The city of Kenai is in many ways the heart of the Kenai Peninsula, both economically and because its massive Kenai River salmon fishery draws Alaskans from all over the state by the thousands.
About Kenai (Dena'ina Athabascan: Shk'ituk't)
Kenai is the largest community on the Kenai Peninsula with a population of around 7,000. The city sits on a low rise overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River. To the west, majestic views of the Alaska Range and three active volcanoes, Mount Spurr, Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt, make for a dramatic backdrop.
The Kenai River’s legendary salmon is the reason Kenai is one of the oldest continuously inhabited European settlements in Alaska. Before contact with the Western world, Dena'ina Athabascans had a permanent village of more than 1,000 in the area. Russians were the first non-Native people to settle in the area, in 1741, and later established a fortified trading post, Fort St. Nicholas, which included the first Russian Orthodox Church on mainland Alaska.
Modern Kenai took shape in the 1950s, and specifically in 1957, when the first major oil strike in Alaska was made at Swanson River, 20 miles northeast of Kenai. Today Alaska’s largest concentration of oil infrastructure outside of Prudhoe Bay in just outside of Kenai; out in nearby Cook Inlet, 15 offshore oil platforms pump out 42,000 barrels a day. There are few signs of oil production in Kenai itself and none along the Kenai River, often referred to as one of the greatest sport fishing rivers in the world.
Things to do
The main reason most visitors come to Kenai is for the world-class salmon fishing in the lower Kenai River and at its mouth. King salmon, red salmon (also called sockeye salmon), silver salmon (Coho) and pink salmon spawn up the river and are caught by sport anglers each summer. The Kenai River was also responsible for producing the world-record-holding king salmon, which weighed in at more than 97 pounds.
Visitors to Kenai also enjoy scanning the waters offshore for beluga whales from the edge of the bluff at Beluga Whale Lookout. The observation area overlooks the mouth of the Kenai River and in late spring and early summer, belugas are often seen riding the incoming tides to feed on salmon. Just four blocks away, the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center is a source of local information and an attraction unto itself, with historical exhibits on the city's Russian heritage.