For the Best Time on the Kenai Peninsula
Depending on the timing of your flights, adjustments to the schedule may be made accordingly. This sample itinerary is for a seven-day stay on the Kenai Peninsula with the home base at Gwin's Lodge, plus one day at the Matanuska Glacier North of Anchorage and an extra day in Anchorage.
Day 1: Drive to Cooper Landing
Get your rental car at the airport in Anchorage and drive south on the Seward Highway (Highway 1) toward Seward, then turn onto Sterling Highway toward Cooper Landing. There will be several scenic pull-out spots to stop along the way and enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Be sure you check out Beluga Point. Be careful of the fast-moving traffic when you are out of your car. Also look for windsurfers and kite surfers surfing the bore tide out on the water. Here is a link to Alaska.org’s article on this scenic drive (Turnagain Arm Drive) http://www.alaska.org/guide/turnagain-arm-drive
As you leave Anchorage, you may want to make a stop at Potter Marsh (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.pottermarsh), which is a bird lovers' favorite spot just 10 miles south of Anchorage. Potter Marsh is a 2,300-acre protected wetland with a 1,550-foot boardwalk that enables visitors to enter the area safely without disturbing the wildlife. It is one of the most accessible and scenic wildlife viewing areas in all of Alaska. Look for signs.
You will also drive by the Russian Orthodox Church in Nilnilchik when you're driving between Homer and Cooper Landing. It’s a well-known landmark that is worth a quick stop for photo ops. Another pohotogenic spot is Clam Gulch.
Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise. These cruises depart in the morning out of Seward, which is about a one hour drive from Cooper Landing. You will see glaciers and wildlife. Dress in layers and put on your warmest jackets and clothes as the glacial wind can be bitingly cold outside the cabin.
"Gwin's roadside establishment is the epicenter of much of the activity on the peninsula and a one-stop shop for visitors and locals alike, providing food, lodging, and fishing tackle ... The travel agency can book fishing, hiking, rafting, and other adventure travel anywhere on the peninsula. The lodge is the fishing headquarters of prospective anglers during the annual salmon runs on the nearby Russian and Kenai rivers."
"Gwin's Lodge - Historic landmark, traditionally crafted log roadhouse and guest cabins, full of local history and a good source for what to do in Cooper Landing."
"Gwin’s Lodge, in Cooper Landing (roughly in the middle of the Kenai), is a good base for exploring the peninsula. The kids will love the loft beds; Mom and Dad can hike up to Russian River Falls to watch leaping salmon and maybe spot a moose."
"The Kenai Peninsula is Alaska's Playground"
Best Trip Choices:
"The peninsula serves as the Alaska sampler because it has the wildlife; the dramatic glaciers, mountains and wilderness; multipurpose rivers; a fjord-lined coast — plus churches, mining towns and other attractions associated with Alaska’s settlement story."
"Rich in gold mining, early settlers and Alaska Native history, Cooper Landing has long been a destination for serious anglers wanting easy access to the Russian and Kenai rivers and Skilak and Kenai lakes for trophy salmon, trout and a host of other species...Whatever your passion, be it fishing, hiking, rafting/kayaking, sightseeing, exploring Alaska culture or hanging out with the local folks, you'll find it all in Cooper Landing."
Day 6: Drive back to Anchorage
On your way back to Anchorage, catch sights along the Sterling and Seward Highways that you didn’t see earlier.
A good short side trip is the Portage Glacier. The Portage Valley is about a one-hour drive North on the Sterling Highway from Cooper Landing (one hour South of Anchorage). The Portage Pass Trail is a good day hike for all ages and provide spectacular views of Passage Canal and the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Even if you don’t hike, just the breathtaking views along the drive is worth the quick side trip.
Alaska Zoo (http://www.alaskazoo.org) is a charming zoo situated on 25 acres of wooded hillside in South Anchorage. At least 50 species of animals are represented in the zoo. We have had wonderful times here.
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (http://www.anchoragemuseum.org) is a world-class museum that preserves, exhibits, and interprets Alaskan art and history. Also includes a fascinating science section. This well-done museum is definitely worth your time for a visit.
Matanuska Glacier. It's a 2-hour scenic drive on Glenn Highway North of Anchorage. At milepost marker 101 is the Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area that provides an overlook but does not provide access to the glacier. At mile 102, drive down to Glacier Park onto private property. It is a $25 per person fee to get access to the glacier, and $100 per person to have a private guide (2016 prices). Using the guide is highly recommended to ensure that you see the highlights while traveling on safe passable routes. *Price also includes hard hat, crampons, and walking stick.
he Alaska Native Heritage Center (http://www.alaskanative.net) is a renowned cultural center and museum in Anchorage, and is a great place to learn about Alaska's Indigenous people and connect with Alaska’s rich cultural history.
Another favorite attraction in Anchorage is the Weekend Market that occurs only on the weekends during the Summer (http://www.anchoragemarkets.com/Anch%20Market%20and%20Festival/am_f.html) on Third Street and E Street in downtown Anchorage. Here you can find unique Alaskan arts and crafts, Alaskan-grown produce of monstrous sizes, and photography featuring aurora borealis, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and other requisite Alaskan subject matter. This is also a great place to sample Alaskan food and snacks. The Weekend Market is a wonderful and interesting way to spend a sunny afternoon in Anchorage with the locals.
If you will be in Alaska in late August you have got to visit the Alaska State Fair (http://www.alaskastatefair.org). Rated as the top state fair in the U.S. by Country Living magazine, the Alaska State Fair is located in Palmer, about an hour's drive north of Anchorage. Alaskans compete for top prizes for monstrous-sized vegetables, and the fair features lumberjack competitions, awesome food and souvenir gift vendors, farm animal exhibits, and concerts. Brilliant blooms decorate every corner of the fairgrounds. Do not miss this opportunity to be totally immersed in Alaskan life and culture.
Another place worth a stop is The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (http://www.alaskawildlife.org) in Portage (between Anchorage and Cooper Landing) that is an animal park that takes in and cares for injured and orphaned animals. The Center is residence for brown bears, reindeer, musk oxen, wood bison, moose, elk, and other animals.
At Milepost 109 on the Seward Highway is a 5-ft PVC pipe that juts out from the rocky mountain (look to your left). There is a pull-out area on the ocean side, but be very careful when crossing the road. Locals are known to make treks with their containers to fill up on this refreshing and icy cold artesian spring water. We always stop to fill up whatever bottles we have on-hand. Just the purest icy goodness! Here is an article on this spring water. http://www.alaska.org/detail/fresh-water-spring
Upon arrival in Cooper Landing, about a two-hour drive from Anchorage, check-in at Gwin's Lodge for the night and have some food at the restaurant.
A fly-in bear viewing trip or scenic glacier trip. Depending on which one you prefer, the departure location and time will vary, so let us look into availability and pricing for you and report back if you are interested in doing some kind of fly-in sightseeing trip. Some trips combine fishing and bear-viewing (bears congregate where the fish are; both types of trips may go to the same location), so let us know what kind of fly-in trip you are interested in. The photo below was taken at Wolverine Creek at Big River Lake on a fly-in fishing trip.
You may be in the vicinity of Homer for the fly-in departure location, if that’s so, after the fly-in trip, visit Homer Spit to stroll on the beach (with glacier and volcano in the distance), see bald eagles, shop at some quaint shops, have a pint at Salty Dawg Saloon (a well-known landmark), and eat at a local restaurant. Homer Spit is a slender sliver of land that juts into Katchemak Bay.
Another not-to-miss sight in Seward is the Exit Glacier. Here you can hike well-marked trails, get close enough to the glacier to feel the glacial cold air, and take a ranger-led walk. Along the trail, markers note the retreat of the glacier through the years. The Exit Glacier can be reached off the Seward Highway. Just look for signs. The Harding Ice Field trail, also in the KFNP, is a worthwhile all-day strenuous challenge that will reward you with breathtaking views of the Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field.
Days 4-6 Cooper Landing (select from among these activities):
Fishing! A majority of visitors to Cooper Landing go on at least one fishing outing. You can hire a guide to fish from the shores or from a drift boat (motorized boats are prohibited on this stretch of the Kenai River). Otherwise, you can strike out on your own. Our store carries the fishing tackle and equipment you can rent or buy, and also get the latest fishing report.
Scenic rafting trip. Take a leisurely ride on the turquoise blue Kenai River. You might see bear and moose, but you will almost always see bald eagles.
Gold panning with scenic rafting. Prospector John will take you on the Kenai River for a scenic ride and then you can pan for gold in a stream. Prospector John is a true Alaskan character who will regale you with tales.
Hiking in Cooper Landing. I recommend the Russian River and Russian Lakes Trails (from the Russian River Campground), the Slaughter Gulch Trail, and the Skyline Trail. The Russian River Campground includes various well-maintained trails and board walks and is worth exploring. The latter two are a bit more challenging but will take you up to the mountains above the Kenai Lake and River for breathtaking views. Skilak Lake in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, another nearby destination, also has many hiking trails and places to explore. Keep you eyes peeled for bald eagles, moose, and brown bears! Ask at the store for directions.
Whitewater rafting trip. Depending on how adventurous you feel, you can tackle all three canyons for up to Class V rapids on Sixmile Creek, or just settle for Class II-III rapids in the first two canyons. This trip leaves from the town of Hope. You will be provided a dry suit, helmet, and well-worn shoes for the trip. An adrenalin-pumping ride!
Horseback riding. Horseback riding trips (three hours and more) and pack trips of various durations are available. Trail rides will take you through the Chugach National Forest and to scenic lookout points over Kenai Lake.