Strikingly beautiful, accessible and packed with outdoor opportunities, Homer and the Kenai Peninsula are an adventure playground just a few hours from Anchorage. Take a road trip to this popular area and be rewarded with icy glaciers, rugged peaks, and abundant wildlife.
Known as the gateway community to the Kenai Peninsula, the bustling ski town of Girdwood is only a 45-minute drive down the scenic Seward Highway from Anchorage. Known for steep slopes that rival those of Utah or Colorado, Alyeska Resort is a year-round purveyor of skiing, mountain biking, and hiking.
While many visitors stay at the luxurious Hotel Alyeska and enjoy its fine dining, spa services, and access to mountain activities (including a tram ride to the top of Mount Alyeska), other options include local bakeries, a brewing company, and a chance to pan for gold at Crow Creek Mine, a nod to the industry that built Girdwood’s early days.
The Seward Highway curves around Turnagain Arm through the community of Portage (stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center for a wild introduction to Alaska’s animals) before diving straight into the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula and up Turnagain Pass. The small community of Hope is located 14 miles down a spur road that follows Six Mile Creek, popular with adventurous river rafters. Nestled in the shadows of the Kenai Peninsula’s mountains, Hope is a former 1890’s Gold Rush community and now is home to only a handful of year-round residents. Visit the local museum and library for a walk through that history before savoring a beer and burger at the Seaview Cafe’ in tiny downtown Hope. (with live music during the summer months). If you still have energy, hike along Turnagain Arm to Gull Rock (5 miles one way), or take on a section of the Resurrection Pass Trail (25 miles one way), popular with hardy local hikers. Rest your head at one of the local bed and breakfast establishments, or stay at the U.S. Forest Service campground a short distance from downtown.
It takes about an hour to drive from Hope to Seward, a former endpoint for Alaska’s steamship passengers boarding the Alaska Railroad in the early 1900’s. Located at the head of Resurrection Bay, Seward’s population of just under 3,000 means a small-town feel at the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park, known for its icefields and remote glaciers. Take a half-day wildlife cruise on Resurrection Bay, where you’ll see sea lions, puffins, perhaps a whale or two, and dramatic tidewater glaciers. Just outside town is the Exit Glacier Visitor Center and trails leading to the massive Harding Icefield. Enjoy a guided ranger walk or navigate the trails on your own, taking note of Exit Glacier’s startling retreat. Stop by the Seward SeaLife Center for a behind-the-scenes look at the only marine mammal rehabilitation facility in Alaska, and see an abundance of wild birds and mammals under the center’s care. Overnight at one of the many hotels, lodges, or vacation rentals available in this charming seaside town.
Take it slow as you drive the Sterling Highway to Homer (leaving the Seward Highway just after Moose Pass). On sunny days, the Alaska Range and active volcanoes Redoubt, Illiamna, and Augustine tower over the water of Cook Inlet. The small village of Ninilchik is primarly an Alaska Native fishing community, and a charter fishing trip here will likely hook you a salmon or halibut. Local families like to dig for clams along the sandy beaches in Ninilchik Village proper, and it is worth an hour to explore the Russian Orthodox church on a bluff overlooking town.
As the road descends into Homer you’ll be treated to a panorama of the Kenai Mountains and glistening Kachemak Bay that unfold as you enter this section of Alaska.
Spend the day taking in Homer’s relaxed, funky vibe. Wander its art galleries, sip locally-brewed coffee, and explore Homer Spit and the small boat harbor. Dining options and brewing companies abound, and some restaurants will even serve up your freshly-caught fish. Hike the trails of Wynn Nature Center and perhaps you’ll spy a bear or moose ambling off into the forest, or climb in a kayak across Kachemak Bay to find a humpback whale.
Take a day trip from Homer across Kachemak Bay to tiny wooded Seldovia. Walk onto your water taxi or an Alaska Marine Highway ferry and enjoy a relaxing ride to this village of less than 300. Here, hike the short, scenic Otterbahn Trail and historical boardwalk that traverses the main street. Pick wild salmonberries to snack on, and visit the Russian Orthodox church. Return via your water taxi or the Seldovia Bay Ferry.
It’s a four to five hour drive back to Anchorage from Homer, and with Alaska’s summer daylight it’s easily done in an evening. If you’re able to leave your car, it’s just a quick hop on a flight.
See also Homer in 48 Hours.