The Kenai Peninsula is the Alaska that most people dream about. Distances here are great, but it’s worth traversing them to see highlights like Exit Glacier and the towns of Seward and Homer. This Southcentral Alaska itinerary generally alternates driving days with more active and adventurous days. You can add additional days in any location if you want to pack in more excursions—or if you prefer a more leisurely pace.
En Route to the Kenai Peninsula
Day 1: Portage Glacier and Girdwood
Drive south from Anchorage, stopping at Potter Marsh to watch for arctic terns and other birds. Continue along Turnagain Arm, famous for its bore tides, beluga whales, and cliff-traipsing Dall sheep.
Get a filling lunch at The Bake Shop in Girdwood and drive south to Portage, where you can visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see brown and black bears, bison, moose, and other critters up close. Take an hour-long boat cruise to Portage Glacier and visit the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center to learn more about glaciers and Alaska’s rapidly changing climate.
Backtrack a few miles to Girdwood and overnight at Hotel Alyeska. Take the Alyeska Resort tram to dinner at Seven Glaciers Restaurant, high above Turnagain Arm.
Day 2: Day Cruise from Whittier
Drive south to Portage and through the 2.5-mile tunnel to the little town of Whittier, a popular port for cruise ships and day tours. Two companies, Major Marine Tours and Phillips Tours and Cruises, have all-day boat tours to the spectacular glaciers of western Prince William Sound. You can opt for a leisurely five-hour glacier tour to Blackstone Bay. Seals lounge on the icebergs, and several active glaciers are visible at once.
Drive back through the tunnel and head south, stopping for a pleasant dinner at Summit Lake Lodge, and overnight at Inn at Tern Lake near Moose Pass.
The Kenai Peninsula
Day 3: Seward and Exit Glacier
Drive the 36 miles from Inn at Tern Lake to the town of Seward. Get a latte and check out the artwork at Resurrect Art Coffeehouse Gallery, then make the 12-mile drive north to Exit Glacier. In an hour or two you can explore the country around this fast-retreating glacier, or opt for an all-day hike to massive Harding Icefield. Exit Glacier Guides leads ice-climbing trips onto the glacier if you’re feeling adventurous.
Reward yourself with a seafood dinner at nearby Exit Glacier Salmon Bake and spend the night at Alaska Paddle Inn, just south of town on Lowell Point. (A less expensive alternative is Ballaine House B&B.)
Day 4: Day Cruise from Seward
After breakfast crêpes at Le Barn Appetit, take a half-day wildlife boat tour around Resurrection Bay or an all-day trip to Northwestern Fjord or Aialik Bay within Kenai Fjords National Park.
In the late afternoon, visit Seward’s Alaska SeaLife Center, where enormous tanks house puffins, seals, and playful sea lions. Enjoy a seafood dinner at Woody’s Thai Kitchen or a burger and brew at Seward Brewing Company. Spend a second night in Seward at Alaska Paddle Inn or Ballaine House B&B.
Day 5: Cooper Landing
Enjoy a hearty breakfast at Smoke Shack in Seward before driving north to the tiny settlement of Cooper Landing along the Kenai River. Take the day to relax with a float trip on the Kenai River from Alaska River Adventures, or go for an hour-long trail ride with Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures.
Kingfisher Roadhouse has delicious meals with a rustic setting and an enclosed deck facing Kenai Lake. Settle in for the night at Alaska Heavenly Lodge.
Day 6: Soldotna and Kenai
Grab an early breakfast at Gwin’s Lodge. Head west along the Sterling Highway, stopping at Mile 55 to ride the self-propelled Russian River Ferry across the river where salmon anglers stand shoulder to shoulder for “combat fishing” during the peak of the sockeye run.
Take the scenic route from here by turning onto Skilak Lake Loop Road. This pretty 16-mile dirt road crosses the heart of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, with campgrounds and hiking trails. If you have the time, take one of these hikes: the Bear Mountain Trail is a short one with impressive views.
Back on the Sterling Highway, continue west to Soldotna, where you can stock up on groceries at the big Fred Meyer store or lunch at Senor Pancho’s and let the kids run wild at Soldotna Creek Park. Once they’re corralled back in the car, continue to the Kenai Spur Highway junction, and turn north through the small city of Kenai (home to the Peninsula’s only WalMart), and then another 15 miles to tiny Nikiski. Stop by Kassik’s Brewery if it’s open, and order a Bombdiggity pizza from Charlie’s Pizza. Overnight in a cozy lakeside cabin at Daniels Lake Lodge B&B.
Day 7: Kenai, Ninilchik, and on to Homer
In the morning, head to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center for local information, then visit Veronica’s Café for breakfast blintzes and espresso. Wander a bit farther west to a series of beautiful sand dunes along Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Kenai River. In July you’ll see hundreds of dipnetters catching salmon lining the riverbanks.
Drive south from Kenai via Kalifornsky Beach Road, turning south on the Sterling Highway at Kasilof. As you’re driving, look across the inlet for views of snowy mountains and active volcanoes.
Around 25 miles later, you’ll find yourself in Ninilchik, home to the Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church, located on a dramatic hilltop facing the volcanic summit of Mount Iliamna. Pause at The Buzz Café for a caffeine boost if needed.
It’s another 45 miles south to the small city of Homer, where the Sterling Highway ends. Stop at the big hilltop overlook just before you reach Homer for an all-encompassing vista across Kachemak Bay, and spend the night at Driftwood Inn or Kenai Peninsula Suites. For a great dinner, head to Fat Olives.
Day 8: Homer
After a yummy breakfast at Two Sisters Bakery, walk down the street to Bishops Beach for a stroll, then head to Islands and Ocean Visitor Center and the Pratt Museum for excellent introductions to the area.
Homer’s most-loved destination is the four-mile-long Homer Spit. This natural peninsula of land extends into Kachemak Bay, with a busy boat harbor and a cluster of shops, galleries, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodging at the end. Two good Spit dinner options are Finn’s Pizza and Little Mermaid Café.
Day 9: Day Trips from Homer
This is a day that could go in three completely different directions. If you have the cash, hop on one of the all-day bear-viewing flights from Homer to Katmai National Park. Sea kayaking is a less expensive option: True North Kayak Adventures has all-day kayak trips at Yukon Island and stand-up paddleboarding on Grewingk Glacier Lake. The third option is to join an early morning halibut and salmon fishing charter; find one through Central Charters & Tours. You’re almost certain of getting your limit, and Coal Point Seafood will process, freeze, and ship your catch.
For dinner, check out Wasabi’s for Asian fusion cuisine or The Homestead Restaurant for an elegant meal out East End Road.
Day 10: Return to Anchorage via Hope
It’s a five-hour, 225-mile drive back to Anchorage, but if you get going early enough you can still have fun along the way. Grab a best-in-Alaska cappuccino at K-Bay Caffé or a best-in-Alaska bagel at the The Bagel Shop before leaving town. It’s an hour and a half to Soldotna, where you can pick up a huge sandwich to go from Odie’s Deli. Then it’s another 93 miles (via the Sterling Highway, Seward Highway, and Hope Highway) to the historic town of Hope, with its quaint log buildings and great hiking trails. An easy day hike follows the shore of Turnagain Arm to Gull Rock, or for something more challenging, the 38-mile Resurrection Pass Trail begins a few miles from Hope. Get dinner at Tito’s Discovery Café, and after your detour to Hope, return to the Seward Highway for the drive to Anchorage. A good lodging choice is Dimond Center Hotel.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai Peninsula.