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The Kenai Peninsula
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The Kenai Peninsula


Kenai National Wildlife Refuge & Chugach National Forest

Seward Highway (AK1/AK9)--Seward to Portage



Kenai Fjords National Park

Sterling Highway (AK1)--Seward Highway Junction to Homer

Northwest Kenai





Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Area



Location/Climate: 155 road miles southwest of Anchorage (70 air miles) on the Cook Inlet coast of Kenai Peninsula. 20"/yr. precip., 0°F–65°F.

Population: 7,006 (8.5 percent native).

Travel Attractions: Russian history, Kenai River fishing.

Getting There: Vehicle access via Kenai Spur Highway from Soldotna and Sterling Highway (AK 1), scheduled air service from Anchorage and other points.

Information: Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center, 11471 Kenai Spur Highway, Kenai, AK 99611, 283-1991, www.visitkenai.com. Open daily in summer 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. Open winter Monday–Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Russian fur traders established the town of Kenai in the summer of 1791, 13 years after Captain Cook sailed up Cook Inlet in a failed search for the northwest passage to the Atlantic. The Dena’ina Indian village of Skitok (shki-TUK) had existed for years at the site where the Kenai River meets the sea. The town quickly became a regional center of trade for Russians and Indians, and for the U.S. military after the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Fishing and fish processing became the main industries, complemented by oil-related commerce after the 1957 discovery of oil near the Swanson River and subsequent Cook Inlet finds.

Just east of town, the Beaver Loop Road (Bridge Access Road) provides access to the Kenai River Flats. The road meets the Kenai Spur Highway at Mile 6.4 and Mile 10.5. Waterfowl, including Siberian snow geese, are migratory visitors. A state recreation site provides boardwalk access to good viewing spots and a riverside campground.

The excellent and relatively new Kenai Bicentennial Visitors and Cultural Center is on Main Street south of the Kenai Spur Highway. Regional heritage exhibits and movies offer great background on area culture. It’s right on the way to the main historic attractions and is worth a stop.

All of Kenai’s historic sites are concentrated near the bluffs above the shores of Cook Inlet and can be visited in an hour or two. The main attraction is the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, first built in 1849, then replaced with the present structure in 1895. The onion-shaped domes are striking. Across the green from the church sits Saint Nicholas Chapel, built in 1906 where church leaders were buried. Just up the street is the site of Fort Kenay, including a reconstructed barracks building. The fort was built in 1869 to secure the area after it was purchased from the Russians, though it was garrisoned for less than two years. To reach all of these sites, turn southwest on Main Street from the Kenai Spur Highway, drive past the visitor center, then turn right on Overland Avenue.

From Overland Avenue and Fort Kenay, Mission Road follows the bluff edge east to a couple of good overlooks. Bluff erosion had limited vehicle access to one section when I was last there, making it perfect for a 1-block walk and a long look. You may see white beluga whales in Cook Inlet.

Where to Stay and Eat in Kenai

Beaver Creek Cabin Rentals, 283-4262. $100–$150 per cabin. On the water. Stay for any length of time.

Katmai Hotel, 10800 Kenai Spur Highway (at Main Street), 283-6101. Basic motel with $40–$90 rooms and Rick’s Sourdough Cafe.

Kenai Kings Inn, P.O. Box 850, 10352 Kenai Spur Highway, 283-6060. Rooms from $60–$100. Don Again’s Restaurant is on site.

Little Ski-Mo Burger-N-Brew, Kenai Spur Highway, Kenai, 283-4463. This place is known for their big burger menu. Mmmm.

Paradiso’s, Kenai Spur Road (1 block east of visitor center), 283-2222. Good but pricey Greek, Mexican, and Italian.