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 wild life watching.
In Soldotna, the headquarters of the 1.9 million acre Kenai Wildlife Refuge is located on Ski Hill Road, just off the Sterling Highway. Wildlife Refuge biologist John Morton said that the series of trails around the headquarters are a good, accessible place to view wildlife.
In particular, the trail along the nearby Headquarters Lake 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.
For spotting bears, Morton said that the Hidden Creek area on Skilak Lake Loop Road is particularly good.
Skilak Lake Loop Road, a gravel road between Sterling and Cooper Landing off the Sterling Highway, runs through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and serves as the starting point for many hiking trails, which lead to lakeside campgrounds and picnic areas where the chances of seeing wildlife are high. Entrances for the road are at Mile 58 and Mile 75 of the Sterling Highway.
“That’s one of the best places to see sockeye running,” said Morton of Hidden Creek.
Ken Marlow, a local birding expert, said that the Skilak Lake area is also a good place to catch glimpses of many avian species. For those interested in seeing the autumn gathering of trumpeter swans aid that trumpeter swans, Marlow recommended the Moose River, a broad tributary of the Kenai River, and Tern Lake, near the junction of the Sterling and Seward Highways in the Chugach National Forest.
To see a variety of birds, Marlow recommended the easily accessible Kasilof and Kenai river flats, where
migratory species touch down throughout the summer. The Kenai River flats can be overlooked from the viewing platform on Kenai’s Bridge Access Road.
Occasionally, whales and caribou can be spotted from that platform. The Kasilof River Flats are south of Kenai and can be accessed from Kalifornsky Beach Road and Cohoe Loop.
During the peak of summer fishing season, however, these locations provide views of human fishers as well as birds. Marlow recommended Marathon Road and Swanson River Road as locations to see more birds without seeing as many people.
“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 also part of the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and can be accessed near Sterling at mile 83.45 on the Sterling Highway, north of Kenai and Soldotna.
Marlow said that some birds can be found just about anywhere.
“Boreal chickadee is a highlight for a lot of people,” he said. These birds are easily spotted at most bird feeders.