Cruise Tour Destinations -
The Kenai Peninsula Region

The Kenai Peninsula is another remarkable cruise tour destination. This region is an unparalleled recreational playground. Explore Kenai Fjords National park, a haven for marine creatures, the Kenai River, a fisherman’s paradise, Resurrection Pass Trail and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, for hiking and canoeing enthusiasts or the berg-strewn fjords of coastal waters, a kayaker’s heaven. Surrounded by incomparable scenery all make for an ideal outdoor adventure. The biggest problem… being overwhelmed by the range of choices.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

Located near the town of Seward you’ll find Kenai Fjords National Park. This spectacular 669,983 acre parkland supports many unaltered natural environments and ecosystems. The geological events that shaped this landscape continue today. Wildlife thrives here, but humans have had little impact.

The park is comprised of three areas, the coast, Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield. Most of the park is remote. One of the easiest parts of the park to access is Exit Glacier. A paved road leads to the Exit Glacier Nature Center offering exhibits, Ranger programs and a network of trails leading to different views of the glacier. Viewpoints include:

  • Edge of the Glacier: A moderately strenuous hike leads to a wall of blue ice at the edge of Exit Glacier (1.2 miles).
  • Toe of the Glacier: Getting to the toe of Exit Glacier requires crossing the rocky outwash plain. This area is not always accessible due to shifting streams (1.0 mile).
  • Glacier View: A wheelchair accessible loop leads to a panoramic view of Exit Glacier. A spotting scope is provided (0.5 miles).

Trail descriptions courtesy of Kenai Fjords National Park

Listening to the ice crackle and seeing the dense blue color up close is a rare opportunity. But please be cautious – this is an active glacier and chunks of ice can fall off without warning.

The Exit Glacier Nature Center also provides trail access to The Harding Icefield. This 6-8 hour day-hike covers 7.4 miles roundtrip. The trail is strenuous (emphasis on strenuous) climbing approximately 1000 feet in elevation for every mile. Your reward when you reach the summit – breathtaking views of the massive 700 mile ice sheet. A horizon filled with snow and ice and source of over 35 named glaciers.

Day cruises are a great way to explore the park’s coastline. Receding glaciers carve long, steep-sided valleys that fill with seawater and become the ruggedly beautiful fjords. Eight tidewater glaciers calve ice masses into the sea creating a thunderous boom which can be heard up to 20 miles away. Orca, Humpback, Gray and Fin whales feed in the plankton-rich waters before their migration south. Smaller marine mammals, stellar sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters entertain you with their antics. There are few places where you can experience such a wildlife extravaganza.

Coastal tours are usually offered as half-day or full-day excursions. If you are susceptible to motion sickness (seasickness) you’ll want to consider the half-day option which stays within the protected waters of Resurrection Bay. Full-day tours visit shore areas exposed to the Gulf of Alaska and the wind and wave action of the Pacific Ocean.

The Kenai River is one of the most popular sport fishing destinations in the world. Why? Trophy-sized fish! Currently, the Kenai River holds nearly two dozen International Game Fish Association world records for three species of Salmon and other fish. Summer is salmon fishing season when four species, King (Chinook), Silver (Coho), Red (Sockeye) and Pink (Humpy) in even numbered years, return to where their lives began. Test your skills fly-fishing, drift fishing and/or back trolling from a boat or the bank.

Salmon are not the only pursuit for fishing enthusiasts on the Kenai Peninsula. Many of the seacoast towns offer charter opportunities for Halibut and other saltwater species. Whether you’re an accomplished angler or a complete beginner hire a knowledgeable, experienced guide. Professional guides know state regulations and will put you on the fish. We hooked these beauties, and they were more than a handful on rod and reel.

The Kenai Peninsula is a great place for hikers. Resurrection Pass National Recreation Trail, blazed by prospectors of the late 19th century, is road-accessible and part of Alaska’s most developed trail system. The 38-mile trail climbs through spruce and aspen forests at lower elevations to open meadows with lush wildflowers. Elevations reach 2,400 feet and the surrounding scenic vistas, waterfalls, gem-colored lakes and wildlife viewing make for exciting discoveries in this alpine playground. Day hikes and multi-day trips are possible. There are eight public-use cabins along the trail maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Get details on trails, campgrounds and cabins at Chugach National Forest.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 as the Kenai Moose Range to protect the Alaska-Yukon moose population. The 1.92 million acre wildlife preserve is a “miniature Alaska.” Examples of every major Alaska habitat type ranging from mountains and treeless alpine areas to wetlands, glacier-fed lakes and boreal forests are represented. The Refuge is known for its wildlife viewing opportunities including black and brown bears, moose, caribou, dall sheep, mountain goats, wolves, lynx, eagles and thousands of migratory birds and waterfowl. There is over 200 miles of established trails and routes including the Swanson River Canoe Trail. The wealth of habitat, scenery and wildlife offers the perfect location to adventurers looking for a true backcountry experience.

Photo courtesy of Alan Vernon

Visiting the Kenai Peninsula during your Alaska experience can be done a number of ways. A cruise tour that highlights this region, adding a day or two pre- or post- cruise or electing to take a Kenai Fjords National Park excursion prior to boarding or after disembarking your ship in the port of Seward.

Kenai Peninsula land tours typically begin/end in Seward, Whittier, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Cruise tours that offer more time here tend to forfeit time in the Denali National Park area. A sample itinerary might include a 7-day Vancouver to Whittier cruise, followed by motor coach service to Cooper Landing for a 2-night stay, continued motor coach service to Denali State Park for two nights, scenic rail service to Denali National Park to overnight and then heading to Fairbanks by motor coach for 2 evenings before flying home.

Included in this package is a visit to Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier, the 4 to 5 hour Denali National Park Natural History Tour and a Sternwheeler Riverboat cruise in Fairbanks.

A shorter Kenai Peninsula itinerary begins with an overnight stay in Fairbanks and morning rail service to Denali National Park for a 1-night stay. From there you’ll re-board the train to Anchorage for an evening, followed by motor coach service to Seward where you’ll have the option of taking an excursion into Kenai Fjords National Park before boarding your ship. The Natural History Tour is included in this package.

If the idea of adding a day or two before or after your cruise appeals to you the Kenai Peninsula is conveniently located just south of Anchorage. It is easily reached by air or highway. Rent a car and enjoy a leisurely drive along the Seward and Sterling Highways, both are designated as scenic by-ways. Many Kenai Peninsula communities are a short drive away:

Mileage Anchorage Anchor Point Homer Hope Kenai Ninilchik Seward Soldotna Sterling
Anchorage 0 208 224 88 156 186 127 145 135
Homer 224 16 0 185 89 38 173 78 88
Kenai 156 73 89 118 0 51 106 11 21
Seward 127 157 173 74 106 135 0 95 85
Soldotna 145 62 78 92 11 40 95 0 10

Flights leave Anchorage hourly and it’s just a short 25 minutes by air.

To fully appreciate the Kenai Peninsula region we recommend booking a cruise tour with at least a two-night stay in the area. Many itineraries utilize the port of Seward but spend very little time here or simply pass through on the way to other destinations. If a visit to Denali National Park is important to you, check itineraries closely as some cruise lines offer limited time there or don’t include it all. Most cruise tours that visit this region can be scheduled pre- or post- cruise but some are only offered after your cruise. A Kenai Peninsula itinerary with a 7-night or longer land tour offers multiple 2-night stays in different destinations. This allows for a more leisurely pace and provides another good choice for booking the land portion after your cruise for some cost savings.

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