When people think about going to Alaska, Denali National Park probably comes to mind first. For many Alaskans, they plan to go to the Kenai Peninsula. We have been in that region for weeks and have posts on Seward and Homer, two great places to visit. There are several other towns on the peninsula that are worth visiting too, especially for fishing. Alaskans, who are filling up freezers with fish, come to the Kenai by the thousands this time of year.
Speaking of fishing, one of the things that we just had to see was Alaskan dip netting. This is “fishing” that is only available for Alaskan residents and is allowed only from July 10th to July 31st. The beaches are lined with hundreds of people placing large nets in the water to snag a salmon.
We have had a lot of rain during our stay, and our time in the town of Kenai was no exception. Alaskans never let the weather stop them so we went to the popular dip netting spot to see this first hand. If you are going to stand in the ocean for hours, what is a little rain anyway?
They place these special nets vertically in the water and wait for the salmon to be caught on their way toward the mouth of the river at the Cook Inlet. The nets are so large that they barely fit on the top of a truck. Based on the size of their family, the residents have specific limits as to the number of fish they can catch and they hope to catch their limit for the year. The fish are fileted right on the beach so fish heads are scattered on the beach for the waiting birds.
Ice is an important commodity and coolers are a vital piece of equipment.
Kenai also reminds you that the US purchased Alaska from the Russians. The towns of Russian America predate US settlements by many years. The Russian influence continues to be visible and the Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church built in 1895 in Kenai is a prime example.
The Chapel of St Nicholas was built in 1906. Both buildings overlook the Kenai River at the Cook Inlet.
After visiting the town of Kenai we headed back toward the east side of the peninsula toward the town of Whittier. This port town was created as a “secret port” during WWII because it was typically not visible from the air, but its isolation required a very long train tunnel for access. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest in North America at 2.5 miles. The tunnel is one lane which it shares with the Alaska Railroad! Every half hour the directional flow for vehicles is reversed, so some planning is involved to make your way to Whittier and back. There is a fee involved which is currently $13 round trip. RV travel via the tunnel is at a higher cost.
Whittier’s initial existence was purely military and was the port whereby which the US Army entered Alaska. Most of the original buildings are still in use with the most interesting aspect is that most all the town residents live in a single high rise. This building, along with another large abandoned high rise, were the largest buildings in Alaska when they were built in the 1950s.
Now cruise ships, fishing charters, Prince William Sound tour boats, and the Alaska Railroad dominate the businesses in this town of a little over 200 residents.
We visited the small but well annotated museum found in the local hotel and enjoyed lunch at one of the few restaurants in town. The Swiftwater Café, overlooking the harbor, had some excellent halibut, covered outdoor seating, and a friendly staff.
In spite of the rain, we managed to stay dry walking around the small town. It was a quick visit to Whittier since most of the historic buildings are not open to the public. One note for a future visit is that the Portage Pass Trail is near the tunnel entrance. It would be an excellent hike on a good weather day. We did check out the town’s only RV campground and were glad that we did not try to stay there. We understand though that there is a good free boon docking spot on the water near the tunnel entrance.
It was time to head out of the Kenai Peninsula toward the eastern part of the state. The towns in the Kenai Peninsula are very RV friendly, but you do want to stock up on items before you leave the Anchorage area because prices are significantly higher throughout the peninsula. Despite the higher prices, if you are visiting Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula is definitely where you should spend a large part of your time.