From Cooper Landing to Homer, Alaska

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After a day of crummy salmon fishing in Cooper Landing (try trout fishing on the upper Kenai instead), I planned a leisurely day of driving from Cooper Landing to Homer with scenic stops along the way.  Very close to Cooper Landing is the East entrance to Skilak Lake Road, an 18-mile gravel road which travels through Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Hike a Trail Off Skilak Road

Several trailheads initiate off this road including Skilak Lookout Trail.  The path was a short four-miles and came recommended, so I decided to try it out on a welcomed sunny day.  I should have paid closer attention to the wooden walking sticks and shoe scraper at the trailhead sign as this was a precursor to how my next two hours would be.

skilak Lookout Trail sign

I followed the path through a moist forest home to many mushrooms.  It didn’t take long before I was dodging mud puddles as I engaged in balancing acts while stepping from log to log. Trying to escape the mud turned into an exercise in futility as I slid along the trail whose steepness increased significantly as I approached the summit.  I truly wished I had my hiking pole with me as I grabbed hold of chest high grasses for support.

These tall, dew covered grasses draped over the path.  Without wearing rain gear, I soon found myself wetter on this sunny day than in the rain as my pants soaked in the water off the plants.  After a week of rain, being wet on a dry day soured my mood.  I wondered to myself why anyone would like or for that matter hike this trail.

grasses on the skilak lookout trail
grasses over the trail

Soon, however, I was rewarded with fantastic views of Skilak Lake, the lower portion of the Kenai River, and the Kenai Mountains.  I dried out just a little as I munched on a snack at the overlook before returning to the car where I rung out my socks and resorted to a complete change of clothes.  Hiking boots and poles, both of which I didn’t have with me, are must for this hike!

After my hike, I continued driving the scenic 18-mile Skilak Road in hopes of seeing wildlife, but it was primarily surrounded by dense forest.

Look for Wildlife on Marathon Road Near Kenai

From Skilak Road, I continued to Soldotna and stopped at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Reluctant to venture on anymore trails, I asked the ranger for some good wildlife viewing areas.  The ranger suggested I take a drive down Marathon Road near Kenai Municipal Airport. While I didn’t spot any moose, I did see my first and only caribou!  Not to mention, the road, which runs mostly through prairie, offered lovely views of snow-capped volcanoes in the distance.

Visit Old Ninilchik Village

Continuing Southwest on the Kenai Peninsula, I ended up in Ninilchik. Russian fur traders settled this small fishing village in 1820.  Now it is home to a handful of wood homes, a gift shop and a Russian Orthodox Church with a cemetery which tops the hillside.  A path behind the gift shop took me to the church.

After visiting the church, I followed a rough road past the small fishing harbor to an expansive beach that provides unobstructed views of the volcanoes across the bay.  The website suggests to stop at the Scenic View RV Park for a nice view, but the RV Park has a sign posted forbidding this.  Of course, there are some other scenic pullouts with obstructed views, but I think Old Ninilchik Village is the best option for a good view.

Stroll the Homer Spit

At the Southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, I reached Homer. The Homer Spit is a long, narrow finger of land which juts 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay.  The spit is dotted with tour businesses, retail, restaurants, RV’s, boats and beaches.  Browsing the shops and walking in the boat harbor is a treat. Be sure to stop by the tour operators. One of the best things to do in Alaska is to visiting the grizzly bears in Katmai!

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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