The word “road trip” and “Alaska” are rarely found in the same sentence – for good reason! Alaska’s size usually makes floatplanes much more practical than Fiats….but not always! One great exception is the Kenai peninsula, that cone-shaped piece of land jutting south from Anchorage. It holds the only walk-on glacier, world-famous King Salmon runs, artisans and eagles, and access to not one — but 2! – more national parks.
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ALASKA ROADTRIP step 1: start in Anchorage
There’s no need to spend much time in this hub, but on your arrival afternoon, you may want to rent a bike and explore the 11-mile Tony Knowles Trail. It’s paved, relatively flat, and runs along the shoreline of scenic Cook Inlet, from downtown to Earthquake Park (where you’ll learn all about the devastation of 1964)
I’d also buy myself a ulu knife, critical to Inuit native culture (and to my kitchen too) or taxi out to the Native Cultural Exhibit.
ALASKA ROADTRIP step 2: 26 glaciers
Early the next morning, rent your car and drive down to Whittier to hop on the 12:30pm boat cruise called “26 Glacier Express”. Yes, you WILL see 26 glaciers. You’ll also learn the difference between tidewater and hanging glaciers and why the glaciers were named after Ivy League schools. You’ll probably see Orcas too!
Did you know that there’s a 2.5 mile, one-way railway tunnel to enter Whittier? It’s part of the fun, but you better time it right. It costs $12 and runs on a half-hour schedule. Here are the details.
When you exit the boat, head over to Seward, 2 hours south, for your overnight.
ALASKA ROADTRIP step 3: Seward’s Resurrection Bay
You can sleep in a restored railroad car, in a picturesque log cabin on the bay, or in a saltwater lodge, but when you awake, you’ll want to get out on the water to see the wildlife of Kenai Fjords. My favorite boat is the intimate, family-run Stellar Explorer that’ll show you whales, calving glaciers, and natural history.
You’ll also want to tie on your boots for a remarkable coastal hike out at Lowell Point. Yes, that means you’ll have to drive the short but sketchy gravel lane OUT to the point, but that’s part of the fun of this Caines Head Trail.
Note of caution: this trail is 100% tide dependent, so make sure you check a current tide chart before you set out, and consider hiring Miller’s water taxi for a pick up if hiking and tide times don’t jive.
The Kenai peninsula is all about fishing! Salmon run throughout the summer months, and the prized King Salmon can also be caught. Permits limit an angler to one King per day, so you’ll have to choose whether or not to keep a fish. If he’s a 45 pounder, should you put him back and wait for a 70 pounder? What about bait? waders and other equipment? These are all things that a good guide will help you with. They’ll even make you lunch in the boat as you practice your fly casting from the riverbank.
Homer is one of my all-time favorite towns in Alaska. Perched on a 2-mile spit of land at the bottom tip of the peninsula, Homer is all about halibut fishing, hand-knit sweaters and caribou earrings (yes, foraged straight from the tundra by this artist!), kayaking, and seafood dinners.
For dinner, take the Danny J ferry out to Halibut Cove, an abandoned herring fishing village that’s turned its boardwalks and cabins into an artist colony. Stroll the studio wharf and then enjoy dinner dockside at the Saltry Restaurant!
ALASKA ROADTRIP step 6: the grizzlies of Katmai
From Homer, you can contract a guide for day trip out to Katmai National Park. It’ll take you a bush plane, a float plane, a full day, and about $680 pp to do this, but it is a day in your life that you will never, ever forget! Here’s a story about the journey OUT to Katmai, and here’s another tale about my own family’s encounter with a grizzly bear, Awed by the Claws.
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