Leaning back into
a deep, wooden armchair facing the glacier-blue waters of the upper
Kenai River, Scott, a 25-year-old landscaper from Connecticut,
shook his head in amazement.
"It took exactly
one hour to see a bear," he said, his gaze fixed on a small black
bear grazing in the bush on the opposite bank. "That's
On his third trip
to Alaska, for the first time with his mother, Scott was staying at
the Kenai Riverside Lodge, downriver from Cooper's Landing on the
Kenai Peninsula, the large landmass that juts off the southern
coast of Alaska, just south of Anchorage.
A fisherman, he
was gearing up for some of Alaska's best salmon angling. His mother
looked forward to leisurely hikes in the nearby mountains and bear
and bald eagle sightings while floating down the Kenai.
lodges in Alaska that are accessible only by boat or seaplane, the
Kenai Riverside Lodge is easy to get to, yet offers a backcountry
Two hours south
of Anchorage, the lodge consists of two properties. The Kenai
Riverside Lodge in Cooper's Landing is its home base for most
packages and rafting, fishing and hiking trips.
Backcountry Lodge is a day's raft trip downriver, where the Kenai
runs into glacier-carved Skilack Lake. The 1930s-era former hunting
lodge is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and offers a more
rustic experience than the Riverside Lodge, with Yukon-style cabin
tents and shared bathrooms for up to 16 guests. But it still has
comforts such as hot water and electricity, all powered by
Adventures runs the lodges and also leads wilderness tours and
adventure vacations around the state. The Kenai Riverside Lodge
offers daily pickups at hotels and airports in Anchorage and Seward
to bring guests to the property.
The route from
Anchorage travels south along the Seward Highway, a national forest
scenic byway, for good reason. Even on a cloudy August day, the
peaks of Alaska's Chugach Mountain range were capped with snow and
ice. The mudflats and waters of Turnagain Arm, a fjord off Cook
Inlet, buttressed the moss-green hills and glaciers of the Kenai
mountain range to the south. Whales regularly surface in the
fjord's silt-filled waters. Dall sheep dotted the rugged, steep
cliffs along the roadway.
There are 17
comfortable, simply appointed cabins at the Riverside Lodge, all
with heat and electricity. The newly remodeled bathrooms have hot
water and showers. There are no phones, Internet or TVs in the
cabins, so as not to block the sound of the nearby river. But there
is little reason to hang out in the cabins.
The chairs on the
deck facing the river were a popular spot, as was the fire pit,
also on the deck. Fisherman back from a day on the river sat
fireside drinking beer and swapping fishing stories before
general manager of Alaska Wildland Adventures, said that the lodge
focuses on accommodating groups and families with varying
interests. While most people go to the lodge to fish, some go for
raft trips on the river, where bald eagles nest in treetops, and
black and brown bears are often seen fishing for salmon.
There are dozens
of hiking trails in the area, including one to Russian River Falls,
where salmon leap into the air to surmountthe waterfall and
The lodge offers
natural and cultural history programs, with guest speakers
discussing topics such as great horned owls, salmon runs and bear
Lodge is the place for everything but fishing, with guided hiking
tours in the forest reserve, kayaking on the lake and natural
history programs. (A deep glacier lake, Skilack is less conducive
to fishing than the river.)
about a dinner of "the most tender pork chops" they'd ever had. The
poached pear was a surprisingly gourmet dessert.
The cozy dining
cabin has a small bar, with Alaskan Brewing Co. Amber being a
must-try beer. There are big, round tables for family-style meals.
Kelly said the dining facilities are being redone before next
season. There will be a larger bar area with new leather couches
and recliners as well as two dining areas with room for about 35
An early dinner
was served at 5:30 p.m. for anyone who had been up since the early
morning to go fishing. For the others, the staff fired up the
wood-burning sauna for a late-night sweat. The sauna is
conveniently located riverside to allow for quick dips into the
cold river. By about 10:30 p.m., it was time to nestle back into a
deck chair to watch the sunset over the mountains.
Explorer Package offers a three-night stay at the Kenai Riverside
Lodge. It includes transportation to and from Anchorage, all meals,
a full-day raft trip, a guided hike and a small-ship whale-watching
tour in the Kenai fjords. The price is $1,295 for adults, $1,225
Kenai Wilderness Sampler is similar but includes two nights at the
Kenai Backcountry Lodge with a full-day raft trip to the lodge, a
guided hike and midnight-sun kayaking on the lake. The price is
$1,775 for adults, $1,695 for children.
information, visit www.alaskawildland.com/alaska-lodge-packages.htm.
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].