Girdwood to the Kenai Peninsula

Girdwood, Hope, Seward, Kenai, Ninilchik, Homer, Seldovia

Strikingly beautiful, easily accessible and packed with outdoor opportunities, the Kenai Peninsula is an adventure playground the size of West Virginia. Take a road trip to explore the Peninsula’s mountains, rivers, lakes, glaciers and bays.

Day 1 — Girdwood

Though not technically part of the Kenai Peninsula, the ski town of Girdwood sits at the very top of it and a beautiful starting point. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Anchorage along Turnagain Arm, but you could make that journey last several hours by stopping to photograph the views, watch the tide surge, catch a glimpse of a Dall sheep or even hike one of the steep trails off the highway.

Filled with more excellent restaurants than you’ll be able to sample (including one at the top of a ski tram), as well as a couple of mellow forest hiking trails and a world-class resort, Girdwood is a place to relax, take in the incredible mountain and glacier views and pamper yourself.

Day 2 — Hope

Head south on the Seward Highway out of Girdwood. The road curves around Turnagain Arm before diving straight into the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula and climbing up Turnagain Pass. Hope is 14 miles down a spur road that follows Six Mile Creek, popular with river rafters. The small town sits across from Anchorage on the south side of Turnagain Arm, and was once a Gold Rush community. Today one museum pays homage to that history. Stay at one of the charming B & Bs, and have a beer and burger at the Seaview Café on Hope’s miniscule main road. Take an afternoon hike up the Resurrection Pass Trail or along Turnagain Arm to Gull Rock.

Day 3 — Seward

It’s about an hour’s drive from Hope to Seward, an old railroad town with a population of around 2500. At the head of Resurrection Bay and gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is home to the famous Mount Marathon race. The namesake mountain looms over the gridded downtown streets and small-boat harbor. Take a half-day marine wildlife cruise on Resurrection Bay, where you’ll see sea lions, puffins, perhaps a whale or two amid dramatic tidewater glaciers. You can also drive to Exit Glacier, visit the Nature Center and choose from a network of trails for great views. If you have time, hike past the glacier to the Harding Icefied, a sheet of ice that is one of the last remnants of the polar ice age.

Girdwood to the Kenai Peninsula

Day 4 — Kenai

Head back the way you came on the Seward Highway until you reach its spur with the Sterling Highway, about 35 miles north of Seward. Head west. As you drive through the mountains, you’ll cross churning, salmon-choked rivers colored steel blue by glaciers. Eventually, the mountains begin to give way and you emerge to a flat, lake-pocked landscape. You’ll head north into Kenai, where world-class salmon fishing is awaits. Relax at one of Kenai’s several microbreweries after catching your big one.

Day 5 — Ninilchik

Take it slow as you drive the roughly 85 miles from Kenai to Homer, stopping to enjoy the wide expanse over Cook Inlet and the active volcanoes across it: Mounts Redoubt, Illiamna and Augustine. Take an hour to walk around Ninilchik and appreciate its small Russian Orthodox church. If the season is right and the tide is low, swing into Clam Gulch and dig up a bucket of razor clams.

As the road descends into Homer you’ll be treated to a panorama of the Kenai Mountains that unfolds as you round a bend. Kachemak Bay, the Homer Spit and the backdrop of glaciers and peaks will let you know you’re in for a treat.

Day 6 — Homer

Spend the day taking in Homer’s relaxed, salt-of-the-earth vibe: wander its art galleries, walk the Spit and the harbor, and dine in the town’s fabulous little cafes. Halibut fishing charters and kayak tours are bountiful if a day on Kachemak Bay entices you. In the evening, watch a play or listen to live music; the arts in Homer extend beyond the visual into the music and theater.

Day 7 — Seldovia

Take a day trip from Homer across Kachemak Bay to tiny wooded Seldovia. Walk or cycle onto the Seldovia Bay Ferry and enjoy the 45-minute cruise to the town of less than 300. Here, walk the short Otterbahn trail and visit the historical boardwalk. Pick some wild berries to snack on, and visit the Russian Orthodox church. Take the afternoon ferry back to Homer.

It’s a five to six hour drive back to Anchorage from Homer, and with Alaska’s daylight it’s easily done in an evening. If you’re able to leave your car, it’s just a quick hop on a flight.