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Home » Alaska » 9 Best Things to do on the Epic Road to Homer
Updated June 2023

The Homer Spit is 200-miles from Anchorage, basically the end of the road. Have you added Homer to your bucket list itinerary for Alaska? If not, it should be. I wanted so badly to see the Time Bandit from “Deadliest Catch” alas, we did not get the chance. There are lots of things to do on the drive on the Sterling highway from Soldotna to Homer that are absolutely free! Getting out of the RV, on the road to Homer, walking the trails, and seeing what Alaska offers costs nothing.

Stunning Kenai River
Stunning Kenai River

Your Tour Begins in Anchorage

The road to Homer, Alaska, is a scenic drive that offers breathtaking views of the Kenai Peninsula and the Gulf of Alaska.

  1. Start by flying into Anchorage, Alaska, as this is the nearest major city to Homer.
  2. From Anchorage, take the Seward Highway (AK-1) south towards the Kenai Peninsula.
  3. After approximately 80 miles, turn right onto the Sterling Highway (AK-1) towards Homer.
  4. Continue on the Sterling Highway (new bypass to open summer of 2024) for approximately 70 miles, and you will arrive in Homer.
Man at the River Walk Soldotna
River Walk Soldotna

Alternatively in 2024, you will be able to take a scenic detour along the way by turning left at Cooper Landing onto the Sterling Highway (AK-9), which will take you through the stunning Kenai Mountains and eventually reconnect with the Sterling Highway near Soldotna.

The drive from Anchorage to Homer typically takes around 4-5 hours, depending on traffic and weather conditions. We recommend you plan for additional time to stop and take in the breathtaking scenery along the way.

Map of Road to Homer from Soldotna
Kenai Peninsula Map

Sterling Highway: The Road from Soldotna to Homer

Today is a little dismal with rain and a chill in the air. It does not dampen our spirits. This is our Alaska dream RV vacation. We rented an RV from Great Alaskan Holidays to travel the highways and byways of Alaska. Today we are back on the road looking to visit Homer, which lies at the end of the Sterling highway. The small town of Homer has plenty of things to do, from fishing to shopping. For us, the journey begins in Sterling. It is 86-miles or 2 hours’ travel to Homer. We had been camping at Alaska Canoe Creek Campground for a few days and we need to restock our groceries and gas the RV. The Sterling Highway first passed through Soldotna, so we take a little time to explore the city before continuing to Homer.

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Moose calf in a meadow
Moose – Road to Homer Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Visit Soldotna’s Pathways on the Kenai Peninsula

Soldotna is on the Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Kenai River. Some believe that it derives the name from the Dena’ina word, ts’eldat’nu, meaning “trickling down creek.” The river boardwalk hugs the rivers-edge and is a great place to stop and take a stroll before starting your journey towards Homer. You can also fish directly off the bank and try your hand at catching a large king salmon. The visitor center has free Wi-Fi for those RV travelers that need to stay connected. Soldotna also has a ranger station that houses a Bell Sea Ranger helicopter for forest fire prevention. The ranger station can provide maps and general information on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

In town, you can visit the Fred Meyer and purchase just about everything you can think of for your RV roadtrip. Fred Meyer has everything a camper needs. fresh foods, charcoal, fishing tackle, and other camping supplies all in one store.

Watch for Moose on Roadways

As you leave Soldotna, you’ll cross the Kenai River. The river is famous for its salmon fishing, and you might see anglers fishing from the shore or boats. Continuing on the Sterling Highway, we point the RV toward Homer at the end of the road.

This morning, it is foggy. As we climb the hill out of Soldotna, we see a vehicle has hit a moose. Sadly, the moose and vehicle are totaled. A reminder that you need to watch the woods for moose, they run across the road usually to escape the mosquitoes. It can happen so quickly. When we drove through Palmer, the total number of moose killed is shown on the highways signs. It is a constant reminder to take care of when driving the highways in Alaska. One bonus of traveling in the land of the midnight sun is you can drive later in the evening with no darkness.

Chena State Park Moose
Alaska Moose-Johnson’s Lake

Stop #1-Kasilof River State Recreational Site

Our first stop is the Kasilof River State Recreational site (MM 109), 15-miles south of Soldotna. This is a popular boat launch day-use area. The drift boats put in/take out at this point in the river. There are approximately 10 campsites here if you want to stay a few days and fish in the river. I wish we had the time to fish them all. Next time!!

Kasilof River EArly Morning
Kasilof River Early Morning

The Kasilof River starts at Tustumena Lake, a large lake that is in the middle of the Kenai Peninsula. The glacier-fed river flows towards Cook Inlet. Here the river was running fast when we stopped at the Recreational Boat Landing. Interestingly, there is a fish wheel here that is used to sample and count fish species. The fish wheel was unoccupied today. Sometimes biologists do sonar fish counts at different times of the year.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources manages the recreation area and is open year-round, although they may limit services and facilities during the winter months. Visitors can obtain information on the area’s recreational opportunities and regulations at the Kasilof Ranger Station.

 Kasilof River Fishing Weir
Kasilof River Fishing Weir

Stop #2-Make the Detour to Tustumena Lake

In the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Tustumena Lake is the largest lake. It is actually huge! It is only accessible from the Kasilof River. Tustumena Lake stretches 25-miles and is notorious for sudden wind and waves generated by the Harding Ice Field.

Kenai Hiking Trail through a aspen stand

You will need to travel 6.5-miles Tustumena Lake Road to the public boat launch in the Tustumena Lake State Recreation Site. We took the turnoff located off the Sterling Highway near mile marker 111. The boat launch provides access to the lake for boating, fishing, and other water activities.. Mostly used by drift anglers, you can enter the glacial-fed lake from the river.

If time permits, the Tustumena Lake Trail is a public hiking trail that provides access to the lake. The trailhead is at the end of Tustumena Lake Road. We took the gravel road that turns off from the Sterling Highway near mile marker 110. The trail is approximately 13 miles long and offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. When we discovered that we did not have time today to do the entire trail to the lake, we turned the RV around and continued towards Homer.

Tustumena Lake Credit: Pixabay

Stop #3-Clam Gulch Recreational Area

In the parking lot, we saw our first Stellar Jay. Stellar Jays are much larger and prettier than the blue jays we see in Florida. We watching a few anglers launch their drift boats, asking them how the fishing was. Apparently, the fishing has been slow this June. The small town of Clam Gulch is located a few miles off the highway. Extreme tides affect the Cook Inlet. This creates a spectacular opportunity to explore the beach looking for razor clams. If time permits, it is definitely a great place to stop and do razor clamming. If you don’t have your own equipment, there are places on the beach to rent a rake and a bucket at a minimal cost. Be sure to check the regulations and obtain the necessary permits before clamming.

 Note: The Department of Fish and Game has closed clam digging for this area until further notice.

Razor Clamming on the Beach
Razor Clamming CC0 / Public Domain 

Whether you’re clamming, enjoying the beaches, or exploring the scenic wonders, Clam Gulch offers a unique Alaskan experience. Its natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historical charm make it a worthwhile destination for those seeking an authentic coastal Alaska experience.

Bluffs on Cooke Inlet near Clam Gultch
Bluffs on Cook Inlet near Clam Gulch

What Other Recreational Opportunities Exist at Clam Gulch

Here are some additional recreational activities you can experience in Clam Gulch:

  1. Fishing – The area has excellent fishing opportunities, especially for salmon and halibut. You can fish from the shore or take a charter boat out into the Gulf of Alaska.
  2. Beachcombing – The beach at Clam Gulch is a popular spot for beachcombing, and you may be able to find interesting shells, rocks, and other treasures.
  3. Hiking – There are several hiking trails in the area, including the Clam Gulch State Recreation Area Trail, which is a 1.1-mile loop trail that offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
  4. Camping – The Clam Gulch State Recreation Area has a campground that is open year-round and offers both tent and RV sites. The campground is near the beach and has amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and toilets.

We saw more moose as we drove towards Ninilchik. Driving along the Sterling highway, sitting high in the RV, allows for spectacular views of Cook Inlet.

Mount Iliamna Volcano from Anchor River Bluff
Mount Iliamna Volcano from Anchor River Bluff

Looking over the inlet, you can see the volcanic peaks of Mt. Illiana, Mt Spur, Redoubt, and others. These epic views are continuous as the highway follows the coastline. We stopped at many pullouts to take multiple photographs. In early June, the open meadows are full of beautiful wildflowers. Lupines are especially plentiful, their purple spires are visible throughout the fields.

Lupine in Spring Alaska
Lupine in Spring Alaska

Stop #4-Ninilchik View State Campground

We needed a stretch break, so we walked along the beautiful Ninilchik River. Towering, dense green foliage surrounds the trail. Walking through this patch of Devil’s Club, you realized how easily you could startle a bear. Making a bit of noise as you hike assures us we do not rendezvous with a grizzly. Once we reached the tea-colored river, we tried to see if the fish were running. This 21-mile long river is popular spot for a few salmon species, Dolly Varden and trout fishing. Interpretive signs in the parking lot tell the story of the journey of native Salmon. There are a few developed campsites for those wishing to linger, wishing to park the RV for a few days.

Ninilchik River Hiking Trail views
Ninilchik River Hiking Trail views

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

The nearby campground offers scenic views of the Cook Inlet and the surrounding mountains. There are 35 campsites in the park, which can accommodate both tents and RVs. Some sites offer electric and water hookups. Other amenities at the campground include restrooms, showers, a dump station, and a playground. The park is open year-round, but they may limit some services in the winter months.

Ninilchik River
Ninilchik River

Stop #5-Ninilchik Village a Deviation on the Road to Homer

Ninilchik (DENA’INA ATHABASCAN: NIQNILCHINT) means “peaceful settlement by a river.” The village also has a rich history, dating back to the early 1800s when Russian explorers first settled in the area. They settled and subsided on fishing, hunting, fur trapping, and gardening. Later, Alaska was purchased by the United States. Many settlers chose to stay in the village-many descendants of the old families still live here. Ninilchik Village is a small, tight-knit community with a population of around 900 people.

Today, we can still view many of the old buildings, in particular the Russian Orthodox Church and cemetery (MM 135). This is a popular stop. There are signs marking the location and parking for RVs, which are separate. The church also provides marvellous views of the Cook Inlet.

Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church
Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church

Sterling Highway: Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik

The Holy Transfiguration Church is an important spiritual and cultural landmark in the Ninilchik community. It serves as a place of worship for the local Russian Orthodox community and holds significance for its architectural beauty and religious traditions.

In addition to its religious functions, the church also serves as a cultural center, preserving and promoting Russian heritage in Ninilchik. Cultural events, festivals, and gatherings take place at the church, showcasing traditional Russian music, dance, and cuisine. These celebrations foster a sense of community and provide an opportunity for locals and visitors to appreciate and learn about Russian culture.

Russian Village & Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Village & Russian Orthodox Church

The Holy Transfiguration Church stands as a cherished and significant place for worship, cultural heritage, and community in Ninilchik. Its location along the Sterling Highway makes it easily accessible for those traveling through the area, offering an opportunity to experience the beauty of Russian Orthodox traditions and the warmth of the local community.

The village has become prevalent with fishing tours that offer world-class salmon and halibut fishing. Ninilchik village is also a good vantage point to take additional photographs of Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt. We enjoyed sitting on the beach watching fly anglers fishing for early Sockeye (red) salmon.

Deep River Recreation Area Deep River
Deep River Alaska

Stop #6-Deep Creek Recreation Area

bear tracks in the mud
bear tracks in the mud

A few miles further down the road closer, Homer is Deep Creek Recreational Area, which is accessible from Mile 137 of the Sterling Highway. The recreation area has several campgrounds with campsites available for both tent and RV camping. The campsites are situated along the beach, offering beautiful views of Cook Inlet and the surrounding mountains. Also, plenty of parking, so take time to hike the river’s edge. The south overlook is smaller, but still has lots of room for RV parking.

Deep Creek is legendary for salmon fishing and has excellent fishing opportunities. Anglers can catch salmon, halibut, and other fish species in the nearby waters. There is good accessibility to the river shoreline.

Brooks Bear on the Trail to the Falls

Hiking, be Bear Aware

There are two scenic parking areas at Deep River, North & South. There is interpretive information on the salmon restoration that is worth the read before hiking the trails. Taking the trail down to the creek, there is plenty of high, lush vegetation. We constantly need to remind ourselves to talk loudly so bears would know we were there.

Note: Remember to bring plenty of water and snacks when hiking. Be bear aware-it is always important to carry bear spray. Alaska is bear country.  

Walking down the beside the creek we saw fresh bear tracks in the mud. Although we did not see any bears while we were there, but it is important to stay vigilant at all times. Bears could be bedded down in the dense foliage along the creek edge.

Hiking Trial in Alaska

There are several ATV trails in the area, offering a fun way to explore the wilderness. Before planning an ATV excursion, it’s essential to check the latest regulations, obtain any required permits or licenses, and respect any restrictions that may be in place to preserve the natural environment.

Note: Please note that the availability of ATV trails and regulations may have changed since my last update. It’s advisable to contact local authorities or visitor centers in the Ninilchik area for the most up-to-date information and recommendations regarding ATV trails in the region.

American Bald Eagle @ Anchor Point Beachfront
American Bald Eagle @ Anchor Point Beachfront

Stop #7-Anchor River Recreation Area

Anchor River is the next town along the road to Homer. The river is also excellent, especially for salmon and steelhead fishing. The town of Anchor Point is home to hundreds of eagles. If you are looking to photograph eagles, this is your place. They frequent the beach at low tide when a mile or so of the beach becomes exposed. Get your photo taken at the “Most Westerly Highway Point” sign and while watching the tractors/skidders drive out at low tide to bring the fishing boats in on their trailers. There are several boat launches and fishing platforms.

Anchor River Beachfront
Anchor River Beachfront

Anchor River is famous for its long, sandy beach, which stretches for miles along the coast. The beach provides excellent opportunities for beachcombing, picnicking, and enjoying the beautiful scenery. The nearby Anchor River is renowned for its salmon runs, attracting anglers who come to try their luck at catching king, silver, and red salmon.

WaterBoy Launch at Anchor River
WaterBoy Launch at Anchor River

What’s A WaterBoy?

One of the most fascinating things to do is to watch the launching of the large halibut drift boats. We watched in awe as the “Waterboy” (a converted log skidder) hooked up to the boats. Slowly making its way down the shoreline, backing the boat into the surf of Cook Bay. The boat captain will throw the engine in reverse as the waterboy gains depth. Eventually lifting the boat off the trailer. With the extreme tides of Cook Inlet, boats need to maintain 6- to 12 knots to be pulled from the water. If you would like to see the video, click here.

Anchor River Recreation Area lies on the shore of Cook Inlet and features beautiful views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains. The most notable view is Mt. Iliamna across the bay is incredible. The area has picnic facilities, hiking trails, and beach access to activities such as beachcombing, bird watching, and fishing.

Driftwood Log on the Anchor River in Alaska
Anchor River

Stop #8-Bay Crest Overlook -Great Spit View

From the overlook, you can see 180-degree views of Kachemak Bay. Bay Crest Overlook is on the last hill before you start your descent into Homer (MM 196) You can see many distant glaciers, towering mountains the famous homer spit. There is ample parking in the lot. You must stop for a picture with the Welcome to Homer sign. Interpretive signs explain historic and wildlife information.

Homer Alaska Bay View
Homer Alaska Bay View

The Bay Crest Overlook presents photographers with stunning vistas and ever-changing lighting conditions. Whether you’re capturing the grandeur of the Alaska Range, the play of light on Cook Inlet, or the wildlife in action, the overlook offers many opportunities to capture memorable photographs.

The sheer number of eagles that fly on the edge of the bluff is amazing. It is easy to take pictures to catch them in flight. I would be sure to use my binoculars to see the views of the Homer spit up-close. The gardens are full of native Alaskan wildflowers in the spring. There is also an interesting interpretive sign that describes how a group of prospectors became stranded and their tale of woe. Descending the hill, we aimed the RV towards the Homer Spit to do some sightseeing.

Stop #9-Homer Alaska–At the “End of the Road”–The Adventure Begins!

The Homer Spit is a 4.5-mile-long strip of land that extends into Kachemak Bay. It’s a popular spot for fishing, shopping, dining, and wildlife watching. If you have time for a scenic roadtrip, the roads around Homer offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and ocean. Drive out to the end of East End Road for some of the best views.

Beach  pebbles on the Homer Spit
Beach Homer Spit

Dead End The Homer Spit is the “Real” End of the Highway

Today we experience the cloudy, cold blustery windy as we parked the RV on the Spit. Surrounded by wilderness and ocean, Homer is at the end of the Sterling Highway. Homer is has a population of about 5500 people. The Homer Spit is a narrow stretch of land the juts out into the bay. In some places, the spit is only about 300 yards wide. Driving this sand spit into the Kachemak Bay is an experience. I suggest stopping to visit the Homer Visitor Center and take in the views from the Homer Overlook before heading down the spit.

The Homer Spit Beach View
The Homer Spit Beach View

What are the Best Things to See & Do in Homer?

There are plenty of things to keep you busy in Homer, Alaska. From recreational opportunities, or learning history, or just enjoying the natural environment.

The spit is home to campgrounds, shops, guided fishing excursions all within the harbor area. Few people seemed to brave the weather, so parking was easy. I can imagine that on nice days it would limit parking.

Salty Dawg Saloon-Us
Salty Dawg Saloon

#1-Pin a Dollar Bill @ Salty Dawg Saloon

One must stop and visit the iconic Salty Dog Saloon. It is known for its rustic atmosphere and live music performances. The bar has a long history and has been in operation since 1957, making it one of the oldest bars in Homer.

Famous, it is renowned for its rustic atmosphere and live music performances. I would say that the building looks like a fisherman’s shack attached to a shingled lighthouse. The inside is small and quite cramped. We only stopped to take a peer inside, attaching our dollar to a section of the ceiling. The Salty Dogg Saloon also offers a variety of bar food and drinks, including beer and cocktails. We did not stay for a drink at the bar.

Homer Marina boats at the dock
Homer Marina

#2-Try an Excursion to Go Fishing at the Homer Marina

We know Homer as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” and there are plenty of fishing charters available for both halibut and salmon. The marina is chock full of large and small fishing boats. I know I was looking for the world-famous crab boat called the “Time Bandit”. We did not see the boat, but lots of crab traps were visible throughout the waters of Kachemak Bay. If you can’t go fish for halibut, then you need to eat it! We stopped for lunch at the Mariner Restaurant (now the Chart House). The halibut fish and chips plates were delicious. The view of the marina is nice too!

Shops along the Harborview Boardwalk
Shops along the Harborview Boardwalk

#3- Shop the Harbourview Boardwalk

Walking back to the RV, we continued along the Harbourview Boardwalk gallery of shops (sometimes called Cannery Row or Homer Shores). Inua The Spirit of Alaska quality, unique one-of-a-kind design pieces, all reasonably priced. The craftsmanship was exquisite. We purchased a blanket and some jewelry for Barry’s sister and mom. They specialize in sterling silver jewelry made with mammoth tooth and fossilized walrus tusk. Lots of specialties from niche stores along the boardwalk.

NOTE: it is more expensive to purchase on the spit, the same can be said for dining.

SEAFARER'S MEMORIAL
SEAFARER’S MEMORIAL

#4-Seafarer’s Memorial A Striking Bronze Sculpture

Just across the street from the Salty dawg is a solemn reminder. The Seafarers Memorial is set against the backdrop of the stunning coastal scenery of Kachemak Bay. The memorial serves as a tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives at sea and honors the contributions of the seafaring community in Homer and the surrounding area. It recognizes the dangers and sacrifices associated with a life spent on the water. For us, visiting the Seafarers Memorial allows you to pay homage to the maritime heritage of the region and the individuals who have made significant contributions to the seafaring way of life.

The Pratt Museum is a cultural and natural history museum
The Pratt Museum is a cultural and natural history museum

#5-Explore Natural History at the Pratt Museum

The Pratt Museum is a cultural hub that celebrates the history, art, and natural beauty of the Kachemak Bay area. Whether you’re interested in learning about the region’s indigenous cultures, exploring the diverse ecosystems, or experiencing the vibrant art scene, the museum offers a comprehensive and engaging experience for visitors of all backgrounds. We spent an hour just reading the interpretive exhibits and wandering the lovely front gardens.

Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center-Boat Display

#6-Research and Conservation at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the center focuses on the marine and coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in learning about the marine and coastal ecosystems of Alaska. With its informative exhibits, wildlife viewing opportunities, and educational programs, the center provides a comprehensive and engaging experience for visitors of all ages. This was our first stop to get informational brochures and walk the trails.

 Beluga Slough Trail view of the estuary
Beluga Slough Trail view of the estuary

The Beluga Slough Trail A Scenic Hiking Experience

Near the heart of Homer, at the back of the visitor center, you can find the Beluga Slough Trail. It is a wetland and estuarine habitat known for its diverse birdlife and scenic beauty.

The trail is a loop trail that winds through the wetland area, offering opportunities to observe the rich plant and animal life that thrives in this habitat. The trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and is relatively flat, making it suitable for hikers at all skill levels. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, bird lover, or simply seeking a tranquil walk, the Beluga Slough Trail in Homer is definitely worth exploring.

Land's End Resort Sign End of the Homer Spit
Land’s End Resort Sign End of the Homer Spit

The Magic Of Homer the End of the Road

Homer, Alaska, has many other outdoor recreation opportunities. Here are some additional things to do in Homer if you have extra time:

  1. Visit Kachemak Bay State Park a 400,000-acre wilderness park that offers hiking, camping, fishing, and kayaking opportunities. Take a water taxi from Homer to the park’s various trailheads.
  2. Take a wildlife tour. Homer is home to a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, moose, bears, and whales. Take a guided tour to get a chance to see them up close.
  3. Take a flightseeing tour. See the beauty of the area from the air with a flightseeing tour. Fly over glaciers, volcanoes, and stunning mountain ranges. Bear viewing trips to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park are popular in the summer.  
  4. Go Kayaking a great way to explore the waterways around Homer and get up close to wildlife like otters and sea lions.
  5. The Wynn Nature Center is a nature reserve located just outside of Homer. It features a network of trails that traverse diverse habitats, including forests, meadows, and wetlands. The trails vary in difficulty and offer opportunities for wildlife viewing, birdwatching, and learning about the local flora and fauna.
Homer Spit
Homer Spit Credit: Damian Manda Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

DINING RECOMMENDATION: On our first trip, we dined on the spit at the Chart Room for its stunning panoramic views of Kachemak Bay .Unfortunately; it is very overpriced. On our last trip, we really enjoyed the Duncan House Diner for more authentic local cuisine. Highly recommend it.

Final Thoughts on Driving from Soldotna to Homer

Driving from Soldotna to Homer provides a chance to experience the breathtaking landscapes, wildlife, and coastal charm of the Kenai Peninsula. Enjoy the journey and create unforgettable memories along the way.

We turned the RV around at Land’s End on the Homer spit and headed back down the Sterling highway towards Soldotna. Our destination for this evening is the RV is Johnson’s Lake State Recreation Area for our overnight stay. Homer has given us a few glorious memories. I hope you get the chance to make it to the end of the road and see what Homer, Alaska, offers!

Have you visited Homer, Alaska? What activities and sights did you like best? Drop us a comment below on your adventure or tell us what you would like to see along the way!