Located slightly more than 150 miles south of Anchorage and about 90 miles north of Homer, Kenai is known as the "oil capital of Alaska." In 1957, it was here, near the Swanson River, that oil was first discovered in Alaska. The largest city within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kenai is home to the peninsula's biggest and busiest airport.
Kenai is rich in Native and Russian history. Russians fur traders first arrived in 1741; Fort St. Nicholas was built near the present site of Kenai in 1791, in the midst of the Denai'ina Athabascan village that was already established.
A walking tour of Old Town Kenai shows the community's Russian heritage with the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church and nearby Saint Nicholas Memorial Chapel, which is a National Historic Landmark.
The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center is home to a permanent collection of local historical artifacts, wildlife exhibits and a museum store. During the summer, lectures by local experts are held at the center on everything from wildlife viewing to Native Youth Olympics. A Saturday Market featuring fresh produce, handcrafted items and baked goods is held in the center's parking lot from mid-May through mid-September. The center is open year-round.
In the Dena'ina language, "Ken'ey" translates into two big flats and river cutback. Kenai is located at the mouth of the world-famous Kenai River.
The river's mouth, where it meets the ebb and flow of the Cook Inlet tides, can be viewed along the bluffs of Kenai. Erik Hansen Scout Park is the perfect spot on the bluff for enjoying the view. In July, visitors can watch Alaska residents dipnetting for salmon, while the commercial salmon fleet travels between the processing plants and fishing grounds of Cook Inlet.
For a closer look at the tidal flats, a viewing boardwalk with spotting scopes is located along Bridge Access Road near the Kenai River bridge. A new wildlife viewing platform has been added nearby on Boat Launch Road. This is a good area to spot Kenai's lowland caribou herd, as well as myriad of shorebirds and other wildlife. Three active volcanoes across the waters of Cook Inlet, Iliamna, Redoubt and Spurr, offer a stunning backdrop from this vantage point.
The city has a golf course and its own baseball team, the Peninsula Oilers, an elite collegiate summer baseball team. The Oilers have had numerous former players go on to careers in the major leagues in the team's 35-year history.
Not far from Kenai is Captain Cook State Park, the Swanson River canoe system and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information:
The Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.visitkenai.com/, (907) 283-1991
Captain Cook State Recreation Area, about 25 miles north of Kenai, dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/captcook.htm.