The camping adventures in Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Glaciers viewing, sailing through ocean fjords, icebergs, whale watching, salmon fishing, wild camping and grizzly bears encounters is what you will experience in the Kenai Peninsula. The peninsula is located south of Anchorage, the biggest city of Alaska and has over 25,000 square miles of scenic parks, forest, glaciers, coast lines and alpine landscapes to explore. Our experience started with a memorable day fishing salmon and continued with rainy, windy and adventurous camping nights into the wild, trips where the “land ends” on Homer’s spit, hikes on glaciers and cruises through the icy waters of Prince William Sound. The Kenai Peninsula offered us discoveries and adventures at every corner, some amazing while some others truly challenging.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Camping into the wild

After our memorable salmon fishing experience we continued exploring Cooper Landing area, looking for a safe place to camp. We wanted a wild spot somewhere next to a peaceful meadow, lake or river. We thought we were lucky to find one just next to St. Peterson lake. It looked all peaceful with lots of ducks and geese floating on the lake. What was supposed to be a calm and easy experience, was the silence before the storm. Very soon it started to rain and it seemed that it won’t stop raining any time soon. In these times there is not much else you can do than sleep, eat, read, write or watch a few movies. Since we were drained it was a perfect timing to be lazy. Some days are just like this on the road. It’s not always action, excitement and great encounters 🙂

Cooking when outside is raining, Alaska
Cooking when outside is raining, Alaska

We went to bed early and tired listening to the rain pouring on the truck. In the middle of the night, I woke up with sounds as if somebody was hitting our truck with an incredible force. It was the wind’s force and roar. The truck started to shake and we were shaking inside with the truck. It felt as we are on a boat floating on stormy waters. It was a nightmare happening in reality. I was hoping for it to stop. But it didn’t. It continued the whole night. It was terrifying, my heart was bouncing and my mind was wondering if we will be all right at the end of this. Since we were very close to the lake I was imagining the worst case scenarios how our truck will fall into the water or maybe a tree or a branch would fall on us. In that moment I felt for the first time in our expedition we were at the mercy of nature. Eventually the morning came and when we went outside, our neighbor’s camper was ripped apart. I don’t think JP realized earlier how dangerous the situation was. He soon noticed that one of the plastic protections for the truck headlights was ripped off, and only a small piece was still attached to the truck. Pieces were spread on the ground around the truck. We still couldn’t believe how strong the winds were to the point of ripping apart the headlight guard. At the the end we were happy we got away only with that, really. Before starting this adventure I imagined all sorts of challenges on the road, but I could never imagine that wind can be one of the most terrifying ones.

The experience was enough for us to leave the place the next morning. We headed towards Homer. Homer is a special small fishing town located in the southern tip of Kenai Peninsula where the “Lands Ends” in a spit of land.

The fishing village has a rare geographical formation, called “Homer’s Spit”, 5 miles out into Kachemak Bay. It is known in the world of being the 2nd longest spit and was formed initially by terminal glacier moraine. Here you can see the ocean from your right side and your left side, a walk to cross it would take you about 3 minutes. They also say you can get in Homer the best halibut fishing.

On our way to Homer we saw a man with a red jacket cycling on the road. We recognized immediately that he is Chris Figureda, the same guy we met at the Arctic Circle. We realized he had cycled from the Arctic Circle to the Kenai Peninsula faster than we drove 🙂 Basically, in the same time frame we got to the same point after two weeks traveling, him cycling, while us driving. The weather was pretty rough, windy, it was raining and cold. His eyes were red, he was soaked wet and full of dirt. However Chris had the same smile and optimism we met him with the first time at the Arctic Circle. And that was wow and inspiring to see. We gave him some mandarines and off we went towards Homer! Top man!

Meeting Chris again on the road to Homer, Alaska
Meeting Chris again on the road to Homer, Alaska

That night we found a great camping place by the beach, about 30 km back from Homer. It was refreshing to hear the sound of the ocean and watch its horizons. We realized we reached the west coast, the Pacific Ocean and that was a wonderful feeling. During the night I was still affected by the bad experience of the previous windy night. The sound of the waves was powerful enough to give me an uncomfortable feeling that the tide might come up to our car. Pure fantasy and paranoia. You might get this on the road too :))

That morning we woke up with a beautiful view of the ocean and two bold eagles looking for food by the beach. It was wild, scenic and relaxing.

Camping by the beach of the Pacific Ocean, Alaska
Camping by the beach of the Pacific Ocean, Alaska

The most amazing grizzly encounter in Alaska

We were driving towards the Russian River Falls, a place recommended by Chris Figureida as a place with high chances to see grizzlies feasting with salmon. JP couldn’t get enough of this show, so we went for it. We followed a bushy trail. I was talking all the time, exercising a loud tone of my voice, being completely annoying, hoping to keep the bear away making enough noise.

Eventually after about an hour and thirty minutes we were in front of the Russian River Falls. They are more like rapids, with hundreds of salmon jumping up trying to make their way up making acrobatic efforts to pursue their upstream trajectory. It was amazing to watch! A salmon Cirque de Soleil in front of our eyes. We stayed there for a while watching these spectacular heroes fighting to swim up the river just to lay their eggs in safe places of predators.

Then, out of nowhere, and when we least expected, on the opposite side of the river, coming from the forest, here he comes: the king of the Alaska forest heading towards the river, the grizzly bear. He jumps straight into the water. He jumps again and again and he is everywhere up to his neck inside the fall. We started to laugh. We realized it was a cub bear of about 2 years old trying his luck fishing. He was so funny to watch, it took him about half an hour up and down the river, in and out of the water, jumping around to get a salmon from the hundreds available in the falls. It was hilarious.

Very soon another one showed up, and another one. There were three grizzlies now! They looked similar, of the same size, but doing different things. One of them was jumping chaotic in the water to catch fish, another one was flirting to get inside the river, while another found something in the forrest to eat. It was really interesting to watch and discover how each one had apparent different personalities and behaviors.

Very soon the fourth bear appears, and this one was big! She makes her entry in a spectacular way. It was a huge one, we finally understood the whole picture: there was family right there: the mama bear and its three cubs. Mama grizzly came graciously towards the river and jumped assertively into the water as she wanted to show the cubs how to do it. Then she comes out of the water, with a fish in her mouth, ready to return into the deep forrest to enjoy her meal. She gave the cubs a salmon fishing masterclass on how to catch salmon.

Everything is a learning lesson, nothing comes for granted and nothing seems to be easy into the wild. The cubs are learning from their mom, how to hunt and how to survive. Once they are confident they will live on their own into the vast forest. It was interesting to see that these cubs although looked big already didn’t seem to be ready to live on their own.

We watched them for a good while as they did not seem at all bothered with us.

On our way back, I must recognize I was not very relaxed on the trail. I could’t get out of my mind the idea that they were just across the river, a few meters away, and we could meet them or other bears on the trail. We fastened up the pace and in less than an hour we were back to the truck. I was so happy and thankful we got out of it without issues having the chance to witness a real scene into the wild.

Exit Glacier

We could not miss hiking one of the most popular glaciers in Kenai Peninsula. The Exit Glacier is located very close to Seward and Cooper Landing area. This glacier is very accessible from the main road and you have various options to hike it from half an hour walk to 4-5 hours up the trail for a closer look and a better picture to the glacier.

We decided to climb about 3 miles up the mountain where we could have a good view. JP loves glaciers and he was fascinated to see it. We saw a funny marmot right on the edge that welcomed us to one of the most scenic views we’ve experienced. The glaciers are just impressive with their tons of ice and millions of years of formation and nature history. It was a special day and a great exercise to the top.

Prince William Sound fjords

Because we wanted to see the glaciers by sea too, we booked a cruise from Whittier hoping to see the last whales of the season, glaciers and icebergs in Prince William Sound National Park.

Whittier is a small fishing town with a community of 214 people, about 70km from Anchorage and separated from the rest for the public road by a one way tunnel where all the cars and the train go one at a time.

We made it for the 9:30am tunnel schedule. We paid 13$ to cross it and another 10$ just to park in Whittier while we did the cruise. The cruise itself cost 164$/person with lunch included. For this reason I recommend to do the cruise from Seward, as it will be cheaper than in Whittier when the tunnel and parking fees are accounted for. Plus, you have more chances from Seward to see whales, although we heard the waves are stronger when departing out of Seward.

We were excited when we boarded a fairly large catamaran, but started to lose it when we realized the busses of tourists arriving at the terminal. We were hoping for a more genuine tour, however it turned up to be a mass-tourism exercise. Mechanic communication and service from the crew and less than  average food. Despite this, we saw beautiful glaciers on the way, icebergs, marine life such as seals, sea lions, funny playful otters and that was pretty cool and special. Compared with the boat trip we took in Nova Scotia to watch humpback whales for 69$, we felt our Whittier experience as an uninspiring ripoff. Anyway, we can’t get it always right. Alaska is expensive because of its remoteness and seasonal tourism.

It was a lesson learnt. The amount of money you pay is not necessarily proportional to the enjoyment you receive in return for the investment :)) It was probably the worst cost/benefit ratio of our trip so far. From our experience we learnt that the most beautiful things are for free and they happen when you least expect, from watching the grizzly bears at the Russian Falls to meeting randomly amazing people that inspire you and make you a better person.

Upon the end of the cruise our adventure almost ended up badly. The sun was setting when we started our way back to Anchorage. There was a huge traffic jam so we decided to find a place in the nearby meadows and forests to camp for the night. After various tries, we finally found a very good spot. It was a quiet and peaceful place next to the river. We were happy, went to bed early, and about 21:30 we were asleep. At about 00:30 we woke up with the most horrible screams and noises. We looked out of the window and found out that a large group of youngsters arrived with their cars and trucks and were playing or partying roaring stronger than the wind we caught in St. Peterson lake few days before. It was disturbing, like we haven’t heard before! We became afraid they could do something to the truck, or mess around with us. We tried to figure it out what to do. We were even afraid to go out. It was about 1am, when JP decided it was better to drive away to Anchorage than to stay there. JP quickly opened the door and started the engine moving the truck out with no delay. They screamed completely out of control like if they won a battle or something. JP drove one hour to Anchorage and we parked in Cabela’s parking lot, a fishing and camping superstore where most of the travelers park in USA when at Walmart is not allowed 🙂 What a relief. We could finally sleep.

We camped many times into the wild among wild animals like bears, moose, cougars and wolfs and never had any issues. Unfortunately we got to realize that the most dangerous animal is the homo sapiens, who at times may look and sound more like a Neanderthal than Sapiens. Pretty sad, but it would not change the good memories of the good people we met in Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula!

Prince William Sound, Alaska
Prince William Sound, Alaska

About the author: Ioana Marins

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