Road Trips and Destinations

Camping Road Trip through the Kenai Peninsula

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter February Outdoor Living Newsletter

Kenai Fjords National Park Coastline, AK

Located south of the city of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula is a land full of striking contrasts. It boasts massive prehistoric glaciers and snow-capped mountains and is home to numerous pristine lakes, rivers, and lush green forests teeming with diverse wildlife, giving outdoor enthusiasts so much to do and see. It's no wonder why it has been dubbed as Alaska's Playground.

When to Go

Summer is the best time to visit the Kenai Peninsula, specifically the months between June and September. The weather during this time of the year is the most ideal. The days are also longer, so you can have more time to enjoy the outdoors. More important, most-if not all-establishments and attractions in the Kenai Peninsula are seasonal, opening only during the summer months.

How to Get There

You can explore the Kenai Peninsula by driving down the Seward Highway from Anchorage and then continuing on to Sterling Highway. You can also opt to take a ferry down the Alaska Marine Highway to get to the Kenai Peninsula.

How Long Should the Trip Be?

We recommend six days as per the itinerary below. Of course, this can be easily shorten by picking only the activities here that you find most appealing.

What to See and Do

Six-Day Visit - Anchorage to Kenai Peninsula - About 330 miles (one way).

Day One - Anchorage to Chugach State Park - 26 miles

  1. The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is a 16-mile seasonal home to over 130 species of migratory birds, moose, bears, and other kinds of wildlife that stretches from Point Woronzof to Potter Creek along the Anchorage coastline. The most popular spot here is Potter Marsh. Located between the Old and New Seward highways, the marsh was created in 1917 after workers dammed several streams during the construction of the Alaskan railroad. Today, Potter Marsh is one of the most popular destinations to do some bird watching. Allow at least 30 minutes at the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.
  2. Next, head over to Chugach State Park. Situated along the foothills of the majestic Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage, it is the third largest state park in the country and is full of forests, mountains, glaciers and wildlife. If you happen to arrive here on either a Tuesday or Thursday, drop by the Potter House Section. This historic site, complete with a restored house and outbuildings, was once part of a railroad section camp that maintained about 10 miles of railroad track that used to pass through this area.
  3. If you consider yourself a fit hiker, drive to Beluga Point (MP 110) and then hike the Bird Ridge Trail (MP 100) otherwise hike the Turnagain Arm Trail between McHugh Creek Trailhead MP 102 and Rainbow Trailhead and then drive to Beluga Point.

    Beluga Point, a rocky outpost that offers views of white beluga whales in mid-July through August when salmon are running in Cook Inlet. Belugas use sonar to find their way and catch fish in the silty waters of the inlet. Belugas are predators and also prey. Keep an eye out for the black fins of orcas as they occasionally pursue the white belugas. Also look out for bore tides that can be six to eight feet tall and travel at 15 mph. You'll hear them before you see them with their eerie roar created when incoming tides from Cook inlet are squeezed into Turnagain Arm's narrow channel. They arrive about 1 hour after low tide.

    Bird Ridge Trail is a 5 miles round trip that involves a 3,400 ft elevation gain. This popular hike ascends past the timberline to Bird Ridge Point and offers exceptional views of Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains. Make sure to bring proper footwear and plenty of waterfor this strenuous uphill hike. You can access the trail at Bird Ridge Trail Head (MP 102) or from Bird Creek Access (MP 101.5) that has a larger car park that is easier for RVs. Allow three hours minimum for the hike.

    Turnagain Arm Trail between McHugh Creek Trailhead (MP 112) and Rainbow Trailhead (MP 108) is an easy to moderate 8.5 miles round trip and offers sweeping views of Turnagain Arm. It follows a support route created during the 1910s to aid construction of the Alaska Railroad and meanders above the Seward Highway. Allow three hours minimum for the hike.
  4. Stay at Chugach State Park Bird Creek Campground. Firewood is not available at the campground, so make sure to bring some from Anchorage.

Day Two - Chugach State Park to Portage Glacier to Kenai Lake - 120 miles

  1. Get up early, and cycle from Bird Creek campground to Girdwood along the paved Indian to Girdwood Bike Path. You'll get good beluga and tidal bore viewing opportunities and lots of outstanding views of the Turnagain Arm. Allow at least two hours to complete the entire 24 miles.
  2. Head over to Crow Creek Mine near Girwood. Turn North in Girwood on the Alyeska Highway to reach it. Established in 1896, it is the most popular recreational gold mining area in Alaska, offering a unique blend of history and breathtaking sceneries. Guided tours are offered during the summer season, but you need to book this ahead of time. While you're here, make sure to head over to Crow Creek, which is a 5-minute walk from the gatehouse. Here, you can try your luck in a little gold panning. With much of the gold resources believed to still be in the river, you can be sure that you will be able to find a few gold nuggets to take home as a great souvenir of your visit. Fee for gold panning is $20 for adults and $10 for children.
  3. Return to Seward Highway and drive to Portage Glacier. Located 5.5 miles from milepost 79, it is one of the most popular destinations in Alaska. Stop by the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center where you can find lots of exhibits about Portage Glacier, including a piece of iceberg that you can touch. Although there are telescopes situated at the visitor center's viewing deck, changes in the earth's climate have caused the glacier to retreat out of view. You can take the one-hour boat cruise, or hike through one of the many trails to see and marvel at this vanishing natural jewel.
  4. Drive 70 miles to Kenai Lake, a blue-green colored lake due to rock particles in the glacier meltwater that feeds the lake. Spend the night at a campground along Kenai Lake.

Day Three - Kenai Lake to Seward 60 miles including side trips

  1. Continue South on Seward Hwy until MP 3.7 and then turn onto the Herman Leirer/Exit Glacier Road and continue for 9 miles until the parking lot at Kenai Fjords National Park. Take one or more of the short hiking trails where you can come up close and personal with Exit Glacier, one of the very few active glaciers that can easily be accessed from land. Consider taking a guided hike up Harding Icefield Trail (7 to 8 hours) or do it yourself without a guide. It's a strenuous 8.2 mile round trip but offers spectacular views overlooking Harding Icefield. Allow 4-5 hours minimum if hiking on your own.
  2. Return to Seward Hwy and drive the miles to Seward. Spend the night at a campground or RV park in Seward.

Day Four - Kenai Fjords National Park

  1. Dress warmly and spend the entire day on the water by booking a Kenai Fjord boat tour. These full-day tours take you out to view the park's tidewater glaciers, abundant wildlife and breathtaking sceneries. There are also half-day tours that go through Resurrection Bay's protected waters if you're working on a tight schedule. Take note that not all of these boat tours provide meals or snacks so make sure to first check with the operating company to know if you'll need to pack your own food during the tour.
  2. Stay at a campground or RV Park in Seward.

Day Five - Seward to Soldotna - 93 miles

  1. Drive back along Seward Hwy for 57 miles and then turn left onto Sterling Hwy and drive to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. First established in 1941 to protect the Alaskan moose, the refuge's name and purpose was changed in 1980. Today, this two-million-acre refuge is now home to diverse habitats and an abundant array of Alaskan wildlife, making it the most visited wildlife refuge in the state.

    Although wildlife viewing is no doubt the key attraction here, there are a lot of other activities that you can do at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge. These include fishing at the Russian River Access Area, canoeing along the Swan Lake and Swanson River systems, and hiking along the Kenai River Trail. Spend the day exploring the wildlife refuge.
  2. Stay the night at a campground or RV Park near Soldotna.

Day Six - Soldotna to Homer to Anchorage - 300 miles

  1. Drive 40 miles along Sterling Hwy to Ninilchik, the oldest settlement in the Kenai Peninsula. A Russian-American company established it in the 1820s for its employees who were too old or too weak for the long journey back to Russia. Visit the Old Ninilchik Village located right on the bend of the Ninilchik River. The beautiful log cabins, fishing boats and spectacular backdrop of Mt. Redoubt looks like it popped out from a postcard.
  2. Your last stop is the town of Homer. You can find various shops along the Boardwalk where you can buy anything from camping and outdoor gear to homemade candy, jewelry, and handmade clothes that will make perfect gift items for your family and friends. Stop by the local brewery where you can sample their unique beers and mead. There are also a selection of coffee shops and restaurants where you can grab some lunch before heading back to Anchorage.
  3. From Homer, drive north up Sterling Highway before turning left onto Seward Highway back to Anchorage. The return journey is about 220 miles and will take a minimum of 5 hours.

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Moose at Anchorage Wildlife Coastal Refuge, AK
Moose resting at Anchorage Wildlife Coastal Refuge
View of Turnagain Arm from Bird Ridge Trail, Chugach State Park, AK
Turnagain Arm from Bird Ridge Trail, Chugach State Park
Cyclist on Indian to Girwood Bike Path with view of Turnagain Arm and mountains
Indian to Girwood Bike Path
Mining Equipment at Crow Creek Mine, Girdwood, AK
Mining Equipment at Crow Creek Mine
Harding Icefield from end of the trail, Exit Glacier
* Harding Icefield from the end of the trail
Holgate Glacier calving, Kenai Fjords National Park
* Holgate Glacier calving, Kenai Fjords National Park
Canoe fishing, Kenai Wildlife Refuge
** Canoe fishing, Kenai Wildlife Refuge
Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord at the Old-Ninilchik Village
Russian Orthodox church at Old Ninilchik Village
* Photo courtesy of
** Photo courtesy of Alaska in Pictures

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2 comment(s) so far...

I do believe Juneau is the capital of Alaska.

By PennyPA on 2/18/2013 4:59:08 PM

Yes you are quite right PennyPA, thank you for pointing that out. We have corrected the article.

By Administrator on 2/26/2013 8:43:34 AM
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