Vacation in one of the world’s best salmon-fishing regions and watch beluga whales from this Alaskan city with a Russian heritage.
Charter a boat or fly-fish in Kenai’s waters for salmon approaching 100 pounds (45 kilograms). This community on the Kenai Peninsula originated with ancient Dena’ina Athabascans, was settled by Russians in the 1700s, became an oil boomtown after 1957 and has evolved to become one of the best sport-fishing regions in the world.
Kenai’s salmon draw many fishermen to the area during the pleasant summer season. Prepare to catch king, red, Coho and pink salmon. In 1985, a 68-year-old fisherman caught a world-record 97-pound (44-kilogram) king salmon on the Kenai River. Even if you don’t fish, watch the antics of spawning salmon and excited fishermen.
Enjoy scenic views of the Kenai Peninsula, with mountains of the Alaska Range reaching toward the sky. Identify the area’s three active volcanoes: Mount Iliamna, Mount Redoubt and Mount Spurr. Bring binoculars to look over the mouth of the Kenai River at the Beluga Whale Lookout. In spring and summer, whales swim up the river to feed on salmon.
Learn about the area’s Russian development at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center. Fort St. Nicholas was established near here as a fortified trading post. See its memorial St. Nicholas Chapel, built on the site in 1906. Inspect the artifacts in the onion-domed 1895 Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, the oldest Orthodox church on mainland Alaska.
Near Kenai are two large natural reserves. Canoe and hunt for agates in the Captain Cook State Recreation Area. Look for moose, bears and trumpeter swans in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
When you’re not fishing, get exercise at the North Peninsula Recreation Center, with pool and fitness facilities open to the public for a fee. Play golf or disc golf or watch the Peninsula Oilers, a summer college baseball team.
Kenai is about a 3-hour drive from Anchorage. To reach the city from other spots, fly to Kenai Municipal Airport. Charter boats and rent gear in the town for a once-in-a-lifetime Alaska fishing experience.