July 28, 2015

From One End of the Kenai Peninsula to the Other

Tim and I left Seward on Sunday, July 19.  Homer was our eventual destination, but we were in no hurry to get there.  The drive from Seward was even more beautiful than the one on the way down because the sky was a deep blue.  What a difference a day makes.

Pretty Mountains and Meadows on the Seward Highway
Beautiful Views in All Directions

We got a little taste of the infamous weekend traffic jams on the Kenai Peninsula as we approached the turnoff for the Sterling Highway, which leads to Homer.  A state trooper was at the intersection directing traffic, and vehicles leaving the Kenai were backed up for almost a mile.  I was glad we weren’t heading towards Anchorage.

I'm Glad We Weren't Going that Way

After our two nights on the Seward waterfront with a hundred of our closest (not!) RV friends, we were looking forward to a quiet place to stay.  We were also craving a bit of nature and room to breathe.  I seemed to recall several recommendations for the Quartz Creek Campground, which is run by the U.S. Forest Service, so we drove in to see if there was any availability.  We had only driven 50 miles, but we decided that was far enough for the day. 

Although all sites on Kenai Lake were taken, we found a site in the woods that was available for one night.  We took it and settled in.  What a beautiful place to just sit back and relax.  We enjoyed Quartz Creek so much that we decided to stay for two additional nights.  We had to move, but we found an equally nice site that had just opened up that morning. 

Lots of Privacy Here

Our Campsite Wasn't on Kenai Lake, But We Could Walk There

We did have another reason for extending our stay.  Tim had been thinking about booking a fishing charter, and he was able to secure a reservation for Wednesday afternoon.  The company was just down the road in Cooper Landing, so we were close by.  We saw no compelling reason not to hang out at Quartz Creek until then.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, however, we knew it was time to move to a commercial campground at least for one night.  These campgrounds are our “go-to” for doing laundry, dumping and filling tanks and taking long, hot showers.  Kenai Princess RV Park, which is also in Cooper Landing, had been recommended to us, so that’s where we went.  Princess Cruises operates several lodges throughout the state to house passengers on the land portion of their itineraries.  The lodge in Cooper Landing, however, is the only one with an RV park, and it’s one of the nicer private campgrounds we’ve visited in Alaska.

With much anticipation, Tim headed out for his fishing charter on the Upper Kenai River.  Alaska Rivers Company handled all of the details, and Tim joined three brothers for four hours of drift fishing.  He tells me that he hooked a large salmon, but that it broke his line.  I guess I have to believe him, even though he has no photos to prove it.  Sadly, he came home empty-handed.  Oh well, he said he had a ton of fun, and that’s all that matters.

Having Fun on the River

Drift Fishing on the Upper Kenai River

The Upper Kenai River

The three brothers didn’t do much better.  Apparently, the salmon have been late to arrive in the Kenai River this year so no one was catching many fish.  One man did manage to catch a salmon and a Dolly Varden, but the pickings were slim.

Now That's a Pretty Salmon

The Cast of Characters on the Fishing Charter

We decided to hit the road the next morning and see how far we might get on the way to Homer.  After a stop in Soldotna for groceries, we kept on going.  We were surprised with the amount of traffic heading north from Homer.  We had thought that everyone would be going to Homer for the weekend, but we found out that the salmon were running on the lower Kenai River near the town of Kenai.  That seemed to be the place to be if you wanted to fish.

Not long after leaving Soldotna the Sterling Highway veers to the south, hugging the coast along Cook Inlet.  We’ve driven scores of scenic highways since arriving in Alaska, but we were not prepared for the drop-dead views that awaited us on this coastal highway.  The west side of Cook Inlet has an unbelievable string of volcanoes that are clearly visible, at least on a day with few clouds.  We had a perfect day to make the drive, and were amply rewarded with views of Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna. 

Mount Redoubt

Another View of Mount Redoubt

A Closer View of Mount Redoubt

Mount Iliamna

Just as I am most enamored of tidewater glaciers, I am equally enamored of volcanic mountains.  Some of my all-time favorites are Mounts Shasta, Hood, Adams and Rainier in the Pacific Northwest.  The Alaska volcanoes reminded me so much of those, and I kept asking Tim to stop the car so I could photograph them from different viewpoints.  We later found out that these are very active volcanoes.  Redoubt last erupted in 2008.

I had read about a small Russian Orthodox church on the way to Homer, so we stopped to have a look at the Transfiguration of Our Lord Church in Ninilchik.  This church sits high on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet with Mount Redoubt in the background.  It is one of the most photographed sites on the Kenai Peninsula, and for good reason.  There was just something about that church that drew me in.

Transfiguration of Our Lord Church

Looking Up from the Cemetery

The Interior of the Church

Tim and I had learned a little about Russian Orthodoxy while we were in Sitka, so we were somewhat familiar with the architecture and iconography.  The church is an active parish, although it has no priest, and elderly volunteers are on site to welcome visitors and answer questions.  Tim and I both lit candles for my friend who was just recently diagnosed with acute leukemia and is now in intensive care.  I am not a religious person, but our visit was a very poignant one indeed.

Although we were not far from Homer, Tim and I decided to stop for the night.  Homer could wait for one more day.  We pulled into Ninilchik View Campground, a small state campground that sits on the bluff overlooking Cook Inlet and the village of Ninilchik.  The setting was lovely, and it was a perfect place to catch my breath.  I walked down to the overlook and gazed out at Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna. 

We Could See the Church from the Campground

Mount Iliamna

I don’t usually go walking after 10:00 pm, but the promise of a sunset drew me back to the viewpoint, where I arrived just in time to watch the sun sink behind Mount Redoubt.  That was certainly a lovely way to end the day.

Sunset Over Mount Redoubt


  1. The mountains are just gorgeous and that setting sun next to Mount Redoubt was spectacular! Glad you took the late night walk:) Alaska seems to be a little crowded. Are finding that to be so?

    1. I'm not sure what prompted me to take a late night walk, but I'm glad that I did. We are finding parts of Alaska to be crowded, especially the popular towns and the Kenai Peninsula. It's interesting that the majority of the folks are from Alaska - they like to vacation in popular places as well.

      However, there is still plenty of room for everyone. Since leaving Southeast Alaska, we have not made a single campground reservation, and have not had a problem finding a place as long as we arrive before 4:00 or 5:00 pm. If one does happen to be full, there is usually another one nearby. The only exceptions could be 4th of July weekend and popular fishing spots when the salmon are running. We will also make a reservation for Denali National Park as soon as we figure out when we want to be there.

      In addition, the boats have not been full, and we were able to get spots on flightseeing trips with just a few days' notice. Some of the roads seem crowded, but that's partly because there is usually only one way in and out. The crowds certainly don't compare with those at popular places in the Lower 48.

  2. Love those images of the Orthodox church in Ninilchik. It's one of the places I want to make sure we visit when we next find ourselves in AK. Sorry the angler came home empty handed, but if he had fun then the trip wasn't for naught.

    1. Thank you. Ever since Sitka, I've been seeking out Orthodox churches. They are such a major part of the history of Alaska, and they are often so picturesque. The one in Ninilchik is my favorite so far.

  3. Beautiful sunset. I'm glad you got to see the volcanoes. When we were there, they were shrouded in smoke.

    1. The sunset was a fluke, and the volcanoes were a total surprise. We've been fortunate to have missed the smoke for the most part.


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