Venture a few miles off the Sterling Highway, and you’ll find one of the nicest little towns on the Kenai Peninsula — the city of Kenai. This community is big enough to offer all the necessities you’ll need, as well as some interesting history, and some great options for enjoying the scenery and the Cook Inlet.
Kenai is located northwest of Soldotna. From Highway 1 (Sterling Highway), take either the Kenai Spur Highway or Kalifornsky Beach Road. The latter option is just south of the Kenai River crossing on Highway 1. You’ll need to cross the river again, at Bridge Access Road, to get into Kenai.
I was spending the night in Soldotna, and had arrived at my motel late in the afternoon. Given the time of year (late May), that meant I had at least another 5 hours, at least, of daylight. So, I drove up to Kenai for a look around.
If you take Bridge Access Road into town, you’ll cross the Kenai River, and pass through a wide-open, flat wetland area. I spotted a herd of caribou, hanging around at the side of the road. There’s also a wildlife viewing platform, that’s excellent for birdwatching.
As I headed into town, I located Erik Hansen Scout Park…
… which provided a nice view of the mouth of the Kenai River. But aside from this view, there isn’t a lot to see at the park.
However, just a few blocks away, you’ll find…
Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Russian Orthodox Church
This Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1896, and it’s still in use today. The original church on the site was built in 1849, eighteen years before the United States purchased Alaska from Russia.
Since the church was closed, I decided to find my way down to the beach, which was almost directly below this spot, at the bottom of the cliff.
Kenai Beach is a lot different than the beaches you’d find in Florida or Hawaii. It isn’t very developed, but there is a good place to park, and easy access.
As you approach the water of the Cook Inlet, there is sand…
… followed by pebbles and rocks, and then wet sand…
… which eventually turns into some very thick, sludge-like mud. In this picture, you’ll notice a few dots on the horizon. Towards the water, on the left, are two kids, who refused to come in… and on the right is the mother who realized she had no choice, but to go out and get them. The kids were in the mud zone, and were absolutely covered from head to toe. I’m guessing, perhaps, I had arrived at low tide. Maybe it’s easier to dip your toes into the water when the water is closer to shore.
I decided to avoid the mud, and instead focused on collecting rocks.
The beach is covered with the most colorful, smooth rocks you can imagine.
I probably spent a half-hour, walking around and picking up the best of them.
As I returned to my car with a bag full of rocks, I noticed that the sun was getting low in the sky. Even so, I had a couple of hours to kill, before the sun would actually set. I took that time to drive up to Nikiski (nothing much there, except some oil and gas operations) and down to Kalifornsky Beach (I’ll show you what I found on a separate page).
By the time I made it back to Kenai Beach, the sun was indeed setting…
… just not where I thought it would be. I thought, since the beach faced the west, that the sun would go down behind those mountains in the distance. But instead, I learned an important lesson about the northern latitudes: around the summer solstice, the sun sets in the north. It makes perfect sense, when you think about it, since nighttime is only a few hours long in Kenai, Alaska. If the sun set in the west, it wouldn’t have time to make it all the way around to the east for sunrise. So, the sun sets in the north, dips just slightly below the horizon, and then rises in the north, slightly east of where it set.
At Kenai Beach, the northern sunset meant the sun was actually far away from where I thought it would be. It didn’t even set over the beach…
… instead it vanished behind these trees, on land. I learned an important lesson, and still managed to enjoy a great sunset.
And here’s another thing I learned about Alaska at this time of year. Sunset doesn’t mean the day is over. Think about it — if the sun is just dipping slightly below the horizon, that means it never really gets dark! Twilight continues throughout the night. While the sun set around 11 p.m., I was still taking pictures an hour later — this time, at another wildlife viewing spot on the Kenai River, near the Bridge Access Road’s bridge. Birds were flying everywhere, enjoying this time of day just as much as I was. But at some point, sleep is necessary. So, I reluctantly called it a day, and returned to Soldotna.
The Bottom Line
If you visit Soldotna, take the time to drive out to Kenai. See the church, and see the beach. Pick up some pebbles from the shore, and if you’re really adventurous, get muddy. Catch a northern sunset. But don’t bother with the drive to the north or south — there really isn’t much to see.
Here’s a look at the dashcam video that shows Kenai Beach, as well as Nikiski and Kalifornsky: