Spring is here. Summer’s on the way, and Stephanie has been doing an amazing job of introducing us to Cuba. While we’re on the subject of exciting summer vacation destinations, here’s a very different one to put on your bucket list:
It’s a place that holds a very special place in my heart and my heritage. My great-grandparents moved there long ago while they were working for the U.S. State Department, back when it was still just a territory. My grandparents still live there for part of the year, and it’s the setting for most of the family stories I’ve heard my whole life.
Baby Moose in the Rain
If you’re planning your summer vacation, and you’re looking for something a little different, I can’t recommend Alaska enough. I’ve convinced numerous friends to visit. Some have cruised, some have explored on land, and one time my family and I camped all over the state. There is so much to see, but I want to tell you about my favorite region: the Kenai Peninsula.
Fireweed blooms along Kenai Lake in the Chugach National Forest.
First of all, you should know this important detail about me: while I live for the water and the wind in my hair, I am an advocate of spending as much time on land in Alaska as possible. Alaskan cruises are immensely popular, and cruise lines have dozens of opportunities for on-shore excursions, and you should take full advantage of those! My best experiences and my most intimate explorations have taken place on land. I love kayaking, whale-watching tours, and rafting, but having to stop the car for a grizzly bear to cross the street, climbing rocky cliffs for a closer view of dall sheep, watching moose wander through the yard, and watching puffins, sea otters, and bald eagles mosey around the docks have been my most intimate wildlife encounters. If you’re planning on taking a cruise, you’re going to have a wonderful time; just make sure to spend as much time as you can on smaller boats and on-shore excursions. There’s nothing like walking along the coast during low tide and finding all of the brightly-colored starfish that you’d expect to see in the tropics. Don’t skip the whale-watching tour, though. Never skip the whale-watching tour.
Pod of Orcas in Resurrection Bay
Now that we’re better acquainted, let me tell you about my favorite place: Seward. My grandparents have a home just north of Seward in the appropriately named town of Moose Pass. Seward is not to be missed. In fact, if you’re flying into Anchorage, you can take the iconic Alaskan Railroad to get there. It’s a beautiful ride along Turnagain Arm and through the Chugach mountain range.
There is something truly magical about places where the tallest mountains jut straight out from the sea. It’s a different world than most of us are used to, and it reminds us of what a tiny space we take up in this world. Better than that, it reminds us of how much we have yet to explore!
It may be the Land of the Midnight Sun in the summer, but that doesn’t make dawn on the water any less enchanting.
The marina in Seward is my family’s favorite place to begin a day on the water. Resurrection Bay, with its snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and comparatively calm waters is the perfect place to watch bald eagles nest and a raft of sea otters float past. I am particularly a fan of the Kenai Fjords tour company. Spend a half or full day on their boats and venture out of Resurrection Bay into the deeper, rougher waters of the Gulf of Alaska to spot orcas and humpback whales. Venturing deeper into the fjords allows for up close views of calving glaciers, seals on tiny icebergs, and large colonies of steller sea lions and bright arctic puffins on rocky crags.
Alaska SeaLife Center
Is she seriously telling us to go inside to an aquarium when we could be outside? Why, yes. I am. The Alaska SeaLife Center is not only an aquarium, but also a major ocean wildlife research, rescue and rehabilitation center. Their exhibits are very, very well designed and extremely educational. Their wildlife are all creatures that you’ll see in the area, including many that you won’t realize are on the bottom of the sea. They have small tidal pools filled with coral, sea urchins, and other bottom-dwellers that you can touch.
If you like a little extra education on your vacation, and especially if you’re concerned about Alaska’s environment and wildlife, take a behind the scenes tour. You’ll get to see the animals that are currently in rehabilitation as well as the labs where scientists are watching shorebirds and sea lions via cameras on rugged islands. They’ll explain their work to you, and you’ll leave with a greater understanding of your surroundings and maybe even a new calling!
It wouldn’t be a trip to Alaska without glaciers and a nice hike. Whether you’re an experienced hiker ready for bears or relatively new to the outdoors scene, this is a great, short hike. Stop by the visitor’s center for a little information on the area, and then head through the woods, over the streams, and past the dark grey glacial plain to the edge of the brilliantly blue Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is part of the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Fjords National Park, and more experienced hikers will really enjoy the 8.2 mile trail that travels further into the Icefield.
Warm up with some local flavor!
There’s one last little spot that I want to highlight in Seward, and that’s my favorite place to warm up: Resurrect Art Coffee House and Art Gallery. It’s located in a beautiful church that was built in 1916 and converted to a coffee shop in 1993. It’s a cozy and cheerful place to relax with a great drink and snack. They also showcase some great local art, if you’re looking for a souvenir.
There is so much to see and do in Alaska! Thank you for dropping by to check out a few of my favorite places on the Kenai Peninsula. I’ll leave you with these adorable sea otters. If the pictures above didn’t put Alaska on your bucket list, I bet these whiskered faces will!
This post is in memory of my father, Mark, who passed his love for Alaska and adventure on to his family.