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.

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