Kenai Peninsula: Water-bound and weather watching

Road Journals Blog—Tired of hot and muggy summer vacations? The next time you’re sweating on the beach or feeling woozy in line at a theme park, just think—you could be on the Kenai Peninsula on the southern coast of Alaska, riding 10-foot swells on a halibut boat in a driving rain.

Or you could be sitting on the deck of a tour boat on a sunny, 70-degree day, watching puffins dive into glass-smooth water.

The summer weather here goes through wild mood swings, as I discovered during my trip in early-to-mid July. And since Kenai is such an outdoors sort of place, weather matters.


View from a wildlife cruise out of Seward | Nic McPhee

Tired of hot and muggy summer vacations? The next time you’re sweating on the beach or feeling woozy in line at a theme park, just think—you could be on the Kenai Peninsula on the southern coast of Alaska, riding 10-foot swells on a halibut boat in a driving rain.

Or you could be sitting on the deck of a tour boat on a sunny, 70-degree day, watching puffins dive into glass-smooth water.

The summer weather here goes through wild mood swings, as I discovered during my trip in early-to-mid July. And since Kenai is such an outdoors sort of place, weather matters.

One tip: Check the forecast before booking a ticket for the eight-and-a-half-hour Kenai Fjords cruise from Seward. (The peninsula juts out, facing south, just below Anchorage. Seward is on its eastern side.) I lucked into a perfect day of calm and sunshine (and puffins and humpback whales and calving glaciers), but people who took the cruise the previous day told a grim tale of stomach-churning waves, chilling rain, and a deep desire for the whole thing to end as soon as possible.

If the weather is unsettled, you’d be much better off cruising Prince William Sound from Whittier, a six-hour trip. The sound is protected from open ocean, and the boats hug the shore. You’ll still see glaciers and otters—maybe even an orca—without ever having to reach for your sea-sickness pills . . . or a bucket.


Kayaking Kenai | NAParish/Flickr

Then again, it’s sometimes best to rebel against weather. I learned this lesson one morning in Homer, when I woke to a steady rain. I almost decided against my planned kayaking trip around the islands and inlets across the bay, but my time in Alaska was running short, so I decided to plow ahead.

I had heard that the wind often dies down on rainy days—which was exactly what happened. When the water taxi dropped me off at the far reaches of Halibut Cove, the water wouldn’t have been smoother had whole thing been indoors. Sure, I was getting wet. And I was probably a little colder than I would have wanted. But I was also gliding past harbor seals and an impossibly green Alaska forest while low-hanging clouds stuck to the mountains. It could have been worse.

In fact, at that moment, I felt like doing practically anything else would have been worse.

This blog post was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.