Whales and Wildlife: The Best of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula


Alaska's Chugach Mountains are a stunning backdrop for outdoor adventure!

Alaska is a dream travel destination, and the Kenai Peninsula, located south of Anchorage on the southern coast of Alaska, encapsulates much of Alaska's natural wonders. Whale watching, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and wildlife viewing are just some of the adventures that draw travelers to "Alaska's Playground." It's also relatively accessible to visitors by Alaska standards, making it a popular summer travel destination. Many people visit the Kenai Peninsula on a cruise. Others drive along the scenic Seward Highway. No matter how you get to the Kenai, here are three not-to-miss things to do and travel trips to help you soak it all in hassle free.

Wildlife and Glaciers Galore on a Kenai Fjords Boat Tour

One of the best ways to see wildlife and glaciers is to hop on a boat and head out to the Kenai Fjords National Park. In the summer, boat tours depart from the Seward Harbor daily and motor through Resurrection Bay. Killer whales, puffin, steller sea lions and majestic bald eagles are just some of the animals you may spot. On my boat tour, I also witnessed the power of nature at Holgate Glacier, a tidewater glacier fed by the Harding Ice field, which, adding in the glaciers, covers approximately 1,100 square miles. That's enough ice to make the whole state of Rhode Island into a skating rink! As our boat floated close to this massive glacier, I thought for an instant that I was hearing fireworks, as giant icebergs careened off the side of the glacier and plummeted into the water in an awesome natural exercise known as calving.

Top Travel Tips: If you tend towards seasickness, make sure to bring along or take the proper medication before your excursion, because the waters can be rough. Wear layers, because as you may expect, it gets cold by those glaciers!

Exit Glacier Salmon Bake

I had the best salmon I've ever tasted at the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake, a cozy restaurant and pub recommended to me by a local in Seward. Sit inside or out at this family style, rustic restaurant, located just outside of Exit Glacier, the only portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road. Whether you've spent your day hiking Exit Glacier or out on the water, this casual, popular restaurant with abundant portions will satisfy your seafood craving, and it can all be washed down with an Alaska beer.

Top Travel Tips: Order the salmon! While the Halibut and Alaskan King Crab are also good, you've got to try the salmon. It was so fresh that it tasted to me like it was just caught, which it likely was.

Chugach National Forest

To get your heart pumping in Alaska nature, enjoy a hike or horse ride in the Chugach National Forest, the second largest national forest in the United States. There are a variety of day hikes that get you away from the roadways and into the wild. Consider the Russian Lakes Trail from the Cooper Landing area, which weaves through striking forests with a variety of scenic views, wildflowers and wildlife. This area is also well known for its outstanding fishing. I saddled up from stables in Cooper Landing along the Russian Gap Trail, a route that gold seekers from Russia traversed during the 1850s. After climbing up through a temperate rain forest, with soft foliage and wildflowers beneath our hooves, the views opened to a beautiful canopy of pine trees and dramatic, snow-capped mountains. I even spotted a bear, thankfully, in the distance.

Top Travel Tips: The Chugach National Forest is a wild and remote, so whether you are taking off for a day hike or staying for a while in one of the forests' public cabins or campgrounds, make sure you share your route and when you'll return with a responsible friend, someone who's not on the hike with you!

Encompassing over 15,000 square miles of pure nature, there are lots of other fun things to see and do on the Kenai. Summertime is peak season. You'll want to plan your travels well in advance, as accommodations and tours fill up quickly. One bonus, during summer in Alaska, it can be light for almost 24-hours a day, so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors.

About the author: Darley Newman is the globe-trotting host and producer of Travel Like the Locals with Darley on ulive.com and the Emmy-winning Equitrekking series on PBS.

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