The Kenai Peninsula was everything I’d dreamed it’d be and despite seeing all the major destinations in Alaska, somehow the Kenai Peninsula remains to be my favorite. Kenai is basically the adventure capital of Alaska, there’s just so much to hike, bike, camp, and explore. Read on to find out the most epic things to do and why the Kenai Peninsula is an absolute must on your next trip in Alaska.
I distinctly remember the moments of planning our trip to Alaska where I became giddy with excitement about how many epic things there were to do on the the Kenai Peninsula. It felt like a dream come true to my outdoor adventure obsesssed self. There were endless amounts of trails to hike, and not just any trails. These were the kinds of hikes that were so beautiful they’d be seared into your memory forever. I knew from the moment I found out about the Kenai Peninsula that there would never be enough time to explore all there is do there…but we gave it a pretty good shot.
On our road trip to/from Alaska, we got to spend 10 days on the Kenai Peninsula and while many people don’t have that much time on their Alaska trip, I would highly recommend making nearly that much time to explore this area of Alaska, especially if you love the outdoors and small town culture.
Like most of Alaska, what’s incredible about the Kenai Peninsula is how diverse everything is. You can jump between the mountains of Girdwood, to glaciers of Portage Pass, to the forests of Cooper Landing, to Kenai Lake, and beaches of Homer all within a 2 hour radius.
Have I convinced you to visit yet? Good. And if I haven’t yet, let me tell you that the Kenai Peninsula was easily our favorite destination in all of Alaska which is saying a lot because the Last Frontier is pretty much amazing wherever you go.
Enough rambling here’s the beta…
Map of Adventures + Activities on Kenai Peninsula
I’ve included a map of all the locations, adventures, restaurants, and campgrounds/accommodation I recommend for your convenience.
Kenai Peninsula: Tips Before You Go
How Much Time Do I Need?
If you don’t have 10 days available on your Alaska Itinerary, the Kenai Peninsula is still worthy visiting. If you fly into Anchorage it’s a pretty short drive to get onto the Kenai Peninsula and even if only make it as far as Turnagain Pass, it’s worth the trip.
Should I Camp?
Alaska as a whole is really best experienced by camping. It can be tent camping, RVing, or even backcountry camping, but really, lodges, hotels, and B&Bs aren’t really going to put you in as scenic locations plus, campgrounds tend to be closer to the recommended activities for the day.
That being said, at the bottom of this post you can find more recommended lodges, hotels, and B&Bs if you really aren’t down to camp. On this trip we chose to RV camp since we decided to drive up to Alaska on our road trip from San Diego however going back in the future, I think I would choose to just backpack and hop between long distance backpacking trails that are on my Alaska Bucket List.
Without further ado, here are are…
10 radical, epic, unforgettable things you must do on the Kenai Peninsula:
Ordered from north to south
1 | Explore the scenic drive to Turnagain Pass
The first thing you will reach after officially entering the peninsula and passing the “Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula” sign is the highest point of the scenic Seward Highway. If you didn’t get enough beautiful views along Turnagain Arm, don’t worry because once again the drive is incredible.
Driving up Turnagain Pass isn’t a very steep drive but it winds its way through a valley of lush green mountainsides all of which are snow capped. At the top of the pass there are two great rest areas with lots of space, restrooms, picnic tables and even access to summer/cross country skiing trails.
If you are super short on time in Alaska, I still recommend driving to this point because the views along the way are just that incredible. RVers and Vanlifers can easily choose to overnight park at this rest area if they want and if you’re looking for an easy stroll, you can find something here.
2 | Ride the Sixmile Trail bike path
As you descend from Turnagain Pass, you’ll soon reach the start of an awesome bike path that runs from mile marker 63.7 (mile markers on this highway are distance from Anchorage) and ends at the Canyon Creek rest area at mile 70 which is also the junction for the town of Hope.
The bike path is even greater way to experience the stunning scenery of the Seward Highway. The paved trail, which runs parallel to the road, has a few hills but isn’t super steep and is a perfect outdoor activity for the whole family. While you could totally ride it point to point, we enjoyed riding it it as far as we wanted and then backtracked the way we came.
There are two places I’d recommend parking to ride this:
- The first is at the rest area right by Hope Junction. This hard to miss pullout is at mile marker 70. This is where we started from and it’s slightly flatter to ride on this side.
- The other option is to camp at Granite Creek Campground. This campground sits right on the bike path and is a really nice place to spend the night.
3 | Backpack or Mountain Bike Johnson Pass
At the very same parking lot/pullout that the Sixmile Trail starts from you can also embark on one of Alaska greatest long distance trails, Johnson Trail. While I did not personally have time in my trip to enjoy the 23 mile hike or bike ride, upon discovering the trail, I instantly wished I had been able to make time for it.
Being only a short 23 miles, the trek can easily be made on a one night backpacking trip. The trail is 23 miles point to point however many choose to just start from the north access, hike to the top of the pass 11 miles in, spend the night at the scenic Bench and Johnson alpine lakes, then turn back the way they came to avoid coordinating car shuttles.
What’s really cool about this trail is how much beautiful scenery you get to hike through and there is only 1,000 feet of elevation gain total. This makes it a great family friendly backpacking trip.
Mountain bikers can easily finish this trail in a day and it isn’t a very challenging trail. In fact, even kids who are strong bikers will be able to navigate the mostly smooth, occasionally rooty sections of Johnson Pass.
If you thru hike or bike it, you will have to think about car shuttles. If you have a friend with another car you can leave a car on one end and park on the other end or you can simply pay for a hiker shuttle like Wildman’s Shuttles for example.
The trail is usually snow free by mid to late June through late September or early October. Check trail conditions here.
4 | Explore Historic Hope
Visiting Hope is like traveling back in time. It’s the very definition of Alaska’s motto, The Last Frontier, it feels like I’m amidst a real gold mining town.
Hope lies in the northwest corner of the Kenai but is accessed via a 30 minute detour from the Seward Highway.
Hope is an incredibly beautiful town that will take you by surprise with its lush geeenry, mellow town vibe, and old fashioned buildings. People’s backyards are adorned with pretty flowers, huge trees, and the town backs to the gorgeous inlet of the Turnagain Arm.
In Hope there’s not a lot to do besides spending a few hours wandering the deserted streets, admiring the rustic buildings, grabbing coffee at GroundsForHope, diddle daddling in the bookstore, wandering the shores, and grabbing a drink/bite to eat at Seaview Cafe and Bar.
Hope has 3 great trails from town:
- Hope Point: distance round trip: 7.5 miles, elevation gain 3441 feet
- Gull Rock: distance round trip: 11 miles, elevation gain 2539 feet
- Turnagain Arm Trail: distance round trip: 3.8 miles, elevation gain 1338 feet
Hope is most well known for being the start/end point of the popular thru hike/mountain bike ride of Resurrection Pass. See #8 below for details
Being a historic gold mining town, going gold panning is all the rage. The Hope and Sunrise Museum is a great place to start if you are interested in the town’s gold mining history or just want to give gold mining a try. If you’ve been gold panning before, it’s definitely not a necessity to check out. The magic of Hope is the town itself.
The campground in town, Seaview RV Park, was absolutely stunning and while normally we’re hesitant to pay for campgrounds in the free-camping haven of Kenai, we were very glad we chose to stay at the oceanfront RV Park so we could spend the morning and evening on the coast and walk through the miniature downtown right from our door.
If you are an avid “boondocker” or just want a cheap campground, there was great free spot nestled in the trees to camp on the way into Hope however this isn’t recommended to RVers. It’s only a couple hundred foot dirt road to get to the riverside camping area but the road had very large ruts and even we, who are pretty worry free when it comes to dirt roads, decided against driving down there. Click here to get directions or input these coordinates into your GPS (60.8288900, -149.4245300).
Personally, I’d highly recommend visiting Hope for just one night and I really do think the campground is worth staying at. One night gives you just the right amount of time to explore the beach, the town, and squeeze in a hike if you want. Or who knows, you might even be interested in tackling the 37 mile resurrection pass and you can take off from there.
5 | Free camp near Moose Pass
Arriving on the Kenai Peninsula on a Saturday night with the weekend warriors of Anchorage swarming the shores, it was really hard to find a decent campsite that wasn’t already full. With the help of the iOverander app, we stumbled upon one of the most beautiful free campsites we’ve ever been to.
This camping spot is basically a large dirt cul-de-sac that’s surrounded by the forest and is also the boat launch to Upper Trail Lake. The dirt area can hold a couple dozen RVs and tent campers can make a great campsite in the trees. Some spots are waterfront and you get lake views from your site. If you get there early in the weekend you’ll get the better spots, though even if you’re just looking for a place to crash between adventures the other spots are still very close to the beautiful lake. Note: there are no amenities here.
To get there, click here or input these coordinates into your GPS (60.5029800, -149.3685500). It’s really easy to get there and is right before the small town of Moose Pass on the road to Seward. It’s only one turn but it’s easy to miss, just keep an eye out for where the guardrail starts/ends.
6 | Hike the Exit Glacier
While the majority of Kenai Fjords NP is only accessible by water, the Exit Glacier is the single exeption. Just north of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park can be reached by car and you can explore the main attraction, the Exit Glacier.
While glaciers are in abundance in Alaska, I found this glacier to be the most stunning one yet mostly due to the great trails that brought you up close and personal no matter your experience level and for free.
All trails begin from the visitor center, which p.s. you can grab a junior ranger booklet for you kids at. Beginner hikers can explore the mostly paved trails at the base of the glacier for up to a 2 mile hike with no elevation gain.
Experienced hikers will be stoked to hear that the Harding Icefeild Trail is one of the greatest hikes in all of Alaska. The Harding Icefield Trail, or HIT as the rangers call it, ascends the cliff that runs adjacent to the glacier flow. There are 3 different lookouts on the trail and all have stunning views and can be great turnaround points:
- Marmot Meadows (4 miles round trip)
- Top of the Cliff (6 miles round trip)
- End of the Trail (8 miles round trip).
The trail is steep and gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the full 8 mile hike but the views are worth it. The End of the Trail is spectacular and if the full trail is melted out, I encourage the full 8 mile trip. If there’s too much snow, the other lookouts are stil great.
7 | Optional: Camp in Seward
Personally I did not like Seward at all, in fact we left only 10 minutes after we got there. It was just too crowded and not scenic enough.
Just because I don’t like Seward doesn’t mean you won’t like Seward because clearly there are hundreds of people from Anchorage who love going to Seward every weekend.
Seward is great for social butterflies. It’s a very extraverted town with lots of events going year round. The campgrounds are all within walking distance of Main Street however the campgrounds aren’t exactly a natural setting. The campgrounds are waterfront, but they’re basically just parking spots and you’ll be right next to neighbors.
The town of Seward is beautiful but to me, it doesn’t compare to Haines, Skagway, or Valdez. There are some great trails from town like Mount Marathon, Lowell Canyon, Skyline Trail, Alice Mountain, and the many short + long distance trails of Caines Head State Recreation Area.
The biggest draw of Seward has to be the kayaking trip in Kenai Fjords National Park. The overnight kayaking excursion to Miller’s Landing was high on my Alaska Bucket List and it looked so epic. I wanted to do this excursion so bad but unfortunately, it just wasn’t within our budget on this Alaska trip. On my next Alaska trip, it will definitely be a priority and I highly recommend others to take on the adventure if it’s within their price range. Click here to find Kayaking excursion into Kenai Fjords National Park.
Seward offers great opportunities for fishing. Besides deep sea fishing for halibut, rock fish, and salmon, another traveler we met told us about how great snag fishing is in Seward. Head down Nash Road and turn into the 2nd campground. It’s $10 per person and you literally line up with a bunch of other fishermen/women and snag yourself some salmon. If you don’t have gear, go into town to get yourself boots and gear. They made it sound like you don’t need much experience, just the right gear.
8 | Backpack or Mountain Bike Resurrection Pass Trail
Much like Johnson Pass, Resurrection Pass is a popular point to point trail for hikers and mountain bikers however this trail is more difficult than Johnson Pass. The north access of this 39-mile trail is located in Hope and the south access is just 5 minutes west of Russian River Campground (see number 9). The Resurrection Pass Trail is not super technical but has more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain all of which you have to descend on the other side of the pass.
The pass is hiked/biked both ways. If you take the trail north to south, it’s a more gradual ascent, and from south to north the trail is much steeper.