The Kenai Peninsula

Our first day in Alaska was spent driving from Anchorage to Seward (pronounced soo-werd), along the Turnagain Arm and through the Kenai Peninsula. This is by far one of the most beautiful coastal drives I have ever done. It might tie with the Amalfi coast drive, but beats the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway 1 by a hair (being Californian, that’s basically treason). It’s stunning, especially in the early fall when the aspens and alders start to turn color. And if you’re really lucky, you might be able to catch a few beluga whales playing in the high tide.
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On the way to Seward, there are several points to stop and take in the scenery. You can also veer a bit off the Seward highway to do some additional exploring. We took a few turns off the main road and stumbled onto 2 mini hikes. The first being the Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood:
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DSC_4557We started this trail near the Crow Creek Mine – it provides the shortest distance to the hand tram and avoids all the other tourists from the Alyeska Resort. The cool hand tram swings about 100 feet over Glacier Creek – if you’re lucky, other folks will help pull you across, else you may be stuck (like we were) pulling yourself. The trail also includes a number of lovely bridges and gorges, and was the perfect introduction to the flora and fauna in the area.

We took another turn off the Seward Highway onto the Portage Highway, and our mini hike took us right to the base of several glaciers:

Byron Glacier
DSC_6228Byron Glacier Ice Cave
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View from base of Byron Glacier toward Portage Valley
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View of Portage Glacier from Portage Lake
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These glaciers are enormous in person and the swirls and crevasses are mesmerizing. As it’s still summer and the ambient temperature is somewhat warm, you can see the glaciers melt and form these caves… I would not recommend climbing into the caves, for fear of them collapsing (though I tend to be more paranoid than most), but I did snap a few photos.

Once we arrived in Seward, we went to view Exit Glacier – the same one President Obama visited. This trail has clear markers that show how the glacier has receded in the last century – very tangible evidence of the effects of climate change and global warming on the glaciers. The valley below Exit Glacier is beautiful, and you will likely spot a moose or bear on this short hike. If you are a bit more ambitious and have more time, take the trek to the Harding Icefield, which is the source for all of the glaciers in the area.

Close Up of Exit Glacier
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Valley below Exit Glacier
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Our remaining days in Seward were spent on a boat, viewing the marine life in and around Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords Park. This was an incredible experience – and we were so lucky to see porpoises, whales, all manner of birds and eagles, and other sea animals. While out at sea, I felt so small midst the vast sea, enormous tidewater glaciers, and the marine animals surrounding us. It was all so stunning and beautiful.

Seward Harbor

DSC_4731Humpback Whale – we might consider a photography career at NatGeo if it wasn’t recently bought by Fox =(
DSC_6118Some seals chilling in front of the Aialik Glacier, as the glacier cracked and creaked
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The cutest little otters hanging out in the water
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Where To Stay
Being a small town, options are pretty limited. We stayed at the historic Seward Hotel, which is just 5 minutes from the harbor and walking distance to the ‘downtown’ area. While a bit old, the rooms are cute, comfortable and clean.

What To Eat
Seward is famous for its halibut, specifically the halibut fish and chips, so of course we had to try it. And boy, we weren’t disappointed. We stopped by Thorn’s Showcase Lounge and Salmon Bake Restaurant to taste test the halibut – the fish is only lightly coated (as it should be!) and fried to a crisp – the halibut is flaky but still moist and sweet. Another Alaskan specialty is seafood chowder – thick chunks of halibut and salmon and shellfish, suspended in a thick, creamy, roux-based chowder. Thorn’s won in both categories. But at Salmon Bake, we also had the batter friend prawns – quite possibly the best we’ve ever had – crunchy, sweet, succulent pieces of prawns that rivaled lobster meat. Unfortunately, we came back a second time only to find that the prawns were no longer available, as it was the end of the season.

Meal at Thorns: seafood chowder, fish and chips, and steamed mussels. Super tasty.
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For dessert, this little gelato and fudge shop called Sweet Darlings, was just down the street from our hotel and was a sweet way to end the night.
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Like I said earlier, Seward is a small town, and options are pretty limited. Our general rule is to stay away from the extra touristy places (such as the joints right by the harbor), and try to find the local favorites. TripAdvisor or Yelp are great starting points. And of course, asking the locals (even if they are seasonal temps) always results in good choices.

Overall
We had such a great time in Seward. And as it’s a seasonal town (open only 6 months out of the year), we were really lucky to have the experiences we did. During the summer, the salmon make their run from the ocean up through Seward and the Kenai Peninsula to their nesting grounds. The whale migration is also occurring, as orcas and humpbacks flock to the area to eat and fatten up. The cruise ships come in droves during the summer, but their frequency decreases once September hits. We visited in early September, and things were winding down. The seasonal temp workers were getting ready to head back to Anchorage and other parts of the country. The shops were getting ready to close. Even the animals had mostly left for warmer waters. And yet during our 2.5 day stay in Seward, we were really lucky to hit everything on our bucket list. We did not get a chance to go halibut/salmon fishing as originally planned, but after understanding the pricing structure of fishing, gutting/processing, and shipping – it was probably better that we didn’t. If you get a chance to, I would highly recommend it, as other tourists have praised the catch.

Fish and chips, while delicious, can get old fast. Luckily, there’s a Safeway market in town, so you can prep your own (healthier) meals as needed. I also highly recommend hiking the surrounding area – hitting Caines Head and as many of the glaciers as possible. It’s one of the best ways to get to know the area and see nature up close and at its grandest. Speaking of up close encounters, I saw several kayakers out in Resurrection Bay, and they were able to get really close to the whales. We even saw a whale spray through its blowhole right next to a kayaker. It’s a bit terrifying to me, but if you’re courageous and like the water, perhaps try kayaking to get around.

We’re headed to Denali next, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading!
AnhD

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