In the language of the Athabascan Dena’ina Indians, “Ken’ey” means “two big flats and a river cutback.”
This geographic description is apt for the land of the present-day town of Kenai. The historic area became the first European settlement on mainland Alaska when it was colonized by Russian fur traders. Their influence can still be seen in the wooden buildings of Old Town Kenai, which sit on the bluffs overlooking the Kenai River as it empties into Cook Inlet.
Old Town’s distinct architecture includes the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church and nearby Saint Nicholas Memorial Chapel, a National Historic Landmark.
Old Town Kenai
Another highlight is Fort Kenay, a replica of a 1900 Russian Orthodox School, built to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
On the bluffs
The Kenai River runs into the Cook Inlet through a wide, sandy delta. The view can be enjoyed from Erik Hansen Scout Park, where in the summer, visitors can watch dipnet fishermen harvesting salmon from the vast run that enters the river every year to spawn.
A better view
Park at the beach access lot on South Spruce street, or climb down to the beach from the trail at the south end of Forest Drive.
The tidal flats that border the Kenai delta can also be seen from a boardwalk, complete with spotting scopes, located along Bridge Access Road near the Kenai River bridge, or from a nearby viewing platform on Boat Launch Road.
This is one of the best areas to spot Kenai’s lowland caribou herd, a myriad of shorebirds and other wildlife.