Another good reason to build a town at this location is the Kenai River,
which runs right through Soldotna near its outlet on Cook Inlet.
You can see its general location on this AAA map section. I highlighted today's short route
That AAA map doesn't show the Kenai River very clearly. It generally
parallels the Sterling Hwy. (AK 1) to the south, crosses the road in
Soldotna, and flows into Cook Inlet in the town of Kenai.
Here's a more detailed map from
This small city of about 4,000 year-round residents is overrun with
visitors right now, at the beginning of the dip net fishing season. The
Kenai River is one of the premier salmon fishing rivers in Alaska, nay,
the entire world. Can you say "fishing frenzy?"
And that's why we're staying down the road a bit at the
Kasilof RV Park,
where it's much quieter.
We both slept in our warm, cozy bed until 8 this morning. That's late
for us. Itís hard to
get up early when itís wet, gray, and chilly. The highs were only in the
mid-50s F. again Ė the highs! We need some sunshine again. It was
cloudy and/or rainy all day.
THE KENAI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
We drove up to Soldotna late this morning to visit some of the
attractions we've read about.
Our first stop was
the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor center, located just
southeast of town at the top of Ski Hill Road.
If you look at the
map above you see a lot of green. Those areas are various state and
national public lands full of mountains and streams that people can
The wildlife refuge
alone covers a whopping 1.92 million acres. Most of it was set aside in
1941 when FDR was president to protect the moose, bears, Dall sheep, mountain
goats, and numerous other species of wildlife that call the Kenai
Peninsula home. The remainder was added in the Alaska National
Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
Above and below: a montage of iconic wildlife refuge scenes
The visitor center hosts over 25,000
visitors every year. We recommend a visit there if you're in the area.
The museum has interesting free exhibits and you can gather lots of
information about hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and
canoeing in the wildlife area.
You don't have to be an athlete to
enjoy the wilderness. You can learn a lot from the exhibits and films at
the visitor center, take a short walk on the nature trails near the
visitor center, look through the books and gifts in the Alaska
Geographic store, and watch wildlife films.
This is one of the more interesting exhibits, called "Riddle of the
Two healthy, mature bull moose challenged each other to a battle that
ended in their deaths. Their antlers suddenly interlocked and they
thrashed around unsuccessfully until they both died. By the time the
skeletons were found bears and other critters had fed on the flesh.
Sounds violent, but that's life in the wilderness.
Or, as Jim would say, bears gotta eat, too!
We browsed the exhibits and literature inside, then walked a short
distance to an old
cabin outside. It was one of several cabins built in the late 1800s and
early 1900s by Andrew Berg, who moved from Finland to Alaska in 1888.
Berg's cabin in 1937 (above) and now (below)
lived in the area for about 50 years and became internationally
recognized as the best big-game guide on the Kenai Peninsula. He kept
extensive diaries that give modern visitors a detailed glimpse into his
The visitor center also features some information about cultural history
from the earliest human inhabitants who lived on the peninsula beginning
about 8,000 B.C., to the Riverine Kachemak fishermen about 1,000 B.C.,
the Dena'ina Athabascans of 1,000 A.D. (who continue to live here), and
the Russian fur traders who settled in the area in the late 1700s.
Old photo of a Native Alaskan family living near
Two hiking trails begin at the visitor center. One is ĺ
mile long, the other three miles long. Dogs and bikes arenít allowed on
them. It was raining today so we werenít motivated to hike on either one.
If the weather is better tomorrow we may come back so I can do some hiking.
I don't know yet of any other nearby trails.
By noon we were ready for some lunch.
Before we left the campground this morning we asked Jan and Don, the owners,
where we could get some good clam or salmon chowder.
They recommended Rockyís, on the Sterling Hwy. near the Kasilof River,
or Buckets, across from the Ford dealer and Fred Meyer store in Soldotna.
Since we were in town
we headed to
Buckets restaurant. Itís an attractive wooden structure with lots of TVs
inside that are tuned to sports stations. Each table has a control box
to listen to whichever TV the patrons want -- or not, as we
chose. We aren't "into" either sports bar-type restaurants or
eating out much.
We waited for a seat for about 5 minutes, then waited
about 40 minutes for our chowder and house special cheese bread (the
place was packed). Both the soup and bread were good.
We might go back for a salmon or halibut dinner while weíre
here. Prices seem high but we havenít had dinner out yet this whole trip.
I told you we don't eat out much!
SOLDOTNA VISITOR CENTER & FISH WALK
After lunch we drove over to the Soldotna visitor center, conveniently
located on the Sterling Hwy. next to a bridge over the Kenai River. The
building also houses the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
We browsed the exhibits there, picked up some tourist information, and
walked down the long wooden steps to one of many public fish walks along
the Kenai River.
The visitor center showcases the world's largest sport-caught King
salmon. It weighed a hefty 97+ pounds and was caught by a local
man in 1985.
Soldotna is one of the fishing hot spots in Alaska and we naively
managed to arrive at one of the busiest times!
The Kenai River enters Cook Inlet a few miles NW of Soldotna and itís a very popular
place to fish. Although there are more limits than usual on the number
and kind of fish that can be caught this year the place
is still swarming with fishermen and women. That makes it more
interesting to watch the activity along the river but
it also makes campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, and other businesses
and streets more crowded.
We've gotten quite an education in the salmon industry already, and we
learned even more today from all the information at the visitor center
and the signs below it on the fish walk. These current fish counts were
posted in the visitor center:
People fish for at least four of the five types of salmon found in
Alaska in the Kenai River. Their various early and late seasons can last
from mid-May to October. Mid-July is usually about the busiest it gets.
It's a long walk down to the fishing decks from the visitor center but
well worth your while if you're interested. There are other fish walks
in town that are much more easily accessed (including this one, if you
park down the hill).
Where's the elevator???
Because of the fragility of
the river banks -- and the large amount of riverbank that is privately
owned -- steps and decks have been built along the Kenai River in
several places in Soldotna for
free public fishing. No bank fishing is allowed along the other parts of the
When we reached the
decks and fish walk we read all the signs about the natural and cultural
history and watched several folks
fishing. I don't believe anyone was using dip nets here. We'll see what
that's about when we go to the nearby town of Kenai.
The Kenai River attracts sport fishermen from around the world.
Although these visitors, commercial fishermen, and state residents from
other parts of Alaska bring millions of dollars of business to the area,
the influx also poses challenges for the agencies responsible for
protecting the river and making sure residents who need the fish for
survival (subsistence fishing) have an adequate supply.
There are all kinds of competing interests, both human and
One of the interpretive signs describes the importance of the Kenai
River through the millennia as a transportation "highway" for
and more recent inhabitants.
There is evidence that Eskimos used kayaks to travel upstream into the
heart of the Kenai Peninsula to salmon spawning grounds as early as 1200
B.C. Dena'ina Athabascan Indians used the river even more intensively
between 1000-1750 A.D., building villages near its lakes and confluences
with other streams.
At the turn of the 20th century prospectors, trappers, and hunters
navigated the river for gold, trophies, and food. After WWII
homesteaders settled in the Soldotna area and continued "mining" the
river for its various riches.
Appropriately, our next stop was the nearby Soldotna Homestead Museum.
I'll talk about it in the next entry.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil