Must Visit Towns on the Kenai Peninsula

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View of a road in kenai peninsula.

When visiting Anchorage, many tourists head south to spend a few days on the Kenai Peninsula. And many RVers make the peninsula their home base for their entire Alaskan road trip. There’s so much to do here, and you’re surrounded by natural beauty everywhere you turn.

We made a list of the seven must-visit towns on the peninsula. You could easily spend a day or two in each town, taking in the sights, booking adventures, and learning about the native cultures. 

If you have limited time, it’s going to be hard narrowing down your stops because of all the great things to do.

Let’s take a look at each of these seaside towns. Maybe it will help you plan your next Alaskan road trip!

Where Is the Kenai Peninsula?

The Kenai Peninsula is a large peninsula in southcentral Alaska. The Seward Highway, also called Highway 1, travels south from Anchorage to Portage, the peninsula’s northern end, for about 50 miles. Then Highway 1 continues through the Kenai Peninsula to the southern tip at Homer near the Gulf of Alaska.

Close up of an Alaskan map with Ken Peninsula circled.

How Big Is the Kenai Peninsula?

From the northern tip at the “Welcome to Kenai” sign to the southern tip at Homer is about 169 highway miles. This route — Highway 1 — is one of the two major highways on the peninsula.

The peninsula spans approximately 25,000 square miles and has about 59,000 residents.

Most of them live in small towns, such as Cooper Landing, Soldonta, and Homer,  near Highway 1. Highway 9 branches to the southeast at Tern Lake. Moose Pass, Bear Creek, and Seward sit along this highway.

What Is the Kenai Peninsula Known For?

Kenai Fjords National Park sits on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula. Much of the glacier-covered Kenai Mountains lie along the Gulf of Alaska region. Many enjoy coming here for backpacking, hiking, flightseeing, mountaineering, fishing, and kayaking. You can also take boat tours through various outfitters. 

The Kenai River, the longest river on the Kenai Peninsula at 82 miles, runs from Kenai Lake through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to its outlet at the Cook Inlet. It’s famous for its salmon population, and the river is an optimal place for bear viewing because of the fish. Several outfitters provide guided tours to this area.

A welcome to Alaska Kenai Peninsula sign.

Top 7 Must-Visit Kenai Peninsula Borough Towns

But the wildlife and landscape are the only reasons to visit the Kenai Peninsula. The small towns that litter the highway are charming oases. Most of these towns only have a few thousand residents but offer recreational activities and tourist attractions to keep you busy for days. Here are our top seven favorite Kenai Peninsula Borough towns.

1. Whittier

On the northern end of the Kenai Peninsula lies Whittier, Alaska. This small town has less than 300 residents and is only accessible by land through the Whittier Tunnel. The unique location of this seaside town makes it one of our must-visit spots.

You can read more about how to get to Whittier in our article “Whittier Tunnel: Know Before You Go.”

Whittier is one of the quirkier towns on our list because of its small size and history. There are two main buildings in town — the haunted, abandoned Buckner Building used by the U.S. Army and Begich Towers, where almost 100% of the townspeople live.

You can book a day cruise or kayak tour or visit the unique gift shops and eateries along the marina.

To learn more about why we recommend visiting Whittier, check out our article “The Quirky Reasons We Love Whittier, Alaska.”

View of Whittier, Alaska.

2. Homer

Known as the town at the end of the road, Homer is famous for the Homer Spit, which juts out into the Kachemak Bay on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula. The only road into Homer is the Sterling Highway/Highway 1.

The main industries are halibut and salmon sport fishing, commercial fishing, and tourism. But this charming seaside Alaskan town is worth visiting because of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, brown bear viewing tours, and fishing charters. You’ll find a couple of campgrounds in Homer to make your stay convenient and comfortable.

You can read more about Homer in our article “Why Do They Call It the Homer Spit?”

View from a plane overseeing Homer, Alaska.

3. Seward

Located on Resurrection Bay on the southeastern side of the peninsula lies Seward. It’s one of the most populated towns on our list behind Homer. This town is famous for Mile 0, which is the original Iditarod Trail. Seward is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad.

Commercial fishing and tourism are the biggest industries, and most lodging facilities, restaurants, and shops are only open during the summer. It’s also a port for cruise ships visiting Alaska.

When you visit Seward, which sits at the end of Highway 9, book a day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park or a wildlife and glacier cruise. Take a guided ice hiking tour of Exit Glacier or visit the famous SeaLife Center. Waterfront Park is a beautiful area where you can spot bald eagles, sea otters, harbor seals, and more.

View of Seward, Alaska.

4. Cooper Landing

Cooper Landing sits southwest of the split between Highway 9 and Highway 1. Only about 350 people live here and it doesn’t appear many tourists stop, since there are such bigger towns to visit.

However, we highly recommend stopping for a night. Because of its central location, it’s one of the most convenient towns on our list and easily accessible whether you’re heading southwest to Homer or southeast to Seward.

It’s near the Russian River, which is famous for its salmon leaping and bear viewing. The Kenai Lake flows into the Kenai River and provides an excellent spot for boat tours and fishing charters. In our opinion, it’s also one of the most beautiful lakes in Alaska.

Learn More: Read our article Is Cooper Landing, Alaska, Worth Visiting? for more info about this Kenai Peninsula Borough town and why we love it so much!

View of the Russian River in Cooper Landing.

5. Hope

Hope, Alaska, sits on the northern shoreline of the Kenai Peninsula at Turnagain Arm. This bay is famous for its bore tide, where a rush of seawater comes in after an extremely low tide. This natural phenomenon only occurs in about 60 places in the world.

You can read more about how to view the bore tide in our article “The Alaska Bore Tide: How and When To See It.”

Hope is the least-populated town on our list, with less than 200 residents. It’s also one of the most remote since it sits 17 miles off the Seward Highway. But its location offers visitors a place to rest away from the touristy centers of the Kenai Peninsula.

You can go hiking, panning for gold, kayaking, fishing, and more. Plus, the panoramic views of Turnagain Arm and the snow-capped mountains are breathtaking.

Keep in Mind: While in Hope, we stayed at Porcupine Campground! Read on to see if this campground is worth staying at.

View of a bench by Ken Lake in Hope, Alaska.

6. Seldovia

Another town on the Kenai Peninsula, with about 200 to 300 residents, is Seldovia. Accessible by ferry from Homer, Seldovia sits on the southwestern shoreline of the peninsula west of Kachemak Bay State Park. There are no roads leading into this small seaside town. 

Commercial fishing is a huge industry; numerous outfitters cater to tourists who want to book fishing charters. Many also enjoy kayaking the inlets and bays or biking around town. You’ll likely see bald eagles, sea otters, and whales migrate during the spring and fall seasons. 

7. Soldotna

Finally, another larger town on our list of must-visit spots is Soldotna. It’s the seat of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and sits at the junction of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway along the central-western part of the peninsula.

It has the Central Peninsula Hospital, the Kenai Peninsula College, and the headquarters of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The Soldotna Visitor Center and the Homestead Museum provide excellent wildlife exhibits and native artifacts. The City of Soldotna operates 11 recreational parks and a memorial park, providing lots of outdoor fun for residents and visitors. 

You can go camping, fishing, boating, picnicking, and skating and access the river, restrooms, green spaces, and playgrounds. Like many other small towns on our list, You can book flightseeing tours, wildlife-watching tours, fishing charters, and other excursions.

View of vehicles driving in kenai peninsula in Soldotna.

How Many Days Do I Need to Explore the Kenai Peninsula?

Depending on what you want to do and how many towns you want to visit, you could spend just a couple of days or a couple of weeks exploring the Kenai Peninsula. You certainly won’t get bored. You can drive from Whittier to Homer or Whittier to Seward in a day.

But you’ll want plenty of time to go hiking, wildlife watching, fishing, and do all of the other adventures available on the peninsula.

In addition to enjoying the seaside towns, you’ll want to visit Kenai Fjords National Park and Katchemak Bay State Park. Both of these spots are at least half-day trips.

Traveling the length of the Kenai Peninsula only takes a couple of hours, but with so much outdoor recreation and tourist opportunities, you’ll want to spend about a week exploring the area.

Enjoy the Charming Towns of the Kenai Peninsula Borough the Next Time You Visit Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula Borough may not have towering skyscrapers or bustling cities, but it has much to offer. The endless activities and the charm and hospitality you’ll find in each small town will make you want to stay even longer. Perhaps you’ll book your next road trip to Alaska before you leave!

Have you ever visited the Kenai Peninsula? Which small town is your favorite?

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