Home » Alaska » The Best RV Adventure along the Sterling Highway in Beautiful Alaska!

Updated June 2023

Today, our great RV adventure along the Sterling Highway, Alaska, is taking us to Soldotna following the Kenai River. This roadtrip passes through Chugach National Forest and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The Sterling Highway was built in the 1950s. The Sterling Highway is a scenic highway that runs for approximately 138 miles from the town of Sterling near Soldotna to the town of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

On your Alaska dream RV vacation along the Sterling Highway, Alaska, you can either stay in a private campground or a state campground. One of the best things in Alaska is you can just pull off the highway with your RV and camp at any wayside or pullout. Luck is with us again today as the weather is outstanding-sunny clear skies and the temperatures are in the warm 70s.

Tern Lake, Mountain views of the Chugach National Forest
Tern Lake, Chugach National Forest

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Tern Lake Viewpoint, Adventure Begins on the Sterling Highway in Alaska

Our first stop is Tern Lake, at the junction of the Seward Hwy and the Sterling Highway in Alaska. (MM 37). Visitors can stop at numerous pullouts and overlooks to take in the views and snap photos along this highway. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and ample parking for RVs. We walked to the interpretive observation platform overlooking Tern lake. A picturesque alpine lake, there are magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout.

The interpretive signs told us that waterfowl nest and mate May through June in the shallow lake. Salmon spawn in Daves Creek, which is a great place to fly fish. Sterling Highway provides access to some of the best fishing spots in Alaska. We walked the marsh looking for wildlife and trout but did not see any. This is an idyllic spot for photographing. In the early morning hours, there is often a perfect reflection of the mountains on the lake.

Kenai River Rafting-Cooper Landing
Kenai River Rafting-Cooper Landing

Sterling Highway Rest Stop-Cooper’s Landing Day Use Area

We take a brief break in Cooper’s Landing (MM 48). The Cooper’s Landing boat launch & day-use area is at the junction of the Kenai Lake outlet where the river begins. The boat landing is directly downstream of the Kenai River Bridge.   

We loved the day area with easy access to walking trails, a cute trapper’s cabin, clean restrooms, a sizable picnic area, and a boat ramp with good access to the Kenai River. Drift boat excursions use the ramp used. Take a stroll on the boardwalk. Here you get prime opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife sightings.

Cooper's Landing Lynx-Sterling Alaska
Cooper’s Landing Lynx-Sterling Alaska

Walking along the river’s edge towards the Kenai Lake, I was lucky enough to observe a Lynx walking the shoreline. An outstanding surprise! The lynx looks over at me before slowly sauntered into the woods. Barry ventures into the woods to follow him, but the lynx is wise and outmaneuvers him. 

Skilak Lake views of the snow capped kenai mountains
Skilak Lake views of the snowcapped kenai mountains

Skilak Lake Road, a Detour off the Sterling Highway

Continuing our journey, we detour onto Skilak Lake Road, part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. To truly enjoy a destination, I always find the paths least traveled. Getting off the beaten path of the highway, you gain more opportunities to see wildlife and find solitude. Skilak Lake Loop Road leaves the Sterling Highway at MM 75 and rejoins it at MM 58.

Skilak Lake Overlook views of the lake and Kenai Mountains
Skilak Lake Overlook

There are spectacular views of mountain glaciers and Skilak Lake at various points along the loop. The lake is approximately 15 miles long and 4 miles wide, making it one of the largest lakes in the region. The lake is surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Chugach Mountains, making it a popular destination for outdoor recreation and scenic views.

There are two campgrounds along the road. Opportunities to view wildlife are also abundant. Taking this road with an RV is not the best option. The road is a unimproved gravel with plenty of washboards along its 18-miles.

Skilak Lookout Trail-RV Adventure Sterling Highway Alaska
Skilak Lookout Trail

Walk to Magnificence Views Skilak Lookout Trail

The Skilak Lookout trail is a 4.1-mile round-trip and takes about 4 hours. It is not steep, but a gradual climb to one of the most beautiful overlooks on the Kenai peninsula. The view of Skilak Lake is magnificent. The glacial waters appear blue even when the sun does not shine. The Skilak Glacier created the lake and is deep, providing an ideal habitat for juvenile salmon.

Skilak Lake Recreation Area Sign
Skilak Lake Recreation Area Sign

For hikes, we always bring snacks and a full water bottle. Sturdy, well broken-in hiking boots or shoes. Waterproof rain jacket and rain pants. Clothes for dressing in layers; dress for current weather. Camera, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and binoculars

Note: Bears are highly active along most trails in Alaska. Be bear aware, carry bear spray or travel in a group.

Kenai River/Russian River combat fishing
Kenai River/Russian River combat fishing

Kenai/Russian River Access-Sportsman’s Access Site

The Sportsman’s Access Site is a large parking area located near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers, which provides easy access to both rivers for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. There are also several hiking trails that start from the Sportsman’s Access Site, including the Russian River Trail and the Lower Russian Lake Trail.

There is plenty of RV parking on the south side of the Sterling highway. We stopped for a short snack break to see the watch the combat fishing at the confluence of the Russian River and the Kenai River. It’s called “combat fishing” as people stand side-by-side in the river to cast their fishing lines, hoping to hook a prized sockeye salmon. We walked to the river and saw many pink salmon resting in the shallows. The Sterling area of Alaska is renowned for its salmon fishery. One of our quests will be to enjoy more fishing when we return to Alaska.

Kenai River View
Kenai River View

The Russian River Campground, Ferry Access Site, Sportsman’s Boat Launch, Russian River Falls, Russian Lakes Trail, and K’Beq’ Cultural Site are visited by 150,000 visitors each year. The Ferry Access is privately owned that takes you across the river for fishing. There is a fee for access, as it is privately owned. Today is not our day for fishing. Instead, we are more interested in taking hikes and understanding the cultural aspects of the Kenai Peninsula.

K’Beq’ Footprints Heritage Site
K’Beq’ Footprints Heritage Site

K’Beq Footprints Heritage Site Experience-Sterling Highway Alaska

This interpretive site at MM 53 is operated by the Dena’ina Athabascan Kenaitze Indian Tribe. This unique cultural site operates a visitor center and gift shop and offers interpretive walks on a raised boardwalk with an indigenous guide.

The site is significant to the Dena’ina people, as it contains several petroglyphs, rock carvings, and footprints that are believed to be thousands of years old. In the language K’Beq’, means “footprints.” Dena’ina ancestors left the footprints and represent an important link to their history and culture. The exhibits go into great detail about the traditional plant lore and the cultural connections of the native peoples to this site. I find these cultural sites fascinating.

Visitors to the K’Beq Footprints Heritage Site can participate in guided tours led by members of the Dena’ina community, who provide insights into the history, culture, and significance of the site. The tours include a visit to the petroglyphs and footprints, as well as a traditional Dena’ina fish camp and other cultural features.

We found this is a beautiful natural setting, surrounded by forests, mountains, and the Kenai River, which provides visitors with opportunities for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. There is good parking for RVs, so no worries.

Russian Falls Trail-RV Adventure Sterling Highway Alaska
Russian Falls Trail

Hike the Russian Falls Trail

If you are in this area, I would suggest taking the easy hike to Russian River Falls. It is worthwhile. You can park for free at the Russian River Campground. Such a beautiful trail on a well-maintained path. At the base of the falls, you can watch the salmon attempt to leap the falls to reach spawning grounds upstream. At the height of the salmon run, you can see brown bears. Today we saw a few salmon, but no bears.

Note: Be bear aware. Travel in groups or carry bear spray. Bears have attacked hikers on this trail. Stay vigilant!

Russian River Falls-Sterling Alaska
Russian River Falls-Sterling Alaska Credit: ted bongiovanni CC BY 2.0

RV Ventures to Soldotna, Alaska-Kenai River Fishing Capitol

At MM 94 is Soldotna Creek Park. It has a wonderful day-use area with access to the fish walk. A lovely setting along the Kenai River. Go on Wednesday when the park hosts the Farmers Market. The market vendors sell lots of quality local goods. The park also has a playground for kids, picnic areas, frisbee golf, and benches to sit and just watch the river.

Forestry Division Helicopter
Forestry Division Helicopter

Sterling Forestry Division-Fire Prevention

There is a divisional office at MM 92 on the Sterling Highway. The Division provides fire protection services and related fire and aviation management activities on 150 million acres of land throughout Alaska. The Forest Service uses a variety of aircraft and helicopters to help manage wildfires. We stopped to take a picture of the Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter and it brings back memories of our time working in the forestry industry doing fieldwork for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario.

Soldotna Visitor Center-Alaska
Soldotna Visitor Center-Alaska

Stop at the Soldotna Visitor Center & River Boardwalk

We believe the first stopover in a new area should always be the visitor center. Located right by the Soldotna bridge, if you have questions about Soldotna, this is the place to stop. The volunteers are so very helpful, providing informational brochures on activities in the area.

Tip: this is a great place to get quality t-shirts and other gifts.

They lend out fishing equipment, so you can fish from the Riverwalk or just go down and watch the other anglers. We immediately headed down to the Riverwalk along the Kenai River to look for fish moving upstream to spawn. They constructed the boardwalk along the river bank to protect the native vegetation and maintain fish habitat for spawning salmon. We watched in anticipation as anglers caught a few salmon; I envy that they have this marvelous opportunity to catch a prize-winning salmon. Maybe we have that same opportunity the next time we visit Soldotna.

Man at the River Walk Soldotna
FishWalk Soldotna

Visit “Old Town” Kenai

A side trip off the sterling highway on the Kenai spur road will take you into the small village of Kenai. A timeless walking tour of “Old Town” Kenai will give you a glimpse into the prior history of the area. The old cabins, the Russian Church all have a tale to tell. We enjoyed a half day exploring the beach and learning the details of the historic Old Town.

Holy Assumption of Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Church 
Holy Assumption of Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Church 

Great Campgrounds locations along the Sterling Highway

I love our RV adventure has taken us too many beautiful places. Along the Sterling Highway in Alaska, there are several fantastic campground locations where you can enjoy the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Here are the campgrounds we used.

Kenai Lake at the Quartz Creek Campgound
Kenai Lake at the Quartz Creek Campgound

Quartz Creek Campground-Sterling Highway, Alaska

During our travels along the Sterling Highway in Alaska, we stay at a few different campgrounds. Quartz Creek Campground (MM41) on the shore of Kenai Lake is an exceptional location. The campground is within the Chugach National Forest. They pave the campground road. There are 45 campsites and there are many pull-through sites for RV. Campsites are well-spaced and private. RVers can reserve some campsites in advance through the Recreation.gov website. The scenery is gorgeous, and it’s an ideal location close to the Kenai River & Seward.

Campers at the Quartz Creek Campground Sterling Highway
Quartz Creek Campground

This campground has a separate day-use area with picnic tables and fire rings right on the lake near the boat ramp. This is the perfect place to stop for lunch between Anchorage and Homer. Taking the first right on the road leads to the day-use picnic area. The RV easily navigated the small parking lot. We did a short walk along the shoreline; the gravel makes walking slow in the distance. We can see loons on the surface of the lake. I have always loved the call of a loon. Sounds so lonely. There are splendid views of Kenai Lake and the distant snow-covered mountains. If you wish to wet a fly and cast a line, there is a short trail to the Quartz Creek outlet. Dolly Varden is native to the creek.

Man with a rainbow trout stocked lake in A;laska
Nice Rainbow Trout!

Alaska Canoe Creek Campground-Sterling Highway, Alaska

Sterling is a small town at MM 81, about halfway along the Sterling Highway. Alaska Canoe & Campground is a great family-owned campground. Max Finch was a wonderful host. We stayed for two days here, taking tours that only made this adventure one of the most exceptional experiences ever. The RV campground was clean, with full-service hookups at a reasonable price. Shower rooms were immaculately clean and great for individual use-bonus is they are free. The hospitality of the staff was top-notch. They have a few forested RV sites and some in the open field; they also have rental cabins available.

 Alaska Canoe Creek Campground
Alaska Canoe Creek Campground

This campground also rents equipment and offers a variety of excursions from fishing to rafting and hiking to lodging. If you’re looking for Alaska Bear Viewing or an Ecotour, look no further. The highlight of our Sterling Highway RV adventure was the bear viewing of Wolverine Creek with High Adventure Air.

Bears along an Alaskan River
Brown Bears Credit: Damond Blankenship

Alaska Canoe Creek Campground also booked a guided float fishing trip for Barry on the Kenai River, catching Rainbow Trout. Max got us a guide for the date we needed when we experienced a mix-up on our dates. One of the staff assisted us by cleaning fish and doing a grocery run. Most RV companies do not want you to freeze fish in the RV. Instead, they provide coolers to store your catch. The people here made our stay that much better. Their compassionate staff took care of all our needs as newbie RVers.

“Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become”

Johnson’s Lake Campground State Recreation Area-Sterling Highway, Alaska

Johnson’s Lake Campground State Recreation Area (MM 110) is about 15 miles south of Soldotna, off the Johnson Loop road. The road into the campground is gravel but well-maintained. Making reservations here is important, although we did not have a reservation (link). There are two loops and both are dry camping. The west section of the campground had lots of campsites. The campsites are large, accommodating larger RVs.

NOTE: RVers can reserve East loop campsites.

The sites here are not heavily forested, just enough to provide shade & privacy. They clean the well-maintained bathrooms daily. Dump station before you turn into the campground or hit it on your way out.

Johnson's Lake Campground lake views
Johnson’s Lake Campground lake views

We chose a site within easy walking distance of the lake. The west side of the campground was relatively empty, so we felt so secluded. There are no hookups here. Once we set up camp, we encounter another moose mama and her baby. She had decided that our campsite was a prime feeding ground. The moose never seemed to mind us being there at all. Interesting fact, they say moose browse campgrounds knowing the bears will not frequent places humans inhabit.

Rainbow Trout-Johnson Lake Campground
Rainbow Trout-Johnson Lake Campground

RV Adventure-Fishing Johnson’s Lake

The main attraction of Johnson’s Lake Campground is its excellent fishing opportunities. The lake is well-stocked with rainbow trout, making it an ideal fishing place for kids and beginners. Our greatest quest today will be to catch a few trout. The trout were plentiful, hitting Blue Fox Mepps lures repeatedly. Every cast seemed to produce fish. I spotted a small vole in the high grass while walking down to the lake. I had never seen one before. She was gathering grasses for her nest. The chilly, still lake waters are a great place to cool off on a hot summer’s day. These waters attract kayak, canoe, paddleboard enthusiasts, looking to steal away from the crowds of the Kenai River.

Note: Use only barbless single hook lures for fishing trout.

Hiking Trail in Alaska wilderness

Final Thoughts on our First RV Adventure along the Sterling Highway in Magnificent Alaska!

Experience boundless RV excursions along the Sterling Highway while indulging in the beauty of Alaska’s never-ending mountain vistas, glacial blue lakes, exciting wildlife, and brilliant glaciers. The RV lifestyle is perfect to create your own great RV adventure along the Sterling Highway, Alaska. A trip along the Sterling highway should be on your Alaska itinerary. It should absolutely be added to your itinerary. 

Been to Alaska and traveled the Sterling Highway? What did you like most about your visit? Let us know we would love for you to comment below on your adventure!