The Kenai Peninsula is a great place to spend a (long) weekend in Alaska. It is perfect for getting a taste of wild Alaska in a quick trip, as it is relatively close to Anchorage. Prepare to see majestic mountains, beautiful glaciers, historic towns, and a chance at wildlife during your trip to the Kenai Peninsula and make sure you have your camera charged and ready at all times! Unlike Bettina, wildlife doesn't pose and wait for you to be ready. 🙂
We worked with Pursuit Collection to be able to share the full Alaska wildlife experience with you! As always, all our opinions and photos are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us.
As you may know, it is our goal to visit all 50 U.S. States and Alaska has been a state neither of us had been to yet! You can check out the progress of our states visits on the U.S. States map, and read about our previous adventures offroading in Colorado, our cultural immersion in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and our weekend in San Antonio, Texas.
We spent the July 4th weekend in Alaska and used the holiday to make it a 4-day trip without missing too much at work. Despite it being the height of summer, temperatures in Anchorage are usually around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).
Our trip on the fourth of July weekend was unique in that a number of record high temperatures were recorded in Alaska that week, making for a much warmer trip than we expected! For us, summer is definitely the best time to visit Alaska.
To skip ahead to our top 5 tips on how to spend a weekend in Alaska and Kenai Peninsula.
What is the Kenai Peninsula?
The Kenai Peninsula extends approximately 150 miles (240km) southwest from Anchorage and includes mountain ranges with glaciers, many lakes and rivers, historic towns, and the famous sounds and fjords of the Gulf of Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula doesn’t include all of the popular sights of Alaska, but it is a great starting off point for your first trip to The Last Frontier.
How to Get To The Kenai Peninsula
You will almost certainly be flying into Anchorage, which is the largest city in Alaska, and also has the largest airport. All major US carriers fly here multiple times per day throughout the Summer, though the flight frequencies drop off significantly once the weather gets cold.
You can also fly seasonally from Canada, Germany, Russia, and Iceland! Due to the distance from Alaska to the lower 48 states, there are a lot of flights that arrive and depart late in the evening (for example we arrived at 1am and then flew a red-eye back to Chicago leaving at 8pm and arriving at 4am!).
Once in Anchorage, we highly recommend you rent a car to explore the peninsula as it makes getting around much easier and you can make the most out of your weekend in Alaska. You don’t need to rent an SUV or truck to get around, as a car will easily reach all of the main sights.
Where to Stay in the Kenai Peninsula
If you are planning to see all of the Kenai Peninsula in a weekend or extended weekend, having a base somewhere near the middle of the peninsula is a great way to go out exploring each day without having to pack up and stay somewhere new each time. As we arrived so late the first night we spent the night in a hotel near the airport. For our next night we used Airbnb to rent a cute cabin in the woods! Our cabin was near the small town of Soldotna.
There were so many other options available all over the Kenai Peninsula on Airbnb though, whether you wanted a single room, small cabin, or massive house all to yourself, you can pick your favorite. If you haven’t used Airbnb before you can signup using this link to get a $40 discount on your first booking.
Our cabin was brand new and had a small kitchen with outdoor barbecue, bathroom with shower, and a loft for sleeping which was super fun!
Seward, Alaska as the Perfect Base for Your Weekend in Alaska Exploration
The city of Seward was founded in 1903 and is located at the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. That means you can get to Seward by car, train, boat, or by air! Seward is an easy drive 2.5 hours south of Anchorage and so we drove there on our first day. We were more than excited because it was the base for our Kenai Fjords tour! Seward’s harbor and location makes it one of the best bases to explore the Kenai Fjords National Park.
The city of Seward has a number of restaurants and other places to stock up on groceries or supplies for your visit. One of the major attractions of the Kenai Fjords National Park is just a few minutes outside of Seward and is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska, the Exit Glacier. Unfortunately for us, the heavy forest fires in the area resulted in lots of smoke in the air, so we weren’t able to catch the best view. Also be aware of the mosquitoes here, the hike is not long, but the bugs are all over, be prepared!
Kenai Fjords National Park
We partnered with Pursuit Collection to do their Kenai Fjords National Park Tour which was 6 hours out on the open water with the potential to spot whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and puffins! Their tours are a great addition to any Alaska getaways.
The friendly staff at Kenai Fjords Tours checked us in and as we were a bit early, they were actually able to get us out on an earlier boat. We started off in the thick sea fog surrounding Seward and were wondering if we would see anything at all on this trip!
No sooner than five minutes in though we came across a small group of sea otters. The otters were just bobbing in the water relaxing, without a care in the world!
Our tour continued onwards to a few small islands where a large number of birds were nesting, including puffins! Right next to them was a group of Steller sea lions sunbathing on the rocks.
It was a bit of a longer boat ride, allowing us to dig in to the provided lunch, before we reached the piece de resistance of this tour, the Aialik Glacier.
As we began approaching the Aialik Glacier you could feel a great silence come over the boat and stillness in the air. The size of the glacier is unlike anything we had seen before, and has to truly be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
The captain turned off the boat motors and we sat in the bay listening to the cracking of the glacier with the odd bit of ice falling into the water. We were able to witness some fairly significant calving while we were watching.
Calving is when a glacier suddenly releases a mass of ice. The deep and loud booms of the ice cracking echoed across the bay, followed by the silent mid-air fall of the ice, and the final plunge into the ocean. The resulting waves rippled across the bay and were clearly noticed by our boat, almost a half mile away.
We captured the calving on video for you to get a better impression of how majestic it is. Click to the right to see the video below.
Bettina even managed to snag a picture with some glacier ice!
On the boat ride back to Seward we came across a few separate pods of whales, however none of them decided that they wanted to do a full Free Willy jump out of the water, so we were left trying to snap a few tail photos off in the distance. You might be more lucky though as these are some of the best places to spot whales!
We returned back to Seward and were very impressed by how much we were able to see during the Kenai Fjords National Park Tour.
Exploring Homer Spit, Alaska
To be honest we didn’t expect much of Homer, it seemed to be just the end of the road, or the end of the Sterling Highway, on the edge of Kachemak Bay. Given that we only had an extended weekend in Alaska, we spent all of our time here at the Homer Spit instead, which is one of the main highlights of Homer, and is a gravel bar that sticks out 4.5 miles (7.2km) into the bay.
Once you make it to Homer Spit, you can walk around the harbor, stroll along the colorful houses on the promenade, and most importantly, get a healthy dose of Alaskan fish and chips!
The sea fog was still thick, well into the afternoon, and provided for a magical atmosphere on the beach!
Once the sun pokes through, you should be able to see the surrounding mountains which are worth a trip themselves. Bettina, on the other hand, was most excited when we found a swing underneath the boardwalk.
This may look like the perfect shot; however it was the result of hundreds of ill-timed attempts on the swing! If you would like to get the perfect Instagram shot, make sure to check out the swing. It's located at 4350 Homer Spit Rd, underneath the promenade. It's best to access the swing from the beach.
Explore the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
With your rental car you can explore a large portion of the Kenai Peninsula, with additional side trips to Whittier, Chugach State Park, or wherever your heart desires.
When we were there, there were a number of forest fires burning in the middle of the Kenai Peninsula, with smoke all the way to Anchorage, which meant that you couldn’t see the beautiful mountains all around, and sometimes hardly the car in front of you. Because of that we decided to spend more time on the western edge of the Kenai Peninsula where the sun was shining and the air was much clearer.
On our drives we pulled off onto a few side roads and even spotted a few elk out for lunch. Remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints!
If you have time, you can also venture to Captain Cook State Park to take in the late afternoon sun and go for a walk along the beach.
While we knew that the sun would be up early and set late in July in Alaska, we weren’t quite prepared for how much sun there was. The sun rose around 4:45am and set around 11:30pm, but it was never truly ‘dark.’ The benefit of this is that we could easily be out sightseeing and driving to 9pm, and we didn’t have to rush anywhere to see something before the sun set, as there were so many sunny hours in the day! However, falling asleep was somewhat difficult given that it was still broad daylight at 10pm. If you plan your trip to Alaska, make sure to read our 5 top tips below!
We loved our weekend in Alaska, exploring the Kenai Peninsula and would absolutely recommend as it is a great beginner’s “taste of Alaska” to start your adventures in the state.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for a Weekend in Alaska - the Kenai Peninsula
1) Rent a car. There is no better way to see the Kenai Peninsula than by driving the open roads. This gives you the flexibility to stay where you like, and stop at any of the viewpoints along the way, including when you see wildlife! Some tour buses will stop when wildlife are near the road, but you don’t want to be on the one that drives right by!
2) Prepare for the sun. While it may not get as hot as the lower 48 states, Alaska can still have long days of sun during the summer months. Don’t take this to mean that the sun is less intense, it is just as intense in Alaska as it is in other places, and sometimes more so depending on elevation. In addition, as the days are longer you will have more exposure to the sun each day, so be prepared with sunglasses and sunscreen during the day, and don’t forget a good sleeping mask in order to sleep properly when it is still light outside!
3) Prepare for the unknown. Despite the Kenai Peninsula being relatively populated compared to the rest of Alaska, this is still “wild Alaska” and you should always know where you are and where you are going, without relying on having any cell service. You should also always make sure to have enough gas in the car and water and snacks, in case you end up stranded somewhere. Even if you don’t end up stranded, it can be a long drive to the next town if you get hungry or thirsty. Furthermore the temperatures can drop drastically. So make sure you pack right for the perfect weekend in Alaska.
4) Bring your best camera and a zoom lens. Moose, deer, and bears don’t generally walk up to your car so they can be nicely framed in your phone’s camera. The animals are generally a bit further away, and if they are close you should probably back away, so be prepared by bringing your best camera with an excellent zoom lens.
5) Book a tour. We are staunch believers in doing your own thing when traveling, but sometimes it is not always reasonably possible, and a tour is the best way to go. For Alaska, you are likely here to see nature and wildlife, and the best way to do that can be to go with someone who knows the area best. We would highly recommend setting aside time for a whale watching, glacier, or other tour that intrigues you the most. We toured with Pursuit Collection and the Kenai Fjords National Park Tour which we can highly recommend.
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