Located at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways on the Kenai Peninsula and born when both roads were completed in the 1940s, Soldotna might be just another service center if not for one major factor: the Kenai River runs through it.
Each summer, thousands of Alaska residents and visitors alike stream into Soldotna on a quest for legendary Kenai River salmon. In fact, the world’s largest king salmon was plucked from the waters of the Kenai River in 1985 and the 97.2-pound trophy now hangs on the wall of the Soldotna Visitor Information Center. Biologists believe genetics and the fact that Kenai River salmon often spend an extra year at sea account for their gargantuan size. A trophy salmon elsewhere in Alaska is a 50-pound fish, while here, anglers don't get too excited until a king salmon tops 75 pounds.
All this makes Soldotna the most fish-crazy place in Alaska during the summer and the fastest growing city on the Kenai Peninsula with a population of just more than 4,000 residents. Soldotna is a full-service community and well set up for the wave of anglers who flock here from mid-May through September for the runs of red, silver and especially the king salmon in the lower Kenai River.
Things to do
Numerous charter guides are located in the area and use drift boats to float their clients over the best holes and runs in the Kenai River while everything a visitor needs to catch a king can be found in the sport and tackle shops in town. Soldotna has even constructed several public fish walks at Centennial Park Campground, Swiftwater Park Campground, Soldotna Creek Park and behind the visitor information center to make the river more accessible to bank anglers. All of Soldotna’s boardwalks have public access and are free for your enjoyment.
Not interested in fishing? Soldotna also offers many other attractions including the Soldotna Homestead Museum with a wonderful collection of homesteaders' cabins spread through six wooded acres in Centennial Park, access to nearby hiking trails and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center nearby. The refuge center is a family-friendly attraction with displays on the lifecycles of salmon, wildlife films shown in its theater, and naturalist-led outdoor programs in the refuge on the weekends.
Centennial Park features a campground, picnic area and a boardwalk along the Kenai River where you can cast for a trophy king salmon. It is also home to the Soldotna Homestead Museum.
Numerous charter fishing guides are based in Soldotna and cater to visitors drawn by the famed Kenai River. The river's fishery includes red, silver and pink salmon as well as rainbow trout and Dolly Varden but most anglers are interested in king salmon that can easily top 50 pounds while a trophy is considered 75 pounds or heavier.
Golfers can hit the links at two area golf courses that include pro shops, lounges and cart rentals.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
features displays on the lifecycles of salmon, daily slide shows and wildlife films in its theater and other natural history exhibits. Outside are two short loop trails that wind into the nearby woods or to a viewing platform on Headquarters Lake.
Soldotna Homestead Museum
The Soldotna Homestead Museum features a collection of homesteaders' cabins spread out on six acres in Centennial Park. One of the cabins served as a one-room schoolhouse while displays, including a replica of the $7.2-million check the U.S. paid Russia for Alaska, fill the others.
Soldotna Visitor Information Center
Like other visitor centers around Alaska the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center
has racks of brochures but it also has something nobody else does. Mounted on the wall is the largest king salmon ever caught, a 97-pound whopper landed from the Kenai River. If you suddenly have fishing fever outside there is a boardwalk along the river you can cast from.