A summer motorhome trip across the famous Kenai Peninsula uncovers the ultimate in RV sightseeing and adventure
Summer in Alaska is a dream for many RV owners, but finding available RV sites in a land that covers millions of acres can take a lot of preplanning. We knew months in advance that we would spend the summer traveling around Alaska, including along the Kenai Peninsula during peak salmon season, but our planning entailed no more than making sure we had the proper documents to travel through Canada and re-enter the U.S. We were going on the fly from there on out — not a single reservation made for a campsite prior to driving across the border into Alaska.
What we found along much of the Kenai Peninsula was an abundance of opportunities to park our motorhome and rest our weary heads from the hundreds of miles of driving between destinations at a plethora of RV parks, national forest campgrounds and even along the road. What we came home with was enough fresh salmon to share with friends and family, numerous wildlife photos to add to my stock inventory and a wealth of memories of the beautiful Kenai Peninsula.
A drive on the Kenai Peninsula starts with heading south out of Anchorage, Alaska, along Turnagain Arm. Time it right if you can to catch the bore tide, a wave of water that floods back into the bay and attracts dozens of paddleboarders and surfers catching a rare Alaska wave.
Stop at the Tesoro gas station in Girdwood. It is the most-visited gas station in all of Alaska, and the last chance for fuel for approximately 65 miles. Then head south.
In the months of June and July, the wildflowers along the Seward Highway just past the welcome sign for the Kenai Peninsula fill the mountains on either side of the road with vibrant shades of pink, purple and green. Lupines will blanket the landscape in shades of purple in June. Fireweed will cover the landscape in bright magenta in July. Getting off the road and taking a closer look at the meadows will reveal chocolate lilies, wild geraniums, yarrow and monkshood.
Make Seward your first town to visit. The jaunt to Seward is a pleasant and easy drive down the Seward Highway. Avoid visiting Seward during Fourth of July weekend, unless you like crowds. If you do, the town of Seward hosts a race where hundreds of runners climb up the aptly named Mount Marathon.
Instead, visit Seward before the big weekend and check out the beauty of coastal Alaska. Start by catching one of the first-come, first-served spots in the six RV parks along the Seward Waterfront Park, or make reservations at Miller’s Landing farther down the coast of Resurrection Bay.
After securing your RV spot, book a boat ride into Resurrection Bay, where you will discover a world full of sea birds, marine mammals and calving glaciers. Visit Kenai Fjords National Park by taking the only road that accesses the park; all other access points are via boat. This drivable point into the park provides access to the trails for Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield, beautiful, must-see destinations within the park. On the way out from Kenai Fjords National Park, stop at the Salmon Bake Restaurant for a tasty, warm meal after a long day of hiking. And finally, cruise around town, where you can visit the Alaska SeaLife Center, watch fisherman come in from their daily fishing trips and enjoy a tasty burger in the ambiance of a school bus at Red’s Burgers.
After a couple of days in Seward, head back up the Seward Highway and turn left onto the Sterling Highway to continue exploring the Kenai Peninsula.
The next town you reach is Cooper Landing. For those wanting to test their skills at salmon fishing, this area offers some of the best opportunities to fish when the pinks and reds are running, which typically happens through July.
An ideal spot for RV parking is at the Russian River Campground. This inexpensive national-forest campground provides access to the fishing boardwalk along the river. This is also a fantastic place to photograph bald eagles and brown bears fishing along the river.
Continue a little farther down the Sterling Highway and bypass the main road by driving through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Here visitors have an excellent opportunity to see moose, black bears and spruce grouse.
Mark the town of Kenai as your next stop for your visit on the Kenai Peninsula. Dena’ina Athabascan Alaskans lived in the region for generations, but Russians changed the ambiance of the community when they settled in the area and built Fort Saint Nicholas in 1791. Established as a fish and fur trading post, Fort Saint Nicholas became the town of Kenai and slowly grew as the Russians built Russian Orthodox churches and other buildings to accommodate the few residents. A U.S. Army contingent took over the fort in 1869 and it became known as Fort Kenay.
But life along the coast of Cook Inlet was hard, and the fort was abandoned by 1871. As the fishing industry grew along the Kenai River and Cook Inlet, canneries became established near the former fort and the town of Kenai began to rise again. Today, several of the original Russian buildings have been refurbished and provide an interesting look into the historical past of this once small fort that has become a hub of activity on the Kenai Peninsula.
For the RV traveler, Kenai is an excellent place to stock up on supplies at the local Wal-Mart, the only one on the Kenai Peninsula. Kenai also offers one of a few locations on the Kenai Peninsula to view caribou out on the Kenai Flats. And stop for lunch at the unique Burger Bus. Be sure to plan some time at this hot little outdoor restaurant because its popularity and tasty food create long lines.
A great place to camp near Kenai is at Diamond M Ranch Resort, a Good Sam Park offering discounts, great amenities for the weary traveler and plenty of RV sites. Although booking early is always recommended by their helpful staff to secure the site of choice during the busy summer months, they do their best to accommodate RVs. To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, the resort is offering a 20 percent discount if a reservation is paid in full by May 2017.
After Kenai, try your hand at fishing again by stopping in Soldotna. By mid-July, the sockeye salmon typically run in the Kenai River at Swiftwater Park, a city park offering hiking, fishing access and a 40-site campground with a dump station but no hookups. Purchase a 24-hour pass from the City of Soldotna Parks and Recreation and take advantage of the long hours of daylight to fish for close to 20 hours.
Save some room in your freezer though, because your next destination on the tour of the Kenai Peninsula takes you to the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” — Homer, Alaska.
The farthest point south on the peninsula, Homer is a small fishing town with big potential for getting a large dose of Alaskan recreation.
First, take advantage of Homer’s proximity to Katmai National Park and Preserve. This remote park, which is only accessible by boat or plane, boasts some of the best bear-viewing in the world.
Although my recommendation is to spend a few days in the park immersed with brown bears as they go about their daily activities, daytrips are also very popular. Beluga Air (907-235-8256, www.belugaair.com), out of Homer, is an excellent source for flying over to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park for a daytrip to view bears fishing for salmon.
Another popular activity out of Homer is to take a boat trip through Kachemak Bay. Mako’s Water Taxi (907-235-9055, www.makoswatertaxi.com) is one company that offers a variety of boat trips from just a few hours to a full-day program and to more than a dozen different destinations. Visiting Kachemak Bay State Park, where you can hike out to a glacier; taking a tour of Gull Island with its population of nesting kittiwakes, common murres, puffins and other sea birds; or a trip to Halibut Cove will certainly keep you busy, and happy to have a comfortable motorhome to go back to at the end of a busy day.
For a slower day in the Homer area, consider visiting the 600-acre Kilcher Family Homestead. Made popular by the television show “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” brothers Atz and Otto Kilcher, along with their children, continue to farm the property along Kachemak Bay in a manner similar to how their father, Yule Kilcher, did when he homesteaded the land in the 1940s. It is a fun and low-key way to experience a little bit of homesteading in Alaska.
Finally, no trip to Homer is complete without a stop for a beer at the Salty Dawg Saloon (www.salty dawgsaloon.com) on the Homer Spit. At almost any time of day, this small lighthouse-converted-to-bar location is filled with fishermen, locals and tourists happily blended together into a dark atmosphere surrounded by message-laden dollar bills tacked to every inch of wall space.
Homer offers several great places to set up camp. Full-service RV parks, such as the Oceanview RV Park in Homer, may fill quickly in peak season, so preplanning is recommended. We had luck going with Mariner Park, a first-come, first-served park right along the beach on the Spit.
Taking your motorhome to Alaska may not be as difficult as some say, if you prepare for the potential pitfalls. The entire Alaska Highway is paved, but due to the harsh winters, frost heaves and construction along the road are inevitable. This construction creates long stretches of dirt roads that will coat every area of your motorhome in dust and chip paint, especially if you are towing a dinghy behind. We found most drivers with dinghy vehicles covered the headlights, windshield and front bumper using everything from expensive covers to pieces of cardboard taped to the vehicle. All seemed to do the trick.
A valid passport is required to drive through Canada and to re-enter the U.S. If you are bringing pets, make sure they are up to date on their rabies vaccine and, although we didn’t need to show it, we made sure they had health certificates prior to leaving the Lower 48. If you are carting a boat, boat inspections will be required at the borders of British Columbia and Alberta.
After the long drive up the Alaska Highway to reach Alaska, take your time exploring once you are there. July is a fantastic time of year on the Kenai Peninsula if you are interested in bear-viewing or fishing. But June and August offer fewer crowds and lots of opportunities to sea kayak, hike, view wildlife, or just relax in the comfort of your motorhome in a landscape full of mountains, glaciers and wildflowers.
For More Information
Diamond M Ranch Resort
907-283-9424 | www.diamondmranchresort.com
Kenai Peninsula Tourism
800-535-3624 | http://kenaipeninsula.org
866-541-5739 | www.millerslandingak.com
Oceanview RV Park
907-235-3951 | www.oceanview-rv.com