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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


Northwest Kenai

The lower Kenai River flows through one of Alaska’s fastest-growing regions. History, oil, salmon, and federal public land boundaries have shaped regional growth, producing a T-shaped area of development. The cross of the "T" fronts the shores of Cook Inlet while the post extends inland from Soldotna to Sterling. Where you don’t find wetlands and oilfields, you’ll find wandering small roads leading to homes, cabins, tiny lakes, campsites, fishing access, and scores of small lodges and B&Bs.

The great majority of visitors come to the area to fish for salmon. During the peak of the king salmon run in June, campgrounds are packed and rooms are difficult to find. There is little to attract the non-fishing visitor to the area, though there are historic sites, coastal access points, and two excellent canoe trails. Unless you’re after salmon or have another specific reason to visit, "passing through" should describe your time here.

Sterling (population 4,949, 2.1 percent native) is located along the Sterling Highway near the east end of the tongue of non-federal land that pierces Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Many roadside businesses serve travelers and act as a supply base for the surrounding vacation cabins, homes, and fishing areas. The access road for the Swan Lake Canoe Trail and Swanson River Canoe Trail heads north from town—outfitter and rental businesses operate along the highway near the junction (see the Appendix).

As you travel west from Sterling to Soldotna, you’ll pass a long stretch of roadside businesses, homes, and minor road junctions. When the buildings start to jam together, you’ve reached Soldotna (see below). From Soldotna, the Kenai Spur Highway heads northwest from the Sterling Highway to the coast and the town of Kenai (see below)—the area’s original Russian settlement.

The highway continues north of Kenai, becoming North Kenai Road and following the shores of Cook Inlet to Nikiski (population 3,087, 6.1 percent native). There are several refineries, oil extraction operations, and other related companies in the area. Timbering, commercial and sport fishing, government jobs, retail, and tourist services round out the economic picture. I’ve never met anyone who said, "I’m going to Nikiski for the weekend." Enjoy the views across Cook Inlet.

Beyond Nikiski, the North Kenai Road continues past Bernice Lake State Recreation Area and through lake and lowland forest country to road’s end and Captain Cook State Recreation Area. Both recreation areas have campgrounds—Captain Cook offers access to the coast.

South of Soldotna, things thin out a bit as you head toward the Kasilof, Cohoe, and Clam Gulch area. Kasilof (population 497, 2.9 percent native) is located where the Kenaitze Indians established an agricultural and fishing village around a Russian stockade built in 1786 by the Lebedef-Lastochkin Company. Excavations in 1937 uncovered 31 well-preserved houses from the original settlement. Today Kasilof is the center of a vacation, fishing, and homestead area and offers highway and travel services at roadside businesses. Cohoe (population 583, 1.8 percent native) is basically a residential area scattered near Cohoe Road, which loops from the Sterling Highway toward the coast and Cape Kasilof, then south along Cook Inlet and back to the highway.

The coastline from Cape Kasilof south to Happy Valley is protected in the Clam Gulch State Critical Habitat Area, famous as razor clam habitat but strictly managed with regards to harvesting. For information on clamming, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (see the Appendix).