Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Photo Credit: bergsbo,

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Wildlife viewing and canoeing are key attractions in this diverse refuge, comprised of alpine tundra, wetlands, and boreal forest.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge makes up a long, broad swath of the western Kenai Peninsula, stretching across 2 million acres. The refuge encompasses the western slopes of the Kenai Mountains, forested lowlands along Cook Inlet, rivers, wetlands, and chains of lakes.


Outdoor adventures abound in the refuge year-round, including world-class fishing, hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing, and camping. Visitors can fish or float on the waters of the Kenai River, experience canoeing in lowland lakes, or hike trails high into the refuge’s alpine tundra.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road near Soldotna is an excellent, family-friendly center with exhibits on the lifecycles of salmon, wildlife films in its theater, and naturalist-led outdoor programs on the weekends. Two short loop trails begin at the center and wind into the nearby woods or to a viewing platform on Headquarters Lake.

There are more than 110 miles of trails in the refuge that vary widely in length and difficulty, ranging from paths along creeks and through forests to alpine routes high above the treeline. Most of the trails are day hikes, but camping is permitted along all trails. Most trails are located along Skilak Lake Loop Road in an area called Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, which includes several campgrounds, boat launches, public use cabins, and access to 12 trails.

The largest lake in the refuge is Tustumena Lake at nearly 74,000 acres. Among canoers, the most popular routes are found in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Canoe Trail System. The 120-mile-long network of lakes and rivers is one of only two wilderness canoe systems established in the country. The Kenai system is divided into two areas. The more popular Swan Lake Route covers 60 miles and 30 lakes and connects to the Moose River. The Swanson River Route covers 80 miles and includes 40 lakes and 46 miles of the Swanson River and ends near Cook Inlet.


The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge features a range of habitats, from treeless alpine and subalpine zones home to mountain goats, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolverine, to boreal forests in lower elevations where moose, wolves, black and brown bears, and lynx reside. Breaking up the forest are numerous lakes and rivers, including the Kenai River and its world-renown king salmon fishery. The world's record for a sport-caught king, weighting 97.2 pounds, was pulled from the Kenai in 1985.


The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of a variety of ecosystems to support the diverse wildlife in the area: ice fields and glaciers, mountain tundra, lakes and wetlands, and rivers all play a critical role. Due to the vast and diverse bionetworks that comprise the refuge, the 2-million-acre wildlife preserve is often referred to as “Alaska in miniature.”


Bounded to the east by Chugach National Forest, to the southeast by Kenai Fjords National Park, and to the south by Kachemak Bay State Park, the refuge was originally called the Kenai National Moose Range when President Franklin Roosevelt established the preserved in 1941 to protect the moose from market hunting. In 1980, the moose range was renamed and expanded, and today the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the most accessible refuge in Alaska and the most visited, drawing more than half a million visitors each year


The refuge has 13 developed campgrounds along Skilak Lake Loop Road and Swanson River Road, located on lakes near hiking trails and fishing areas. The campgrounds are all first-come, first-serve and range in size from 3 to 44 campsites.  

There are also 14 rustic public use cabins, most of which are accessible only by boat or float plane. Some cabins, however, are accessible by a short hike from the road.


The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge located on the Kenai Peninsula, with access near the towns of Cooper LandingKenaiSoldotna, and Sterling. The refuge is bisected by the Sterling Highway, which enters the refuge westbound at Mile 55. Secondary access roads are Skilak Lake Loop Road, Swanson River Road, Swan Lake Road, and Funny River Road. The northern refuge boundary is 20 air miles from Anchorage.

For more information, visit the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge website.

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