12 Attractions in Kenai, Alaska

Last Updated on March 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Kenai is a beautiful city located on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. It offers stunning natural scenery with the Chugach Mountains as a backdrop. Kenai sits on the shores of the world-famous Kenai River, home to incredible salmon fishing.

AttractionDescription
Kenai RiverFamous for its salmon fisheries, scenic views, hiking trails, and camping spots.
Russian RiverKnown for its red salmon run, popular for fishing during sockeye salmon season.
Eagle Rock BeachA black sand beach offering picturesque views, ideal for strolling and sunset watching.
Ninilchik BeachScenic beach with views of Mount Redoubt Volcano, offering beachcombing and kite flying.
Kenai River State Recreation SiteOffers fishing, a boat launch, picnic areas, and campgrounds along the Kenai River.
Captain Cook State Recreation AreaA park with trails, wildlife viewing, and kayaking opportunities in a vast natural setting.
Kenai National Wildlife RefugeA refuge providing diverse habitats for wildlife, with opportunities for hiking and birdwatching.
Chugach National ForestA large forest area offering glaciers, wildlife, hiking trails, and camping spots.
Kenai Visitors and Cultural CenterFeatures exhibits on local history, culture, and the natural environment.
Old Town KenaiHistoric area with buildings dating back to the 1940s, showcasing Kenai’s history.
Kenai MuseumOffers insights into the area’s history with various exhibits and outdoor displays.
Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox ChurchA historic church known for its unique architecture and historical significance.

The city has a vibrant cultural history and serves as a gateway to various outdoor recreational activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and more. With its diverse landscape, Kenai has something to offer every traveller. There are historical sites, endless trails, state parks, and rich wildlife that make it an ideal vacation destination.

This article explores the top 12 attractions you must see and things to do when visiting Kenai, Alaska.

Beaches and Rivers


Kenai and the surrounding peninsula have over 150 lakes, and 4 major rivers – Kenai River, Russian River, Anchor River, and Deep Creek. These rivers and lakes provide ample opportunity for fishing and water activities. The area also has a few beautiful beaches.

Kenai River

Name and Location: Kenai River, located in south-central Alaska, flowing from Kenai Lake to Cook Inlet.

History and Significance: The Kenai River is known for its world-class fishing, particularly for its large King (Chinook) salmon. It has been a popular destination for anglers since the early 20th century and continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy fishing for salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden. The river also offers scenic boat tours, rafting, and kayaking opportunities. The surrounding area is home to diverse wildlife, including moose, bears, and bald eagles.

Visitor Information: Fishing licenses are required and can be obtained through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Guided fishing trips and boat rentals are available from local outfitters. Visitors should be prepared for changing weather conditions and take necessary precautions when fishing or boating on the river.

The glacier-fed Kenai River is one of Alaska’s most popular and productive salmon fisheries. Every year thousands of anglers wade into its waters in pursuit of trophy-sized salmon, with some monsters exceeding 80 pounds.

The scenic river also offers great views, hiking trails, and camping spots along its banks. No visit to Kenai is complete without casting a line in the aqua blue waters of the Kenai River in pursuit of Pacific salmon.

You can opt for guided fishing trips led by experienced guides to maximize your chances. If luck’s in your favor, you may land a prized King salmon. Or simply float down the river taking in the spectacular views and wildlife sightings. Keep your eyes peeled for moose feeding along the shoreline and bald eagles circling overhead.

Russian River

Name and Location: Russian River, a tributary of the Kenai River, located on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Russian River is famous for its sockeye salmon runs and is a popular spot for anglers. The river got its name from Russian fur traders who explored the area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy fishing for sockeye salmon during the summer months. The Russian River Campground offers camping facilities and hiking trails in the surrounding area. The confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers is a popular spot for bear viewing during the salmon runs.

Visitor Information: Fishing licenses are required and can be obtained through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Russian River Campground is managed by the US Forest Service and requires reservations during peak season. Visitors should be bear aware and take necessary precautions when fishing or hiking in the area.

The Russian River is a major tributary of the Kenai River. It’s located in the Chugach National Forest and home to a massive red salmon run every summer.

Comb the shores for prized fishing holes during sockeye salmon season from June to August. Standing knee-deep in the powerful Russian River with bald eagles circling overhead makes for an unforgettable Alaskan memory.

Eagle Rock Beach

Name and Location: Eagle Rock Beach, located in the city of Kenai, on the western shore of the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: Eagle Rock Beach is a popular spot for locals and visitors to enjoy beachcombing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. The beach is named after the nearby Eagle Rock, a prominent landmark along the coastline.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy walking along the sandy beach, collecting shells and driftwood, and taking in the scenic views of Cook Inlet and the surrounding mountains. The beach is also a good spot for observing marine life, such as seals, sea otters, and various seabirds.

Visitor Information: Eagle Rock Beach is accessible from the city of Kenai and has limited parking available. Visitors should be aware of the tides and should not venture out onto the mudflats during low tide. The beach is a day-use area and does not have overnight camping facilities.

Eagle Rock beach sits near the mouth of the Kenai River. This black sand beach offers picturesque views with its backdrop of the Kenai Mountains across the Cook Inlet. Take a relaxing stroll hunting for interesting driftwood and pretty agates washed ashore.

On a clear day, enjoy a dazzling sunset over the inlet capped with views of Mount Redoubt. Keep your eyes peeled for seals frolicking in the lapping waves and seabirds skimming the water hunting for fish.

Ninilchik Beach

Name and Location: Ninilchik Beach, located in the village of Ninilchik, on the western shore of the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: Ninilchik Beach is known for its stunning views of Cook Inlet and the surrounding mountains. The village of Ninilchik was originally settled by Russian fur traders in the early 19th century and has a rich history and cultural heritage.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy beachcombing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing along the expansive sandy beach. The beach is also a popular spot for surf fishing and razor clam digging during the appropriate seasons. The nearby Ninilchik State Recreation Area offers camping facilities and hiking trails.

Visitor Information: Ninilchik Beach is accessible from the village of Ninilchik and has limited parking available. Visitors should be aware of the tides and should not venture out onto the mudflats during low tide. Fishing and clamming licenses are required and can be obtained through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Ninilchik Beach is considered one of the Kenai Peninsula’s most scenic with views of looming Mount Redoubt Volcano and the Kennedy Entrance of Cook Inlet. Anyone visiting Kenai between September and December may catch the awe-inspiring sight of the Northern Lights dancing across the star-studded night sky.

The affected beach and impressive volcanic mountain backdrop make for incredible photos. Summertime adventures include clam digging, beachcombing, or kite flying.

State Parks


Kenai has 5 beautiful state parks that offer various outdoor recreational activities amidst stunning scenery. From camping, fishing, hiking trails to cabins, these parks have something for everyone.

Kenai River State Recreation Site

Name and Location: Kenai River State Recreation Site, located along the banks of the Kenai River in the city of Kenai, on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Kenai River State Recreation Site was established to provide public access to the world-famous Kenai River and its recreational opportunities, particularly fishing.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy fishing for salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden from the riverbanks or by boat. The recreation site also offers picnic areas, hiking trails, and interpretive displays about the natural and cultural history of the area.

Visitor Information: The Kenai River State Recreation Site is managed by the Alaska State Parks and offers day-use facilities and boat launches. Fishing licenses are required and can be obtained through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Visitors should be aware of fishing regulations and practice catch-and-release for certain species.

This stretched out riverside park follows the first 2 miles of Upper Kenai River. It offers excellent salmon and trout fishing, a boat launch, picnic areas, and 2 campgrounds with a total of 50 campsites. Hike along the scenic river bank and dip your toes in the aqua glacier waters.

Try your hand at catching a prized rainbow trout or witness the annual mid-July salmon run when thousands of sockeye salmon return to the river to spawn.

Captain Cook State Recreation Area

Name and Location: Captain Cook State Recreation Area, located on the western shore of Cook Inlet, near the city of Kenai on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Captain Cook State Recreation Area is named after the famous British explorer, Captain James Cook, who explored the area in 1778. The recreation area was established to provide public access to the scenic coastline and recreational opportunities along Cook Inlet.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy beachcombing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing along the shores of Cook Inlet. The recreation area also offers camping facilities, hiking trails, and fishing opportunities in the nearby Swanson River and its lakes.

Visitor Information: The Captain Cook State Recreation Area is managed by the Alaska State Parks and offers both day-use facilities and overnight camping. Camping reservations can be made through the Alaska State Parks website. Visitors should be prepared for changing weather conditions and bring appropriate gear for their planned activities.

This massive park stretches across 4000 acres of the Kenai Peninsula. Outdoor lovers can pick from 39 miles of hiking trails that wind through forests and meadows blooming with wildflowers in summer. Spot moose and bears or try catching a glimpse of soaring eagles and hawks.

Anglers and boating enthusiasts can explore 10 lakes connected by portage trails excellent for kayaking and canoeing. Services include campgrounds, rental cabins, and a boat launch.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Name and Location: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska, encompassing over 1.9 million acres of diverse wildlife habitat.

History and Significance: The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 to protect the unique wildlife and habitats of the Kenai Peninsula. The refuge is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including moose, bears, wolves, and numerous species of birds and fish.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing throughout the refuge. The refuge offers several scenic hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to more strenuous backcountry treks. Fishing opportunities abound in the refuge’s numerous lakes, rivers, and streams.

Visitor Information: The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge’s visitor center, located in Soldotna, offers exhibits, educational programs, and information about the refuge’s wildlife and recreational opportunities. Camping is available at several campgrounds within the refuge, and backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 2 million acres of the western Kenai Peninsula. The diverse landscape provides habitats for an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Hike through diverse terrain from hardwood forests, alpine meadows, marshes, lakes, and tundra.

Keep your eyes peeled for bears, caribou, moose, wolves, sheep, and many species of migratory birds. The refuge also administers the world-renowned Kenai River, Russian River, and Skilak Lake for trophy sport fishing.

Chugach National Forest

Name and Location: Chugach National Forest, located in south-central Alaska, stretching from the Kenai Peninsula to the eastern edge of Prince William Sound.

History and Significance: The Chugach National Forest was established in 1907 and is the second-largest national forest in the United States. The forest encompasses a diverse range of landscapes, from glaciers and ice fields to lush forests and rugged coastlines.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing. The forest is home to numerous glaciers, including the famous Portage Glacier, and offers scenic drives and boat tours.

Visitor Information: The Chugach National Forest is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The forest has several visitor centers, including the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center in Portage Valley and the Crooked Creek Information Site in Valdez. Camping is available at numerous campgrounds throughout the forest, and backcountry permits are required for overnight stays in the wilderness areas.

The Chugach National Forest straddles over 5 million acres across southcentral Alaska. It spans from the outskirts of Anchorage to eastern Kenai Peninsula. Within its vast wilderness, you’ll find calving glaciers, ice-capped mountains, surging rivers, and abundant wildlife.

The key attractions include Spencer Glacier, Portage Glacier, Whittier Tunnel, Eklutna Lake, and paths along Turnagain Arm. There are numerous campgrounds, picnic sites, hiking trails, and historic sites managed by forest rangers.

Historical Attractions

Kenai has a vibrant indigenous and pioneer history that visitors can explore at various historical sites and museums. You’ll gain insight into the Dena’ina Athabascan heritage and early Russian settlers. Many sites focus on the city’s fishing industry origins.

Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center

Name and Location: Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, located in the city of Kenai, on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center was established to showcase the rich history and cultural heritage of the Kenai Peninsula. The center features exhibits on the area’s Native Alaskan cultures, Russian colonial history, and the development of the fishing and oil industries.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the center’s exhibits, which include artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays. The center also offers educational programs, workshops, and cultural events throughout the year.

Visitor Information: The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center is open year-round and offers guided tours and rental facilities for special events. The center also serves as a hub for visitor information, providing maps, brochures, and information about local attractions, accommodations, and services.

This visitor center features cultural exhibits portraying Kenai’s indigenous, Russian, and pioneer history. Peruse artwork, artifacts, photographs, and displays from the Dena’ina Athabascan heritage.

Learn about Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church, the oldest log cabin church in Alaska built in 1895. An additional wing focuses on Kenai’s fishing origins with massive king salmon sculptures. Don’t miss the short documentary providing an overview of the local area.

Old Town Kenai

Name and Location: Old Town Kenai, located in the heart of the city of Kenai, on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: Old Town Kenai is the historic center of the city, featuring buildings and sites that date back to the early days of Russian settlement in the late 18th century. The area is home to several notable historical landmarks, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kenai Territorial Courthouse.

What to Expect: Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Kenai, exploring the historic buildings and sites along the way. The area also features several shops, galleries, and restaurants that showcase local art, crafts, and cuisine.

Visitor Information: Old Town Kenai is open year-round and is easily accessible on foot from the city center. Guided tours of the historical sites are available through the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Visitors should be prepared for changing weather conditions and wear comfortable walking shoes.

Wander through Old Town Kenai along Mission Street/K-Beach Road to view over 40 historic buildings. Many date from the 1940s to 1960s with architectural styles ranging from craftsman bungalows to funky A-frames.

Stop by the 1937 log cabin Visitors Information Center, previously the main office of Kenai Joe’s Fish Camp. Pop inside the 1935 credit union to view historic photos decorating the walls. Or visit the 1937 log cabin Dr. Lawer’s Office representing Kenai’s first health facility.

Kenai Museum

Name and Location: Kenai Museum, located in the city of Kenai, on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Kenai Museum, also known as the Kenai Historical Society Museum, was established to preserve and showcase the history of the Kenai Peninsula. The museum features exhibits on the area’s Native Alaskan cultures, Russian colonial history, and the development of the fishing and oil industries.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits, which include artifacts, photographs, and historical documents. The museum also features a replica of a traditional Dena’ina Athabascan village and a collection of historic fishing boats and equipment.

Visitor Information: The Kenai Museum is open year-round and offers guided tours and educational programs. The museum is located in the heart of the city of Kenai and is easily accessible on foot or by car. Admission fees apply, and the museum offers discounts for children, seniors, and military personnel.

This historical complex includes several log structures that offer glimpses into Kenai’s past. The Visitor Center features cultural displays on Kenai’s Dena’ina Athabascan heritage and Russian Orthodox settlers. Other areas cover Kenai’s military past and early civic history.

Outside are heritage vegetable gardens, an early settler cabin, and retired fishing boats on display. The museum hosts various cultural events like native dances, athletics contests, classes, and field trips.

Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church

Name and Location: Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church, located in the city of Kenai, on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

History and Significance: The Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1894 and is one of the oldest standing buildings on the Kenai Peninsula. The church is a historic landmark and a testament to the area’s Russian colonial heritage.

What to Expect: Visitors can admire the church’s distinctive onion-shaped domes and Russian Orthodox architecture. The church interior features beautiful iconography and religious artifacts. The church is still an active place of worship and holds regular services.

Visitor Information: The Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church is open to visitors during scheduled hours, which may vary throughout the year. Visitors are asked to be respectful of the church’s religious significance and to dress modestly. The church is located in the heart of the city of Kenai and is easily accessible on foot or by car.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this church was built from 1895 to 1896 and is the oldest Russian Orthodox church on mainland Alaska. It was constructed in the Rusyn architectural style using elaborate log joinery with no nails. Marvel at the ornate icons covering every inch of the church interior from floor to ceiling. Don’t miss the cemetery out back holding unusual box-shaped graves carved out of spruce trees with flat roofs nailed on.

Conclusion


From world-class fishing and stunning scenery to historical attractions and cultural sites – Kenai offers visitors diverse experiences bundled into a charming Alaskan town. Its wilderness areas like Kenai River allow anglers to land trophy salmon and trout surrounded by moose and soaring eagles. State parks provide endless trails to explore with rental cabins and campgrounds catering for overnight stays.

Museums and heritage sites depict native Alaskan and Russian history – bringing the destination alive. With so much on offer, it may seem difficult to narrow down what to see and do in Kenai. This list of top 12 attractions serves as the perfect itinerary for first-timers to check out the highlights over 2-3 days. Just don’t forget your camera – there are Instaworthy photo ops awaiting around every corner!

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