Overlooking the volcanoes of Cook Inlet — Mount Spurr, Mount Redoubt, Mount Iliamna and Mount St. Augustine — is the Russian-influenced community of Ninilchik.
Located about halfway between Soldotna and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, many visitors stop in Ninilchik for gas and a quick photo of its Russian Orthodox church. But pausing a day or two is well worth it. Ninilchik’s Russian heritage, great scenery and some of the best clamming on the Kenai Peninsula (an area renowned for big razor clams) are all good reasons to stay a while.
Historically an area used by Dena'ina Indians for fishing, Ninilchik is also the oldest settlement on the Kenai Peninsula. The Russian-American Company established Ninilchik in the 1820s for its elderly and disabled employees, who could not endure the long journey back to Russia. Other Russian settlers soon congregated there, and in 1901, the settlers constructed the community’s Russian Orthodox Church. After Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, most residents elected to stay and today their descendants form the core of the present community.
Ninilchik suffered heavily during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, when the village sank three feet and huge sections of land, including its landing strip, disappeared into the Cook Inlet. Subsequently, “New Ninilchik” was built on the bluffs between the Ninilchik River and Deep Creek, along several miles of the Sterling Highway.
Things to do
Most visitors head for Old Ninilchik Village, which is bound on three sides by a bend in the Ninilchik River. On a beautiful day the original community is a postcard scene of faded log cabins in tall grass, beached fishing boats and the spectacular backdrop of Mount Redoubt. There are a dozen buildings, including the Sorensen/Tupper home built in 1895 with fir logs salvaged from fish traps and the town’s first Russian school house. The most spectacular building in the old village is the Russian Orthodox Church, commanding a grand view of Cook Inlet from the edge of a bluff above the town.
Although sightseeing is popular, clamming is the main lure through much of the summer. At low tide, clammers head to either Ninilchik State Recreation Area, across the river from the old village, or Deep Creek State Recreation Area. You can head to the beach of your choice where veteran clammers are usually more than happy to show you how to snag a six-inch razor clam, a true trophy in the world of mollusk connoisseurs.