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"One of Alaska's most beautiful state parks and campgrounds is located at the end   
of the road past Nikiski. Captain Cook State Recreation Area offers fantastic   
beach combing and camping opportunities. A myriad of wildlife can be seen with a 
keen eye throughout the area. On a clear summer day, look west across 
Cook Inlet for views of the Chigmit Mountains . . ."
One of the main reasons we wanted to drive north from Kenai to Captain Cook State Park on the Kenai Spur Hwy. was to view the "Ring of Fire," five active volcanic mountains across Cook Inlet. We'd seen them from a distance on the high points of the Coastal Trail in Anchorage but from this area of the peninsula from Kenai to Capt. Cook SRA the views are reported to be the most epic.

Well, even though it was sunny today the clouds were hanging too low over Mounts Spur, Redoubt, Iliamna, Augustine, and Douglas to see this fascinating Aleutian arc of volcanic peaks. We'll have to put it on our list of Things to Do and See the next time we visit Alaska.

This entry is a continuation of the plethora of things we did see this Friday the 13th in the northwestern corner of the Kenai Peninsula. It was a busy day!


We enjoyed three colorful little city parks in Kenai this morning while searching for bluff views of the fishing frenzy at the mouth of the Kenai River. I particularly liked all the flowers in this park, which is maintained by master gardeners living in the area.

There were some flowers that are familiar and some that were new to me. Here are a few of the photos I took in this delightful park:




Bleeding hearts


A type of zinnia?

Leif Hansen Memorial Park is located on the Kenai Spur Highway, the main east-west route through Kenai. It's close to the visitor and cultural center. It includes the city clock and a memorial dedicated to American WWII Merchant Marine veterans and "all mariners, present and future."


After observing the commercial and dipnet fishing at the mouth of the Kenai River below the city bluffs we continued north on the Spur Highway to its end at Captain Cook State Rec. Area.

The AAA map section of the northwest part of the Kenai Peninsula shows the relationship of this area to Anchorage:

This more detailed Milepost map section shows our route out and back from the town of Kenai:

We entered a much more industrialized area a few miles north of Kenai near Nikiski. The town was homesteaded in the 1940s and grew larger when oil was discovered nearby in 1957.

Numerous oil and natural gas facilities and offshore production platforms are located in this area now. Some of the biggest oil-related companies operate here, including ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Tesoro, and Unocal.

We could see a few of the platforms and ships from the Spur Hwy. and took a couple roads toward Cook Inlet to see others:


I was hoping weíd have more views of Cook Inlet. On maps the Spur Hwy. looks like it is fairly close to the coast but most of it isn't. We drove down one road that sounded like we could get beach access but it just led us to more oil/natural gas businesses.


The area north of Nikiski sports numerous recreational lakes. We had nice views of several of them from MM 36-38, just before reaching Captain Cook SRA. Fishing, boating, and camping are popular in the summer, cross-country skiing in the winter.

This is one of the lakes we could see:

We crossed the Swanson River, a popular canoe trail, at MM 39 and could see Cook Inlet to the west.

Once inside the recreation area we turned toward the inlet at the end of the road so we could enjoy the bluff view at one of the picnic areas:

There is no charge to enter the park but you must purchase a $5 pass if you stay longer than 30 minutes.

We could see several oil platforms across the inlet. There are at least a dozen of them but we couldnít see all of them from that vantage point.

There is supposed to be a superb view of Mt. Spurr from this end of the park. As mentioned above, we never did get a good view of any of the five volcanoes across the inlet today. The clouds were too low over them. Weíre hoping the clouds are higher tomorrow and weíll finally get a good view of them. Heck, Iíve gotten better views of their snowy peaks from Anchorage when it was clear!

Low tide in Cook Inlet, looking south from the bluff at the recreation area

We drove through Discovery Campground at the park. Itís shady and the sites are well-spaced for privacy but I donít think we could have gotten our camper into any of them. There just isnít any room to maneuver a 36-foot 5th-wheel coach with all the trees on the campground road and in the sites. It's a quiet place to camp if you have a smaller RV and is especially convenient for folks using the Swanson River Canoe Trail. The current cost is a reasonable $12/night.

On our way back to Kenai and Soldotna we passed a Tesoro station in Nikiski that had diesel fuel for $4.35/gallon but we didnít stop. Turned out, that was the least expensive diesel in the area. We ended up filling the tank in Soldotna at the Fred Meyer store for $4.39/gallon, the going rate there.

Out of curiosity we drove through the RV parking area at Fred Meyer. RVs can park there up to three nights and there is an employee who keeps order. There were more RVs in the dump station line than in the parking area but Iíd guess there are more at night after people get done fishing. Many visitors from both in and out of state travel in little motorhomes that they use during the day, then park in a campground or other spot at night.


I wrote about the visitor center and a pioneer cabin at the refuge yesterday. For several reasons, including rain, I didn't go on a hike. The same reasons were factors again today but I did manage to squeeze in a one-mile hike near the end of our busy day trip. 

On our way back to the campground this afternoon we stopped again at the refuge's visitor center located southeast of Soldotna so I could hike on the trails for a little while.

Several relatively short trails begin at the visitor center:

By mid-afternoon it was getting more cloudy and I was afraid it would start raining.

I knew Jim wanted to ride his bike so I just hiked about a mile on a very civilized loop trail down to an observation deck on Headquarters Lake and back through the woods:








The Centennial Trail is 2.2 miles farther; I didn't hike on it today and probably won't have time during this trip to Alaska. Maybe next trip! (I've been talking about a "next time" since about our second day in Alaska.)

Our last stop this afternoon was at the Kasilof Historical Association Museum. I wrote about that in the first of today's three entries.

Bikes and dogs arenít allowed on the trails in the refuge so Cody and Jim got their exercise after we ate supper in our camper at the Kasilof RV Park. Jim rode his bike on Tustumena Lake Road and through the campground at Johnson Lake while I took Cody for a hike and swim at Johnson Lake, which is right across the road from our campground.

Those were pleasant ways to spend our evening after two busy days exploring the northwestern corner of the Kenai Peninsula.

We will be staying in Kasilof only one more day. Tomorrow we'll drive down to Homer and do as much as we can reasonably do on a day trip. If we are completely smitten with the town and want to spend more time there, we might move our rig to that area for a few days. A lot depends on the weather. We're happier in Anchorage when it's wet and chilly than on the peninsula.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil