Trails End Horse-Riding (near Homer)
Trail`s End Horseriding was a great bargain considered that you get 4 - 5 hours of riding for a mere 90 $ (October 2013). The horses are well-cared for and docile, and Mark, a real Alaskan cowboy, is a great guy and a good story-teller. The ride involves several river-crossings on horse. It is suitable for beginners and experienced riders and Mark gives advice on each horses peculiar character and mood. He is always accompanied by his smart and funny dog which can be seen in the picture (it gets a lift for the river crossings).
Booking: only by phone +1 907-235-6393. There is no mail adress to the best of my knowledge. We did the booking via our hosts at our B&B accomodation.
The meeting place can be overlooked easily - driving from Homer northwards, it is on the East End Road, milepost 11,2, right side coming from Homer. Be on time as the horses have to be transported to the trailhead by car, so you have to follow the "pilot car" to get to the starting point.
Russian Falls Hike
The trailhead for Russian Falls starts at mile 52 on the Sterling Highway between Cooper Landing and Soldotna (access road to Russian Falls campground). A very easy and beautiful hike trough woodland, after 2 miles one-way it leads to the turbulent Russian Falls where - between June and August - salmon can be watched high-jumping into the rapids. The best place for salmon-watching in my opinion.
Resurrection Pass Hike (to Juneau Falls)
The Resurrection Pass Hike (trailhead on Sterling highway between Cooper Landing and Soldotna, mile 53, parking lot) is a multi-day-hike (40 miles) from Cooper Landing to Hope, but can be done as a dayhike from the southern trailhead to Juneau Falls and back (between 3 1/2 and 5 hours return trip). The majestic Juneau Falls can be reached by small and not signposted path - once you hear the falls roaring, be on the lookout for a small path into the woods. After 10 meters, the falls can be seen from a plateau (don`t get too close to the ridge as you could easily fall over).
Toklat River Hike
From the Denali Access Centre at the Park Entrance, the shuttle bus drive to Toklat takes about 3 hours one-way. As the first busses leave around 9:00 a.m., that means it will be around midday when you reach Toklat bus stop. That makes Toklat a good destination for day hikes, as you have 3-4 hours of hiking and still plenty of time to catch a bus on the way back. if you go further - for example Wonder Lake - the bus drive alone will not leave much time for hiking.
You can simply hike from the Ranger Station in either direction paralell to the river on a gravel bed. We saw Caribous there, and on the hills close to the bridge Dall Sheep are often spotted.
scenic Seward Highway
If you travel in Alaska, you can`t avoid driving on the Seward Highway which connects Anchorage and Seward on a distance of ca. 127 miles (about three hours driving time).
It is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, so take your time and stop along the way often. Among its main attractions are
- the Turmagain Arm Fjord - roughly between Anchorage and Girdwood. Plenty of viewing points here, for example Bird Point (Milepost 96)
- Potters March (wetland bird reserve / elevated boardwalk) - at milepost 117
- the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - at milepost 79
- hiking paths and viewpoints all along, especially closer to Seward: Ptarmigan Lake, Grayling Lake, Carter & Crescent Lake, Lost Lake
- views of Kenai Lake along the southern part of the highway
Homer has probaly the most beautiful location in all of Alaska, virtually at the end of the world at the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, with great views on the surrounding mountains across the water. It is worthwhile exploring in itself, especially the Homer Spit stretch, a long causeway with shops and restaurants along the road, also good for jogging and cycling. Homer has an idyllic small-boat harbour, and Bald Eagles are frequently seen within the city limits. It is also a great base for Bear Flightseeing trips into Katmai or Lake Clark National Park (only accessible by plane). There are plenty of interesting art galleries around (most of them in the business district of Homer). A nice photo opportunity is the boat graveyard - about halfway on the Homer Spit, to the left.
Native Heritage Center Anchorage
The Native Heritage Center of Anchorage is a great place to be introduced into the culture of Alaskas Native People. At regular times, performances of music, dance and native sports take place, as well as guided tours through a small but beautiful open-air museum around a lake, with native huts and houses from different areas of Alaska. A complimentary guided tour through the open-air museum is recommended, but you can also explore the area at your own pace.
Ninilchik is a small village halfway between Soldotna and Homer (between mile 134 and 138 on Sterling Highway), with an Orthodox Church with a rather picturesque graveyard. The church is not a remnant of the Russian rule in Alaska till 1867 but was built in 1901 by locals of Russian descent. Not sure if it can be visited outside mass times - it was closed when we arrived. Worth a stop and a picturesque photo opportunity.
Seward - at the end of the Seward Highway, and the southeastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula - is a very likeable small town and a good base for outdoor activities. One of the distinctive features of Seward are the colourful murals which depict natural scenes or important historic and cultural events. Kenai Fjord day-cruises leave from Seward Harbour and are great for marine wildlife viewing. The Sealife Aquarium gives a great introduction into Alaskan marine life. Exit Glacier Visitor Centre is a 15-minutes drive from the town centre away. A couple of hiking paths start along the Seward Highway and are easily accessible from here, for example Lost Lake, Carter & Crescent Lake, Grayling Lake, and Ptarmigan Lake. The Resurrect Cafe - in a former church - is a great place to read a book or review your photos.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre
About 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center is a great way to meet the Alaskan wildlife in a "controlled environment". The conservation center cares for hurt or sick wild animals which are kept in spacious enclosures. The species here include Moose, Elk, Caribou, Musk Ox, Porcupine, Lynx, Fox, Black Bear, Brown Bear, and a huge herd of Wood Bison, which is earmarked to be released into the wild again. You can either hike around the centre or take your car and stop at the different enclosures.
Alaska Bear Adventures Flightseeing
A couple of operators offer Plane trips into Katmai or Lake Clark National Park from Anchorage or Homer (Kenai Peninsula). We went with Alaska Bear Adventures, and were very happy with them. Alaska Bear Adventures does not offer tours to the classic Brooks Falls location where Brown Bears fish for jumping salmon (which is rather crowded) but takes customers to the coastal areas of either Lake Clark or Katmai National Park where many brown bears congregate for fishing and grazing. Both parks are only accessible by plane, not by car. They only take a limited number of visitors per trip, accompanied by a guide, which makes the expedition more intimate but still safe and secure as the local Brown Bears will ignore groups. The experience was amazing - some bears came up quite close. The average cost of a flight trip will be ca. 600 - 700 $ - not cheap, but well worth the money. Keep in mind that the decision if they go to Katmai or to Lake Clark is often made just before the flight, depending on weather conditions and previous bear sightings. Apart from the bear watching, the flight in itself is spectacular.
Skilak Loop Road
The Skilak Loop Road is an (unpaved) road on the highway between Coopers Landing and Soldotna between milepost 58 (western junction) and 75 (eastern junction). You don`t need a 4XWheeler for this gravel road - a regular car can easily do it - but you should drive very slowly as there are plenty of potholes.
It is the access point to many interesting hiking paths in the Kenai River area and to several scenic viewpoints. Hiking Paths I would recommend in this area include the Lower Kenai River Hike and the Seven Lakes Hike. As it goes through a wild animal recovery area, the chances of spotting wildlife in this area are not too bad either. Bears are often sighted in the Hidden Creek area.
Denali State Park
Denali State Park is not equivalent to the Denali National Park but rather a protected area to the south of the national park along the Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway. Most people just pass through, although there are also hiking possibilities (for example Kesugi Ridge) in the area. One of the best features of Denali State Park is the Denali South Viewpoint on milepost 135,2 on the George Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. (The Denali North Viewpoint was closed in 2013). On fine weather, you will have a brilliant view of the Denali/Mount Mc Kinley Range from here! When it is raining, like it often does, you`ll see nothing at all. While driving through the state park, there are many more scenic viewpoints along the route that invite for a short stop and a couple of photos.
Half an hour north of Anchorage, Eklutna Historical Park makes for a very interesting destination. The area has two Orthodox churches and a very unusual graveyard. The Orthodox missionaries were rather tolerant when the local Athapascan Indians combined their traditional beliefs with their new faith after conversion. One of the peculiar native traditions was to add a small wooden structure ("Spirit House") to the funeral place of their dead, as they believed the spirit of the dead still lingers on earth for a year after death and needs accomodation. Personal items related to the deceased are placed inside the spirit house. The colourful houses are allowed to rot so that with time, they simply disappear.
Check for the current opening times before the visit.
Murals in Seward
Seward is a tiny fishing port at the south-eastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, also an ideal base for hiking and cruises into the Kenai Fjords. The town center is compact and easily walkabe, and it has very interesting murals at several locations which are unmissable as Seward is small anyway. There are murals dedicated to marine wildlife, wildflowers, the Itidarod Sleddog Race, Seward History, native American legends, Alaskan statehood, the Mount Marathon Race and other topics.
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