The Kenai Peninsula
We spent the majority of our eight-day trip to Alaska in the Kenai Peninsula. This area is very easy to get to by car from Anchorage. I’ve included everything we did in the peninsula, including activities and restaurants we ate at.
On the morning of our second full day of the trip, we left Anchorage first thing and headed south. Just outside of Anchorage, we saw two moose right on the side of the road eating some trees! The drive along the Turnagain Arm is beautiful, and there are plenty of safe places to pull over and take pictures (along with the rest of the peninsula).
Byron Glacier Hike
Our first stop was at Byron Glacier, a little over an hour east of Anchorage. The trail from the parking lot to the glacier is about 1.5 miles each way. We arrived fairly early around 9am, and there was only one other car in the lot. There is little elevation change along this trail, so it is a nice and easy walk through the woods most of the way. It follows a stream that is coming from the glacier.
We knew since it was the morning and we were the only ones around, we needed to be talking frequently and carrying bear spray in case there were any bears around. After about 30 minutes, we were at the end of the path. The hike technically continues a little ways in the direction of the glacier. We forged on over the big rocks and scrambled up a big rock pile. The view was good from the top, but if you don’t want to put in the extra effort, the view is not too different from the bottom.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Next up was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a home for rescued orphaned and injured animals. There are many different kinds of animals here, from black and brown bears, moose, and caribou to muskox, foxes, and porcupines. When you arrive at the entrance, the attendant will give you a map and explain the center. You can walk or drive the two-mile loop to access the animal enclosures.
I loved seeing how spaced out all of the enclosures were and how beautiful the backdrops were as well! It seemed like each animal had plenty of space to roam around and get some privacy from humans if they didn’t want to be bothered.
We stopped at each enclosure as well as the gift shop, which was nice too. I highly recommend supporting this facility and spending an hour or two here.
From the Girdwood area, we drove south to Seward, known for its glaciers and fjords. Apparently, it’s also known for its not-so-great weather, as we determined after talking to some locals. While we had originally planned on spending two nights in a row here, it started to rain our first day and we rearranged our trip a bit so we could enjoy more nice weather and come back here later in the week.
We parked at the big parking lot in town and walked across the street to the harbor. I loved seeing all the sailboats in the super blue water with a mountainous backdrop. The little shops along the water were really cute too, although a lot of them were closed. Definitely worth checking out though.
Kenai Fjords Visitor Center
During normal non-COVID times, I would’ve loved to wander the visitor center and gotten a souvenir, but this time we weren’t able to. Fortunately, they did have a park ranger out front that was able to stamp my national park passport and give us a map to the park.
Seward Brewing Company
This local brewery serves their beers as well as delicious food. We hung out here for awhile the first evening we were in Seward as the rain was coming in. I got the wonton steak nachos and I highly recommend them! Sam got the fish tacos and loved those as well. I really liked the atmosphere inside.
Harding Icefield Hike
The Harding Icefield hike was a highlight of our trip. I highly recommend it if you are physically able to! The trail is 10.2 miles round trip from the car and STRENUOUS. However, you can also hike part of it without going all the way to the end and still get some amazing views. Read my detailed trail description here.
Cooper Landing Area
Cooper Landing is known for it’s amazing fishing, with the Kenai and Russian Rivers running through it. Sam loves to fish, so when we changed our itinerary around, we decided to camp in the area for a night. Cooper Landing isn’t big enough to be considered a town, but has the necessities: a couple restaurants, gas station, fly fishing store, and a brewery.
Russian River Campground
We didn’t have a reservation for a campsite in the area, and we were nervous because it was Labor Day and everything online said most campgrounds were fully booked. The night before, we made a list of all the campgrounds that looked good and decided to leave Seward in the morning, head straight for the area, and see if any had walk-in availability.
We drove through the first two around 9:30am and they had signs saying “campground full” with no one around, so we kept going. The one we really wanted to stay at was Russian River, our third stop. This is a government-run campground and they had an attendant at the entrance. There was a sign saying there was no availability, but we decided to ask anyways. He told us that they actually did have several sites open for that night! We weren’t allowed to get one until 12pm though and it was only 10. He let us go into the day-use area while we waited (which normally costs ~$10/car). This area has a boardwalk alongside the Russian River, with several spots that have stairs leading down into the river. We walked down, Sam with fishing gear in hand, and were in awe of all the bright red salmon swimming around.
Sam fished for a few hours and I got our campsite and set up our tent. We got a great site that had a mountain view. It was also only a five-minute walk to get down to the river. After Sam was done fishing, we did some activities for the day and then hung out at the campground all evening, making dinner, chilling by the fire, and going for a walk down by the river. The weather was perfect and we had a wonderful evening.
The facilities at this campground are limited. A pit toilet and spout outside for drinking water. There were signs saying not to wash your dishes at the spout because of bears, so we waited to wash them the next night. This would’ve been a problem if we were staying multiple nights. Our campsite had a bear locker and there were dumpsters at the entrance of each loop. It was totally fine for one night.
Cooper Landing Brewing Company
A local told us about the brand-new brewery we should check out. We loved it! The beer and atmosphere were good, and there was a beautiful Alaskan Malamute sitting right next to us to top it all off.
Hope is a small town located on the northern coast of the Kenai Peninsula, on the other side of the Turnagain Arm from Anchorage. I had a few people say this was one of their favorite places in Alaska, so we decided to check it out. The streets of the town are dirt roads, and the buildings make you feel as if you’ve been transported back to an 1800s gold mining town. Since it was after Labor Day, everything was closed, but it was still cool to see. There were only a handful of people walking around in the whole town while we were there. The little gift shop was open, and we had a good time talking to the owner who was clearly bored out of her mind since we were her first customers of the day.
Walk Along the Shore
The shore is really pretty here and worth a walk down to. We parked at the campgrounds (closed for the season) and walked on a path through a field to get to the water, which took about 10 minutes. There were some muddy parts and I was glad I had waterproof shoes on. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I was glad we saw it.
After Cooper Landing, we made our way down to Homer for a night. The drive takes about 2.5 hours. We had left in the morning and made it to Soldotna in time for a late breakfast. The town of Soldotna is bigger than I expected, and has everything you might need: grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and several restaurants. There are also several fishing spots along the Kenai River in town.
Buckets Sports Grill
The local sports bar surprisingly had the top-rated breakfast in town, so we stopped there. I had the french toast and sausage, and they served it so it looked like a little tree. Excellent presentation!
We stopped at this Mexican restaurant on our way back from Homer the next day and it was so good! I did not expect to find good Mexican food in Alaska, but we were blown away.
From Soldotna, we continued down to Homer, a gorgeous coastal city on the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Coming into town, there is an overlook that took our breath away. We stayed in a cute cabin up the mountain about ten minutes outside of the town. Our view looking down on the ocean was awesome!
Transfiguration of Our Lord Church
Along the drive to Homer, we stopped briefly at this small Russian Orthodox church with a stellar view. It was a nice quick stop to break up the drive a little.
Old Inlet Bookshop
Our first stop was this quaint bookshop, with books in piles from the floors to ceilings. There were so many books in certain places that I was slightly afraid I would knock a stack over and they would all tumble over like dominos. Sam picked out an old book and we were on our way.
I’d say this is the most famous part of Homer. There is a long, skinny strip of land that stretches out into the ocean for 4.5 miles. Near the end of the Spit, there are restaurants, campgrounds, and shops. This place was so unique, as you are completely surrounded by the ocean and also mountains all the way around you. It was magical! We were planning on eating dinner on the Spit, but were very disappointed when we found out that just about every restaurant in town had closed for the season. There were a few that closed right after Labor Day and planned to open a couple weeks later, so it seemed like we were just there at a bad time. Our Airbnb host later told us that several restaurant and shop owners are only in Alaska during the summer and go back to their homes for the winter.
AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse & Tavern
We had called and driven by what seems like every restaurant in town, until we came across AJ’s. We walked in and they told us we could make a reservation for an hour from then. Thank goodness! We had almost given up and gone to McDonalds. When we were finally able to eat, I got the Philly cheesesteak and Sam got fish and chips. The meal was a little more pricey than other places we had eaten at, but we didn’t care because we were so hungry. The food was good though, so I’d recommend it if you want a slightly nicer meal out.
Driving Back to Anchorage
The view driving back from Homer is amazing! We had missed so much the previous day because it was hazy and we couldn’t see anything across the ocean. There are a few volcanoes that are huge! When we first saw them, we thought they were Denali from a very far distance, but then realized we were actually closer to them than we thought. The views definitely made the drive go by quicker.
I had the best time in the Kenai Peninsula! If you are driving, it is so easy to get here from Anchorage. There are a variety of things to do and scenery to see. I would love to come back here one day!