Great Things to do on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

Great Things to do on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

The Kenai Peninsula has a lot of what visitors come to Alaska for – deep fjords and ice blue glaciers, snow-capped mountains and the cold waters teeming with wildlife, incredible hiking trails and rivers full of massive fish.  There is so much to see and do here, it is a must to put on an Alaskan itinerary.

KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK FACTS

Kenai Fjords National Park protects the Harding Icefield, the largest in the United States

  • LOCATION:  Alaska
  • CLOSEST MAJOR CITY:  Anchorage, Alaska (125 miles)
  • ANNUAL VISITORS:  350,000 (2019)
  • 46th most visited US National Park out of 63
  • BECAME A NATIONAL PARK:  1980
  • BEST THINGS TO DO:  See the Harding Icefield & glaciers; Take a wildlife cruse in Resurrection Bay

The Kenai Peninsula is located south of Anchorage via Alaska Highway 1.  The scenery all along the drive is breathtaking with many pull outs along the way to take it all in.  When just out of Anchorage, Potter’s Marsh is a great first stop with an elevated boardwalk where one can view ducks, birds, and even moose!  Pull outs continue along the highway, great for photos, or even a hike if you want to stretch your legs.  The Turnagain Arm is especially beautiful!

Some of the scenery you’ll see on the Turnagain Arm while driving from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula

About the Kenai Peninsula

Our destination on the Kenai Peninsula was the city of Seward, which is approximately 120 miles south of Anchorage.  Seward is a harbor town right on Resurrection Bay and lies nestled in between the Kenai mountains and the popular Kenai Fjords National Park.  It is a great jumping off point for all there is to see and do on the Kenai Peninsula.

Seward was inhabited by the native Qutekcak tribe on Resurrection Bay which opens up to the Gulf of Alaska.  The name means “Big Beach”, which definitely rings true! 

The devastating earthquake of 1964, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, took a toll on Seward in particular.  Not only did the land fall victim with collapsed buildings, fires caused by the earthquake, and harbor buildings and docks pulled into Resurrection Bay, but the earthquake also caused tsunamis.  It took years for the salmon to resume swimming here again. 

When we visited

August.  We had good weather while we were here, although rain was in the forecast the days after we were leaving.  A local told Mike that June is the driest month, July is the warmest month, and August is the rainiest month.  Looking at the weather app this seemed to be true!  We lucked out during our time here with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s.  

Where we stayed 

Alaska Rivers Company cabins | 2 bedroom Riverview Cabin | Cooper Landing, Alaska

We loved this little cabin!  The Kenai River was just a short walk from the back of our cabin, giving us beautiful views.  Our cabin had a loft with two double beds, a bathroom, small kitchen, a grill on the deck, and a firepit in the backyard where we had nightly fires just a few feet from the river.  It was simple yet clean and cozy, perfect for a few days down here.  We stayed here as it was easy access for the guys’ fishing trip as well as close enough to Seward to enjoy its offerings.

Below is a map of our driving route from Anchorage to Cooper Landing, where we stayed while on the Kenai Peninsula, down to Seward where we explored.

Now let’s get into the best things to do here on the Kenai Peninsula!

Kenai Fjords National Park Half Day Wildlife Cruise

One of the most popular things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park is a wildlife cruise.  The waters are full of magnificent creatures including Humpback Whales, orcas, dalls porpoises, puffins, seals, and sea lions.  We also saw a bald eagle perched on its nest high up in the trees and mountain goats that were so high up on the seaside cliffs they looked like little white specks to the naked eye. 

The cruise departs from Seward, a beautiful harbor town right on Resurrection Bay on the Gulf of Alaska.

The harbor of Seward, Alaska

The wildlife cruise was narrated by a park ranger so we always knew what to look for both on land and in the water.  The captain did a great job to get up close as respectfully and safely as possible so as not to disturb the wildlife in their natural habitats. 

Entering Resurrection Bay

Once out further in Resurrection Bay, we saw a mother and baby humpback whale breaching!  We watched for a long time as they are so unpredictable as to where they’ll breach.  And they are so large that they move so far to the next point of breaching.  It was exciting to wonder where they’d pop up next!

A mom and baby humpback whale

Dalls porpoises were feeling playful the day of our cruise and they were chasing our boat!  They are similar to dolphins, but smaller and black in color.  It was a lot of fun to watch them living their best lives in the wide open water!

As we got further out into Resurrection Bay, we got up close to sheer cliffs that were sunbathing grounds for seals. 

Look close – there are seals hanging out on the rocks!

Around the bend in Emerald Cove, sea lions were comfortably resting on large rocks.  Floating happily on their backs was a pair of adorable sea otters.

Sea Lions sunbathing in Emerald Cove

You’ll see plenty of seabirds on this cruise as well.  We were all excited to see puffins and kittiwakes.  They mingled together on lower cliffs, the puffins staying closer to the caves.  We also saw baby puffins and kittiwakes on the protective cliffs – nothing is cuter than a fluffy seabird with feathers going every which way!

Can you see the seabirds on the cliff?

Kittiwakes up close

Puffins in the cave & Kittiwakes on the open cliffs

A wildlife cruise is a spectacular way to see some of Alaska’s amazing creatures up close in their natural habitats.  We cruised with Major Marine tours and highly recommend them.  They were knowledgeable, respectful, and safe in regards to the creatures whose homes we were visiting for the day.  We opted for the half-day cruise as the longer cruises go out further, thus sometimes experience rougher waters, something we wanted to avoid.

On the cruise, we also got to see some breathtaking scenery.  From majestic mountain ranges, glaciers, fjords, and coves, the scenery was just as exciting as the wildlife.

Some of the beautiful scenery on the wildlife cruise

PRO TRAVEL TIP:  Bring a jacket, hat, and gloves even in the summer.  We had a very nice day in the upper 50s/low 60s but it gets cool and windy cruising out on the water.  We all had jackets but I did wish for a hat and even gloves at certain times.

A Flightseeing Adventure

Flightseeing was one of our favorite travel experiences ever.  We started off at the Seward Airport, which only serves private flights.  After a quick check in process and safety briefing, we climbed into the little Cessna 185.  Ava sat in the back, Braden and me in the middle, and Mike up front with our pilot, Joey.

The little Cessna 185

We were given headsets so we all could communicate with one another.  We also were able to listen in to the pilot giving updates as to our location, altitude, and direction we were headed with other pilots in the area.  Joey also gave us excellent commentary as to what we were seeing all throughout the flight.

Once we were all in, the doors were closed and the plane was started up.  We were airborne very quickly!  As funny as it sounds, it felt similar to being in a car that flew!  We felt little bounces here and there as we hit air pockets but generally the ride was smooth and the views were beyond what I could have imagined.

We started out departing Seward, flying over Resurrection Bay.

Leaving Seward

We hugged the shore once we were out a bit and followed the dramatic coastline.  We couldn’t get enough of the scenery out of the little windows! 

The gorgeous coastline 

Our jaws all dropped when we rounded the corner in front of Bear Glacier. 

The lagoon Is turquoise blue with chunks of white icebergs floating about.  It was so still and peaceful and was humbling to see it up close.

The stillness of the icebergs was mesmerizing

After Bear Glacier, we hugged more coastline as we headed towards Aialik Glacier. 

The glaciers are incredible

On the way, we saw Spire Cove, something I had hoped to see from the boat cruise the day before but was thrilled to get to see it from up above instead. 

Gorgeous Spire Cove in Kenai Fjords National Park

From Aialik Glacier we climbed in altitude a bit to fly over the Harding Icefield!  The Harding Icefield is 700 square miles, an icesheet leftover from 23,000 years ago.  It’s hard to comprehend the scale when flying over it but it seemed to go on forever. 

Flying over the Harding Icefield

We continued on to Exit Glacier, which is a popular hike in Kenai Fjords National Park to get up close to the glacier on foot.  We flew over Exit Glacier, approached Seward, and soon were back on the ground! 

Coming in for a landing at the Seward Airport

Our first flightseeing adventure was complete and we were so happy to have done this!  We flew with AA Seward Air Tours and were very happy with our experience.

Fishing the World-Renowned Rivers

Cooper Landing is located at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers, with some of the world’s best salmon fishing.  Mike and Braden had a float scheduled with Alaska Rivers Company and they loved every minute of it.

They started off leaving right from our cabin resort with their guide, Hambone, and another guest, a man from New Jersey.  They floated about 30 minutes from the Cooper Landing boat launch.  Along the way, they saw bald eagle nesting grounds and also handled class I-II rapids successfully with their guide’s skilled paddling! 

They spent about four hours fishing, mesmerized by the sea of red that was sockeye salmon.  Both Mike and Braden caught fish, most were very strong and got off before they could get reeled in.  The other man in their group was the real winner of the day as he was able to take home his catch and had a lovely dinner that night!

Braden with his salmon, pictured with their guide – how’s that for a catch?!  

The Alaska SeaLife Center

While the guys were fishing, Ava and I headed to the Alaska SeaLife Center back in Seward.  We had heard good things from other cruisers the day before on the wildlife cruise that the Alaska SeaLife Center was a fantastic place to visit.  So, we headed back to Seward after lunch to visit. 

The SeaLife Center is a non-profit marine rehabilitation, research, and education center.  We appreciated their mission to help the state’s animals as well as provide visitors a first-hand look at these amazing creatures up close.

When we arrived, there was a sign to scan the QR code to see what entry times were available.  Tickets were purchased online and with a half hour to kill until our entrance time, we walked the streets of Seward to do a little souvenir shopping.

Note:  Our visit was in August 2021, still in the midst of the pandemic.  For up-to-date reservations and the current visiting process be sure to check out the Alaska SeaLife Center’s website 

Once it was time to enter, we quickly scanned our online tickets and were on our way.  The center was amazing!  Ava in particular loves animals so this was something she really wanted to do.  When traveling with kids and teens we always try to balance things we want to see and do with some of their wishes.  We visited the touch tank to see what all the colorful sea stars, urchins, and crabs felt like to the touch – always very different that expected!

Cool creatures in the touch tank

We also checked out the seabirds that were getting retrained to hop up onto cliffs and to feed.  There are four different types of puffins, all were adorable!

We loved the puffins!

Some animals were in the I Sea U (how adorable is that?!) as they were being rehabilitated.  The seals and sea lions were especially fun to watch during feeding and and playtime.

A Stellar Sea Lion

An interesting corner was the life of a salmon, which is such a big part of Alaska’s marine wildlife.  The first tank showed salmon eggs and newly hatched salmon, about the size of a finger.  In the next tank they were slightly larger, and the next almost full grown.  Finally, the full grown salmon were not on display as they were out in the nearby waters.  What a beautiful display of the lifespan of these amazing fish!

The SeaLife Center sits right on the bay with a large outdoor viewing area.  It’s a perfect hybrid of indoor viewing as well as the chance to see the same marine life out in the open waters.

Exit Glacier

If you want to see a glacier up close, visiting Exit Glacier in Seward is a must.  The only road that leads into Kenai Fjords National Park leads off Alaska State Highway 9, called Exit Glacier Road (NOTE:  closed in the winter).  

There are a few trails here that will bring visitors close to the glacier.  The shortest and least strenuous trail is the Glacier View Loop, which is about one mile total in distance and is also wheelchair accessible.  One can continue on to the Glacier Overlook Trail, which will add 0.6 miles on and provide one with more views of the glacier.

If you want even more time with the glacier, consider booking a guided hike.  The National Park Service offers guided hikes in July and August.   Or you can book with a private company for guided hikes on the trails or even ON the glacier!  How cool is that?!

The Kenai Peninsula was chock full of some of Alaska’s greatest displays of nature.  Incredible scenery including fjords, mountains, glaciers, and icebergs and witnessing incredible wildlife with the wildlife cruise, salmon fishing, and Sealife Center are what you’ll find down on the breathtaking Kenai Peninsula.

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Read More!

Anchorage will most likely be your entry point into Alaska before venturing off further afield.  We spent two days in the state’s capitol before venturing off to the Kenai Peninsula.  Read our post, Great Ways to Spend Two Days in Anchorage, Alaska, to learn the best things to do there.

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time my husband is grain-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we encompass a fair amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

During our time on the Kenai Peninsula, we did not eat out.  Rather, we stopped at Fred Meyer on our way out of Anchorage to stock up on breakfast, lunch, and dinner items to grill while we stayed in our cabin on the Kenai Peninsula. 

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. Michelle

      Hopefully you can make it next year! Fishing there was incredible!
      -Michelle

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