The Kenai Peninsula, 60 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway, is Alaska's playground. The fishing is fabulous, the hiking is unlimited and the scenery is sensational. Unlike much of Alaska, the Kenai is accessible by road, and each road leads to a unique town worth making the trip.
See Also: Frommer's Guide: Anchorage
1. Hope – Ghost Town With a Pulse
Take the Hope Cutoff at Mile 56.7 of the Seward Highway to reach the gold country that drew thousands of miners in the 1800s. Hope, which looks out at the waters of Turnagain Arm, is the last vestige of those boom years: there's one café, one bar and one art gallery. The Resurrection hiking trail starts here, and a popular campground is also the trailhead for the scenic coastal path to Gull Rock.
2. Seward – Where Big Ships Meet the Rails
The Seward Highway leads to its namesake city, which is both a major cruise port and the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. For many visitors, it's also the start of one of the world's most stunning train trips. Charter boats take fishermen out on Resurrection Bay for salmon or halibut and sightseers to Kenai Fjords National Park. Landlubbers can enjoy the seals, otters, puffins and octopus at the Alaska SeaLife Center. With any luck you might spot a brown bear along the highway or on a day-trip via bush plane to more remote corners where the bears fish and lounge.
3. Kenai/Soldotna – The Twin Cities
Thirty-seven miles west of Seward is the junction with the Sterling Highway. It goes by glacier-blue Kenai Lake and the National Moose Range to Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula's commercial hub. A spur road leads to Kenai, home to the Alaskan mainland's oldest non-indigenous settlement, founded in 1791. The century-old Russian Orthodox church adorns Old Town, between the visitors center and the beach on Cook Inlet. Fishing guides take anglers to the great salmon runs of the Kenai River.
4. Homer – The End of the Road
The highway ends at the tip of Homer Spit, a gravel bar jutting 4 miles into glacier-rimmed Kachemak Bay. Homer, 225 miles south of Anchorage, is a bohemian hamlet with coffee houses, brew houses and art stores of every stripe. The long-established Alaska Wild Berry Products shop sells chocolates and confections made with regional fruit. Homer's ice-free waters are renowned for bird-watching. Bald eagles historically flock to the town during the winter months.
5. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The settlement of Seldovia, which was once a thriving cannery town, isn't connected to any other Kenai Peninsula towns by road. To get here from Homer, take the state ferry, a marine taxi or a small plane to the other side of Kachemak Bay. Here, a few hundred people live on the lovely bay, facing Augustine Volcano. Restaurants and hotels serve visitors who come to paddle kayaks or relax by a bonfire on the beach.
See Also: 5 Terrific East Coast National Parks