Located about halfway between Soldotna and Homer, Ninilchik overlooks the four volcanoes of Cook Inlet — Mount Spurr, Mount Redoubt, Mount Iliamna and Mount St. Augustine. This town of 800 to 1,200 people (depending on the time of year) is a slice of authentic small-town Alaska in a central, road-accessible location. That makes it a great base camp for exploring up and down the southern Kenai Peninsula, or settling in for a few days of great fishing and beautiful scenery.
The Ninilchik area was originally inhabited by the semi-nomadic Dena'ina people; tribes of both the Kenai and Kachemak regions came together in this resource-rich area, creating a rich blend of traditions and language. People of Russian lineage began settling the area in the 1840s, hoping that Ninilchik would serve as a retirement community of sorts for elderly workers that couldn't handle the long journey back to Russia. Those workers were to run an agricultural community that would, in turn, support fur trading efforts.
Construction of the Sterling Highway, completed in 1950, placed Ninilchik in a hard-to-beat central location. The town extends north and south along the Sterling Highway from mile markers 134 to 138, encompassing the beaches and bluffs of Ninilchik State Recreation Area and Deep Creek State Recreation Area, then east into the Caribou Hills, creating the perfect frame for long beach walks and dramatic sunset panoramas over the waters of Cook Inlet. And although this is a great launching pad to all the recreational opportunities and natural beauty of the southern Kenai Peninsula, there's also plenty to love in Ninilchik itself, starting with the stunning scenery.
Things to do
Ninilchik is a photographer's haven, with a dramatic, 180-degree panorama of four volcanoes on the horizon. Camera or not, most visitors head for Old Ninilchik Village, which is bounded on three sides by a bend in the Ninilchik River. On a beautiful day the old village is a postcard scene of faded log cabins in tall grass, beached fishing boats, and Mount Redoubt looming across the water.
The most striking building in the old village is the Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church, which commands a grand view of Cook Inlet from the edge of a bluff above the town. This gleaming white-and-green building is one of the most-photographed buildings in Alaska, and remains in active use by the community.
Fishing is one of the main economic drivers here, with visitors coming from across Alaska and out of state to partake. Even if you don't plan to fish, it's worth turning out to watch the unusual tractor-assisted boat launch at work on Deep Creek Beach, launching and recovering boats into Cook Inlet in pursuit of salmon and halibut. If you prefer freshwater fishing, the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek offer bountiful catches very close to town, and three more iconic rivers — the Anchor, Kasilof and Kenai — are within an easy hour's drive.
Both Ninilchik State Recreation Area and Deep Creek State Recreation Area offer opportunities for fishing, camping, wildlife watching, scenic overlooks and walking on one of the state's longest stretches of public access beach — but be careful not to wander onto the dangerous mudflats, which are exposed at low tide.