for a half day trip.
Known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”, Homer, Alaska is a charming town on Kachemak Bay overlooking the mountains and glaciers. Besides the fishing, it is famous for hiking, sailing, kayaking, the beaches and photography. The latter comes to no surprise; as the Alaskan capital of ecological tourism, Homer takes a good amount of pride in maintaining the beauty and diversity of its water and land. This small town of 5390 residents on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula is surely one that you will never forget. For more information on what to do in Homer, check out my other post!