Alaska – Anchorage highway 1 South and Russian River

Introduction:

What? : Highway 1 from Anchorage south (Sterling Highway) lead all the way to Homer at the far end.  This road is one of the most traveled roads in Alaska.

It leads to the Kenai Peninsula with all the popular destinations like Seward, Whittier, Homer and Soldotna. It also offers many amazing viewpoints and many attractions and side roads along the 220 miles….





This region of Alaska was first explored by Russians in the late 1700s. However, a little over 150 years later it was purchased from Russia along with the rest of the Alaskan territory. Even today you can still find remaining of the Russian cultures in the small towns of east Kenai Peninsula.

 

The drive:

Highway 1 is well maintained good condition road; high traffic, for most part is single-lane road so passing may be difficult, drive slowly, stop at roadside parking and enjoy the scenery around you.

 

As you drive south of Anchorage on highway 1 to your end destination (to Witter, Seward or Homer) the road itself should be part of your trip planning.

You will have many things to see and explore as you drive south, some activities can be a short stop at a viewing point, animal watching, short or long hikes, fishing and even staying in one place for few days and explore it surrounding even more.

 

I will divide my description of highway 1 road-trip into 3 road segment and provide interesting locations and short description, the ordered of locations from north to south.

The 3 road sections are:

1. Anchorage – Portage Glacier Road (the turn to Whittier)

2. Portage Glacier Road – Sterling

3. Sterling – Homer

 

 

1. Anchorage to Portage Glacier Road (the turn to Whitter)

This road section starch south of the city of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm bay narrow waterfront, on one side you can see the bay waterfront and the mountains on the other sides the bay and on your left side high mountain of Chugach State Park.


 

Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk:

Small boardwalk to a viewing platform over the marshes.

 

Beluga Point Site:

Hwy 1 roadside parking. From this viewing point you may spot the Beluga whale in the bay, we did not manage to spot them.

Another thing you can see here is the unique phenomena of Bore Tidal Wave. This happens at this bay because it is long and shallow, incoming high tide water that are getting into the bay collides with previous tide cycle of outgoing low tide water.

This creates 5-10f high tide wave that moving across the bay upstream at 10 miles per hr, local surfer time the best date to come (max diff between low/high tide) and manage to surf the wave for long distance.

 

Mt. Alyeska Roundhouse:

Ski site and place to hike at the mountain top as also the Virgin Creek Falls Trailhead for hiking to the waterfalls.

 

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center:

Located on the junction of hwy 1 and the road to Whittier. At Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, like an open zoo. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, research, education, and animal care.

Here you can see many local animals in relatively small open area.

We did not stop here.

 

 

2. Portage Glacier Road to Sterling

This road section is heading inland, far from ocean bays. It finds the way into the mountain ridges, crossing them to the other side in relatively low pass. Probably the main road section attraction is the Russian river, prime location for fishing, hiking, rafting and many other outdoor activities.

 

Johnson Pass Trail North:

This is a very beautiful mountain pass, no need to hike here, this is an excellent stopping point along the road to watch the open landscape view, snow covered mountain ridges, waterfall and lakes.

 

Hope:

Small town located off the beaten road on the south shore of the Turnagain Arm bay. There is no major attraction here, its beauty come from being remote and with few tourists around. We did not visit hope but this is an excellent option if you want to park your RV for the night at less crowded place.

 

Turn to Seward, hwy 9:

Large junction, there is a nice pound near the southside of the junction so if you are going to Seaward you can stop for bird viewing.

 

Quartz Creek Campground (Old Cooper Landing Boat Launch):

An option to camp near Cooper Landing

 

Cooper Landing:

Makes for an excellent basecamp to explore the Russian River area. Some of the most popular hiking trails are nearby (easy/moderate intensity and distance) include the Russian River Falls and Juneau Creek Falls.

NOTE: This area, as most of Alaska, is bear country so carry bear spray with you.

The town offer many adventures opportunities for rafting and fishing along the Russian river.

This area is very popular for salmon fishing so it can be crowded during salmon run season.

 

Russian River Falls:

Visit the famous Russian River salmon falls where you can see up in close salmons jump over the waterfall boulders, you might be lucky and see a bear catching the salmons as they jump up the falls (we were not lucky …).

Russian River Falls Trail is 5.1 miles out and back hike.

For RV: you should add 2 miles for parking at the RV parking lot at the park entrance and walk along the road to the trail head small parking.





 

This is by far the most popular hikes in the area (thus busy) but it worth it!

The trail moderately clime the woods cover hills up it high point and then it drops to river gorge and to the viewing platform above the waterfalls.

Seeing the falls rushing cascading water and watching the salmons jumping over the waterfall was incredible view.

There is an an-official side trail around the back right of the observation decks that leading down to the river level for a better view, be careful not to fall into the rushing cold water.

 

Depending on the time of the year and whether the salmon are running campgrounds in this area can be incredibly busy and you might have to camp elsewhere and make day trips into the region.

We did not plan to sleep here so we have no problem with that.

 

Juneau Creek Falls:

Start at Resurrection Pass Trailhead South Parking on hwy 1, the Juneau Creek Falls is a 7.1 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail that end at the falls or the falls viewing point.

 

Sportsman's Landing:

Perfect place for Russian river Salmon fishing. Parking lot can be full mid-day (even more challenging if you are with RV) so if you plan fishing from here come early.

Even if you are not fishing this is the place to watch all the fisherman catching salmon when they run upstream, hundreds of fishermen standing on the bank of the wide river trying to catch salmons...

 

Side road trip - Skilak Lake Road:

On our way back from Homer we took this sideway drive and visited Skilak lake.

The road itself is not paved but rather well-maintained wide gravel road. We did it with our RV so it was possible, but we drove slowly.



 

There are few places to visit along this road (I listed them from east to west):

- Hidden Lake Campground and Boat Launch

- Skilak Lookout Trailhead: a nice trail that will take you to a hilltop lookout over Skilak lake.

- Upper Skilak Lake Campground: this is the preferred place to access the Skilak lake, the short road is going near the small Lower Ohmer Lake and soon after it reach the shore of the Skilak Lake, many campground and boat ramp.

- Lower Skilak Lake: another lake access with Campground and boat ramp.

 

 

3. Sterling to Homer

We did not spend much time in this section of the road although it has some interesting places to visit, because of time shortage we decided to skip them.

Visit the “Russian” towns of Soldotna and Kenai for fishing and sightseeing.

Ninilchik: Old traditional small fishing town with a small unique Russian Orthodox Church (Built in 1900).


 

Anchor Point:

This is a great place to explore. Only 15 miles before reaching Homer, the area is a nice, quiet alternative to the busier Homer Spit.

During low tide you can walk several hundred yards to the water’s edge and look out over the inlet at the mountains far on the other side across the bay.

Bald Eagles can be found all over Alaska but here they congregate in such large numbers that you are sure to see them (as well as at Homer).

You can stay at Anchor River State Recreation Area Campground.

 

Pictures:




















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