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 amazing." 

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.

Unlike many lodges in Alaska that are accessible only by boat or seaplane, the Kenai Riverside Lodge is easy to get to, yet offers a backcountry element.

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.

The Kenai 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 hydro-energy.

Alaska Wildland 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 dinner.

Kyle Kelly, 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 continue upriver.

The lodge offers natural and cultural history programs, with guest speakers discussing topics such as great horned owls, salmon runs and bear safety.

The Backcountry 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.)

Guests raved 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 people.

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.

The Kenai 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 for children.

The four-night 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.

For more information, visit www.alaskawildland.com/alaska-lodge-packages.htm.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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