With moose wandering through residential neighborhoods, migratory birds stopping by on their way north and south each year, and bears catching salmon in local rivers, the Kenai Peninsula provides ample opportunity for wildlife watching.
Skilak Lake Loop Road, between Sterling and Cooper Landing off the Sterling Highway, is an easy site to spot wildlife of all sorts.
The gravel road can be accessed at either Mile 58 or 75 of the Sterling Highway. A number of hiking trails begin on that road, and there are lakeside campgrounds and picnic areas along the way for those who want to stay put while looking for animals. The area is part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
The Hidden Creek area on Skilak Lake Loop Road is particularly good for spotting bears, said John Morton, a refuge biologist.
“That’s one of the best places to see sockeye running,” Morton said.
Birdwatchers can also visit the Skilak Lake area to catch glimpses of many species.
Ken Marlow, a local birding expert, said that the Moose River, where trumpeter swans gather in the fall, in another good place to see birds.
“That’s a good spot in the early spring and the fall,” Marlow said.
Tern Lake is also a good swan spot, he said.
Marlow said the Kasilof and Kenai river flats are two easily accessible spots to see a variety of birds.
Migratory species touch down in those areas throughout the summer as they head south, he said.
The Kenai River viewing platform is on Bridge Access Road in Kenai, and overlooks the Kenai River’s entrance to the Cook Inlet. Whales and caribou can also occasionally be spotted from that platform.
The Kasilof River Flats are south of Kenai and can be accessed from Kalifornsky Beach Road and Cohoe Loop.
Marlow said visitors on the central peninsula during the peak of summer fishing can visit Marathon Road and Swanson River Road to see birds without as many human sightings.
“The Swanson River Road is always a good one because of the variety of habitats you can find there,” Marlow said.
The Swanson River Road area is another section of the wildlife refuge, accessed near Sterling at mile 83.45 on the Sterling Hwy, north of Kenai and Soldotna.
And some birds can be found just about anywhere.
“Boreal chickadee is a highlight for a lot of people,” Marlow said.
That can be spotted at most bird feeders, he said.
Another easy-to-reach spot in Soldotna is the wildlife refuge’s headquarters on Ski Hill Road, just off the Sterling Highway. A series of trails begin near the headquarters.
“They’re nice because they’re convenient,” Morton said.
Headquarters Lake, a short walk from the headquarters, is a good place to spot Aleutian terns, loons and the occasional moose, Morton said.
Moose and caribou are most often out at low-light times near dawn and dusk. Moose can be spotted even in small patches of shrubbery throughout the central peninsula, while caribou are more often found on the Kenai River Flats.
Farther from town, Morton said the Resurrection River confluence near the Sterling Highway is another good spot to see animals, especially bears.
And Skyline Trail, which is accessed at mile 61 of the Sterling Highway, is a steep hike with views of area wilderness.
“You can hit the high country fairly quickly,” Morton said.
Guidebooks can also help visitors looking for more information about wildlife viewing hotspots.
Morton said “A Birder’s Guide to Alaska” is one good resource.
Marlow recommended “Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide.”
“It comes with a map and gives you a detailed list of what you might find in areas there,” Marlow said.