Alaska’s playground is the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai Peninsula is the place Alaskans go to play. It is a very popular place, especially among Alaskans.
In our travels from state to state, we often see RVers who are visiting different states. In Alaska, most of the RVs we see are from Alaska. My estimate is that 90% of the RVs south of Anchorage were from Alaska. Alaskans love the outdoors. When Alaskans living in Anchorage go on summer vacation, they seem to all go to the Kenai Peninsula. Our visit to the Kenai Peninsula was wonderful.
Seward and Homer
Seward and Homer are the major cities on the Kenai Peninsula. Most of the other towns are much smaller. Seward and Homer were both on our travel plans but for this post, I am mostly saving these for a later blog post. We had a great time in both Seward and Homer so stay tuned for the stories.
Gateway to the Kenai Peninsula
The gateway to the Kenai Peninsula is Portage. Portage is a tiny town along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. South of Anchorage, the Seward Highway follows the Cook Inlet making a turn to the east at the Turnagain Arm. The Turnagain Arm is one of the waterways near Anchorage. The Turnagain Arm branches off the Cook Inlet to the east leading to Portage. Like the Cook Inlet and every other valley and waterway in Alaska, the Turnagain Arm was carved by glaciers.
The Portage River and the Spencer River, sourced at the Portage Glacier and Spencer Glacier respectively join the water from the Twenty Mile Glacier at Portage. The rivers dump glacier silted water into the Turnagain Arm making the water look like moving cement.
The Turnagain Arm is very shallow and the tidal flow of water rushes in and out. The water flow on the Turnagain Arm is so fast that the movement causes a standing wave (bore tide). This water movement combined with the cement-colored river water makes the Turnagain Arm water very muddy.
Portage is at the east end of the Turnagain Arm. At the Portage, you can either go left to the Portage Glacier and Whittier or turn right and enter the Kenai Peninsula. We have explored both directions.
The Kenai Peninsula
You could include both the Portage Glacier and Whittier as part of the Kenai Peninsula and I have made two blog posts about this area. The first one is my article about dangerous wildlife in Alaska and that article includes some great bear pictures from the Alaska Wildlife Refuge (located in Portage). It also includes some great pictures of the Portage Glacier Area. Here is a link to the article. Dangerous Wildlife in Alaska
We also made a blog post about Whittier. Whittier is perhaps the strangest city in the United States. Here is a link to the article; it also includes some great pictures. Beautiful in Whittier
At Portage, if you stay on the Seward Highway, you will enter the Kenai Peninsula proper. Our first campsite as we entered into the Kenai Peninsula was at Bertha Creek. We had reservations at Granite Creek, which we found to be super tight to the point if anyone camped across from our campsite, we wouldn’t be able to depart. Tami was able to thread our RV into the campsite and then we went looking for options. Not one site at Granite Creek was suitable. We could have stayed at Granite Creek, but it would not have been comfortable.
The camp host suggested that we drive to Bertha Creek to see if it would be more comfortable. Bertha Creek was a few miles north of Granite Creek towards Portage. So we left the RV in the cramped campsite and drove the car back to Bertha Creek. Berta Creek is a first come first served campground that doesn’t take reservations.
As we drove into Bertha Creek, we dropped our chairs at site number one without even looking at the other sites. Site number one was way better than our cramped spot at Granite Creek. The first rule about first-come-first-served campsites is that occupancy is respected, paperwork means nothing. Leaving our chairs at the campsite indicated occupancy. After that, we drove the loop and looked at the other sites, but the others were not any better than site number one.
After claiming our new site, we drove back to Granite Creek, fetched our RV, and drove it back to Bertha Creek. For the next two days, we sat in the rain waiting for our next reservation to open up further south. We watched perhaps fifty RVers, nearly all from Alaska, lap the campground all hoping to score a first-come-first-serve campsite.
It was at Bertha Creek where we learned that Alaskans visit the Kenai Peninsula in the summer frequently in their RVs. The Kenai Peninsula is Alaska’s playground for Alaskans.
A day trip to Hope
While at Bertha Creek, we took a day trip to the north to the tiny towns of Sunrise and Hope. These two towns are at the end of the road and are on the south coast of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. They are on the very north side of the Kenai Peninsula. These two towns are mostly a few scattered houses in the forest. In Hope, we did find a small cafe. Maybe there is some hope in Hope.
Just to the west of Hope, at the end of the road, there is a tiny campground at Porcupine Creek. All of the sites at Porcupine Creek were too small for our RV. I think that they missed a great opportunity when naming the campground. I think it should have been called Beyond Hope.
A day trip to Seward
I already mentioned the rain at Bertha Creek; the rain was covering the entire Kenai Peninsula. So while in Bertha Creek we decided to take another drive. All outdoor activities would have been soggy ones. Rain doesn’t stop Alaskans from going outside, but we don’t like it. So instead of exploring on foot, we decided to take a day trip to Seward. Since I rejected our campground at Granite Creek, I wanted to take a peek at a campground that we were going to stay at in about three weeks. It was at Kenai Lake along the shoreline. We had reservations, but details about the campground were pretty slim.
Kenai Lake is a natural lake (carved by a glacier) and the largest lake on the Kenai Peninsula. Overall Kenai Lake covers 21 square miles. Kenai Lake is in a glacier-carved valley and fed by numerous water sources both from the north end and the south end of the lake. The Kenai River starts on the west end and flows through Cooper Landing and into the ocean south of Kenai.
On this map of Kenai Lake the Trail River Campground is on the right side south of Crown Point and Moose Pass. I felt very confident that the site would be large enough, but since we were driving around in the rain, and it was along the way to Seward we might as well check it out. The Quartz Creek campground is along the Sterling Highway east of Cooper Landing. The Russian River is to the west of Cooper Landing.
Trail River Campground Fail
Good thing we checked it out before our arrival date because even though the campground was fine, there was an antique wooden bridge across the Trail River that was scheduled for repair. We decided that our RV wasn’t going to cross the bridge or go to the Trail River Campground. Here is a quote that I found from 2021 “The current bridge, constructed of timber in 1965, has reached the end of its lifespan.” When I decided that it was an antique, I didn’t realize that I was older than it was.
The bridge at Trail River Campground hasn’t been repaired and construction (scheduled to close the campground both in 2022 and 2023) has not started. So based on our visual inspection, (Tami being more cautious than I) we decided to cancel our reservation at Trail River Campground. The bridge was fine for our car, but I didn’t want our RV on the far side of the bridge with no other way out when it failed. I sure didn’t want our RV to be the last RV to cross that bridge on a dead-end road.
The reason we went to Seward was just to do something while it rained. So we also checked our scheduled campground in Seward, got some gas for the car, and ate lunch. Our campground in Seward was right on the beach, overlooking the water, and was exactly as expected and would be fine. I’m going to save the rest of the Seward story for when we actually camped there.
The Seward Highway
North of Moose Pass and Kenai Lake the Seward Highway branches. At the branch, the westbound branch becomes the Sterling Highway. This intersection is at the top center of the following map picture. The Sterling Highway leads to Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna, and eventually Homer. The southbound branch (branches first goes to the east) goes to Moose Pass and Seward.
Quartz Creek Campground, next to Cooper Landing was our next destination. We were there for a week. Quartz Creek is a great campground, but it has a challenge on one site (site 45). The Forest Service made it impossible for us to park our RV at the campsite. I realize that I have a large RV and that isn’t the problem. The site was huge and perfect in every way except that the Forest Service put a gate in exactly the wrong location that prevented us from parking the RV on the site. I’m not going to say that we tried and tried and failed. Rather, we tried only once, failed, and gave up because it obviously wasn’t going to happen.
So, after a discussion with the camp host, he agreed that it was impossible. So, we stayed at the maintenance site. It was the staging area for about eight new picnic tables. This site also was a challenge, but not impossible. Camping at Quartz Creek was great and so was our view of Kenai Lake.
While camping at Quartz Creek, just to the west of Cooper Landing, we took a hike up the Russian River to the falls hoping to see some salmon and perhaps a bear trying to eat salmon at the falls. The Russian River is well known for its salmon runs each summer (and bears). It was a short hike to the falls and honestly, the falls were not that impressive. We saw salmon jumping, trying to make it up the waterfall, and ignoring the fish ladder. As for the bear, we didn’t see one. There was a story about a bear near where the Russian River enters the Kenai River.
As for taking pictures of salmon jumping in a river, the action is pretty quick. As soon as you see one, they are back in the water. Taking a photo was frustrating. After taking plenty of photos of water after the salmon disappeared; I shot a video. So the picture of salmon in mid-air came from the video. Shooting pictures of hummingbirds on a previous trip was difficult, shooting pictures of salmon jumping was impossible. I do have a great picture of a hummingbird in this article. Attacked by Hummingbirds
Out on the farm
At the Alaska State Fair, every year they display giant vegetables. Our next stop was at a Harvest Host Location, Timberline Farms, on the east side of Sterling. We had a quiet night parked near the greenhouses. Since the growing season is short in Alaska, it is very common to plant inside a greenhouse to get a start with the growing season. After the vegetables get an early start, the nearly 24 hours a day of sunlight make the vegetables huge. We had a good stay at Timberline Farms and were very impressed with how nice it was. In the future, Timberline Farms has a plan for a restaurant. It should be nice.
Next stop Homer
Our next stop on the Kenai Peninsula will be Homer. We stayed there for a week. Homer is the furthest west and furthest south (in Alaska) location that we can visit by road. Straight south of Homer, by water, is Hawaii. We had a wonderful time in Homer, including a trip further west, to a very remote National Park where we saw perhaps a hundred big bears. Maybe there were only fifty big bears. Let me end that with there were more bears in one spot than I have seen before. My lifetime wild bear count was multiplied tenfold, all in one day. I will save the Homer story for next week.
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