July 19, 2015

Inching Our Way Down the Kenai Peninsula

We took our time leaving Wasilla on Tuesday morning, but we eventually made our way through Anchorage and on towards the Kenai Peninsula.  The Seward Highway, which connects Anchorage and Seward, runs along the Turnagain Arm on one side and the Chugach Mountains on the other.  This highway has been designated as both a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, and many people consider it to be the most scenic drive in the entire United States.  They might be right.

Turnagain Arm is a fjord that extends to the Gulf of Alaska and is characterized by the second highest tides in North America.  Although the tide was out during our drive, it was still interesting to see the vast mud flats.  Dramatic clouds and clear blue skies provided a spectacular backdrop to the mountain peaks.  The scenery was sublime, but the heavy traffic did keep Tim’s eyes on the road, not on the magnificent views.  It was tempting to stop at every turnout, but we restricted ourselves to just a few.  Maybe on the way back, we’ll take more time.

Gorgeous Scenery Along Turnagain Arm

The High Tide Will Cover these Mud Flats

Driving Along the Shores of Turnagain Arm 

It's Tempting to Stop at Every Turnout

We had thought we would make it to Seward, but our slow start and multiple stops had us rethinking this plan by mid-afternoon.  I had heard great reports about a U.S. Forest Service campground near Portage Glacier, so we decided to see if a site might be available for the evening.  As we turned onto Portage Glacier Road that leads towards Whittier, we also kept our eyes open for possible boondock locations in case there was no availability at the campground.

We drove into Williwaw Campground and were surprised to see quite a few open sites.  It is a beautiful campground, and it would be a great place to spend a day or two or more.  However, I kept thinking about a spot that we had passed that was directly on Portage Creek.  So, Tim and I looked at each other and decided to turn around and see if that boondock site would work for us.

With a good deal of anticipation, we pulled into the turnout, which was virtually hidden from the road by vegetation, and found a wide open space along the creek.  One RV was set up at the east end, but there was lots of room, so we claimed the other end.  We found a place where we could level the RV and settled in for the evening.  We had a beautiful view of the creek and surrounding mountains.  It was a peaceful and lovely place to spend the afternoon and evening.

A Perfect Stop Along Portage Creek

While we were on the road, I had received a telephone call from one of my best friends who told me that she had just been diagnosed with acute leukemia.  The news left me dumbfounded.  These things are not supposed to happen to the people we love.  It doesn’t make matters any easier to know that I am so far away.  I don’t ever remember feeling so helpless.  Spending the afternoon and evening at a peaceful and lovely boondock site was just what I needed to try and process this awful news.

I think I have fallen in love with this whole boondocking thing, at least the Alaska version.  When I first started reading about traveling to Alaska by RV, boondocking was a favorite topic among RVers.  The idea of camping in a beautiful setting, not in the midst of dozens of other RVs, appealed to me.

For me, boondocking in Alaska is not just about camping for free.  That’s certainly nice, but not the major draw.  It’s finding scenic spots and enjoying the natural beauty of the state.  There’s also a bit of adventure involved, and that also can be exciting.  It’s also fun to try and find those special sites.  I know we won’t boondock every night.  Many public campgrounds offer similar experiences, and we will look for those as well.  We will also stay in commercial campgrounds from time to time to take advantage of the amenities that they offer.  I think it’s fun to mix things up a bit.

After a quiet night and leisurely morning, we decided to explore a little bit of the Portage Valley before heading to Seward.  Our first stop was the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, which sits on Portage Lake in front of the rapidly-receding Portage Glacier.  The exhibits and award-winning film offers a glimpse into the natural history of Chugach National Forest and make the center a worthwhile stop. 

Portage Glacier Spills into Portage Lake

After a picnic lunch it was time to rejoin the Seward Highway, where we began our ascent toward Turnagain Pass.  From here to Seward the highway passes through dense spruce and hemlock forests, peaceful mountain meadows and soggy muskegs.  The views of the mountains, canyons, lakes and rivers kept getting better and better, and all I can say to describe the drive is “Wow!”  We didn’t even mind the construction delays as the slower speeds enabled us to spend more time gazing at the splendid views.

Climbing into the Mountains on the Seward Highway

Clouds Add to the Drama

It was mid-afternoon when we finally reached Seward.  I’m still not sure why it takes us so long to drive just over 100 miles.  Every drive in Alaska seems to take twice as long as we’re used to.  We put off driving into town and detoured towards Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park since that afternoon was forecast to be the last rain-free day for a while.

Kenai Fjords National Park is primarily comprised of ice and water, and Exit Glacier is the only section of the park accessible by road.  This seemed to be a good place to hike very close to a glacier.  After checking out the exhibits at the ranger station, we were dismayed to see that rain was imminent.  We don’t like to hike in the rain, so we decided to go only as far as the glacier view. 

After we reached the viewpoint, the rain stopped, so we decided to continue and walked out across the rocky, outwash plain in an attempt to get to the toe of the glacier.  The water stopped us before we could see the toe, but we still had a great view.  Since we had gone that far, it seemed the thing to do to climb to the edge of the glacier.  The rocks were a bit slippery on the trail, but getting so close to the glacier was definitely worth it.  We were able to spend quite a bit of time just admiring the view before others joined us.  We may not have planned to hike as far as we did, but I’m so glad we did.  Next time, however, when Tim says we’re only hiking a nature trail, I’m going to put on my hiking boots and carry water.  We never know where we might end up!

Exit Creek Spills from Exit Glacier

That's As Close As We Could Get to Exit Glacier

Sarah's Turn

Now, Tim's Turn

Looking Across the Outwash Plain from Exit Glacier

On the way to Exit Glacier, we had passed several huge turnouts along the river and decided to boondock there for the night.  We knew it was going to rain, so an asphalt surface seemed to be a much better option than dirt (think mud).  The view out the windows was beautiful, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening.  The rain even lulled us to sleep.

The View from Our Boondock Spot


  1. I don't think we've ever done a scenic drive in the "suggested" time. Even in 2001, when we were driving down Turnagain Am to catch a sightseeing cruise out of Whittier, we took longer than we were told it would take. No worries, made the train tunnel opening for our time slot because we got off to a really early start knowing we'd probably dally along the way. We thought Turnagain Arm was especially beautiful in June when there was more snow on the mountains than in August when we returned to AK for the second time. Tim's right ... footwear and water regardless of where you think you're going and how long you think you'll be gone ... you just never know ;-))) It sure is nice to be seeing some of our favorite places through your eyes.

    1. You are so right. I think scenic drives are meant to be taken slowly. I'm glad you made it through the tunnel on time! It would be great to see the mountains along Turnagain Arm covered with snow, although I doubt that there was too much this year. This must mean that I need to come back!

  2. Boondocking is addictive, isn't it? It definitely isn't the cost - Walmart is free, too, and I hate overnighting there. Both spots you chose are great places. I loved Portage Valley's beauty and space.

    1. You are so right! I love it! Alaska is the perfect place to give boondocking a try. We've been very lucky to find such scenic spots.


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