World-renowned salmon runs make these parks a popular summer destination on the Kenai Peninsula
Kasilof is a small fishing village centered around its boat harbor on the Kasilof River, 3.6 miles west of the Sterling Highway and 15 miles south of Soldotna. Surrounding Kasilof are three state recreation sites that are popular for campers, anglers, wildlife aficionados and canoeists.
The largest of the three is 332-acre Johnson Lake State Recreation Area, which surrounds its namesake lake southeast of Kasilof. At the Sterling Highway bridge over the Kasilof River is the 50-acre Kasilof River State Recreation Site, a popular launch site for anglers in drift boats. To the west, at the river’s confluence with Crooked Creek, is 49-acre Crooked Creek State Recreation Site.
The environment of the Kenai Peninsula has been optimal for human inhabitants for over 8,000 years. With its plentiful supply of fish, especially salmon, and wild game, native communities, such as the Eskimo people and, later, the Dena’ina, lived off the land and waters.
Russian traders built Fort George near the bay of Kasilof River in 1786. Descendants of the Natives and Russians number about 1,000 people in the area today. Americans came to the peninsula after the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867. The area’s population stayed relatively small until the post-World War II years.
Depending on the season, visitors have the chance to see a variety of terrestrial wildlife when in these parks. Black and brown bear, lynx, moose, caribou, squirrels, hares and other forest animals are all plentiful. A variety of birds, such as bald eagles, migrate through the area and nest in the forest canopy. In the water, five species of Pacific salmon spawn on the Kenai Peninsula, including Chinook (king), Coho (silver), Chum, Pink and Sockeye, during the short fishing season. Wildlife viewers may opt to visit these areas outside of the salmon runs, as hundreds of anglers descend on the wildlife viewing trails during peak season (typically May through July).
During the summer months, sportsfishers will have a chance to fish for what makes the Kenai Peninsula famous—its world famous salmon runs are from May to July (exact dates vary by run and location), and steelhead run in spring and fall. Kasilof River State Recreational Site has a boat launch for boaters who want to drift fish on their own. Many anglers opt for bank fishing from the shore. For those who want a guided sportsfishing experience, there are plenty of guided sportsfishing tours and all-inclusive lodges in the area that catering to fishing enthusiasts.
All three of the Kasilof Area State Parks feature a wide array of campsites, picnic areas and hiking trails. Considering the popularity of the summer fishing season, visitors are encouraged to plan accordingly.
Johnson Lake State Recreation Area features a wooded 48-site campground and a large day-use area with picnic tables, toilets and fire rings. The recreation area also has 16 day-use parking sites and a boat launch.
Kasilof River State Recreation Site offers 10 campsites in a wooded setting along the Kasilof River as well as a boat launch. The recreation site is a popular put-in and take-out spot for king salmon drift fishing on the river. Bank angling for most species is available both up and down stream from the camping area.
Crooked Creek State Recreation Site is a short walk from the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Kasilof River. There are 80 campsites that are popular with anglers fishing from the Kasilof River banks during the king salmon run in May and June. There is no boat launch at Crooked Creek but the site is one of the most popular on the Kenai Peninsula for bank fishing. Anglers will fish from shore for king salmon as well as steelhead in the spring and fall, and Dolly Varden, sockeye and silver salmon in the summer.
There are daily parking fees at all three state recreations areas and a nightly fee to stay in campgrounds. Kasilof River State Recreation Site also has a boat launch fee.
Johnson Lake State Recreation Area is west of the Sterling Highway and posted at Mile 111. Kasilof River State Recreation Site is accessible from the Sterling Highway bridge located over the Kasilof River at Mile 109.3. Crooked Creek State Recreation Site is on Coho Loop Road, 1.8 miles north of Mile 111 of the Sterling Highway.
For more information contact the Alaska State Parks office (907-262-5581) in Soldotna.