Camping on the Kenai – Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1)
Rumor has it that the Kenai Peninsula has the best salmon fishing in the world. I think that used to be considered general knowledge, but times have changed and so have the salmon runs. Russian River reds are still running somewhat thick each year. While it’s still great for fishing, it does not have the runs like they used to in the 80’s or even the 90’s. Still, camping is a sure thing on the Kenai Peninsula and lots of fun. The Sterling Highway begins at the Seward Junction, 90 miles south of Anchorage and spans 143 miles south towards the coastal community of Homer.
In this article, I will be listing all of the camping sites on the Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1) that I know of and what I know of them. Some will be RV capable and some may be primitive; however I will not post RV park businesses unless there is a special circumstance and I will post that circumstance. For a complete, mile-by-mile, listing of this highway and all of the RV parks and much more, I highly recommend The Milepost (www.themilepost.com). I will include some points of interest near each camping site whenever possible too. I will start this list at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways and continue down the Sterling Highway to Homer.
For the ease of writing, I will only post the mileposts heading South (S). I will also put a (+) sign if it is within the mile marker; for instance, if the location is at mile 44.4, I will put 44+. You can assume that all campsites have a firepit and table, unless I claim that it is primitive. Please watch for bears in the campgrounds and moose along the highway. So come along and go camping with me!
Mile S 44+ – Quartz Creek Campground (USFS) & Crescent Creek Campground (USFS): On Quartz Creek road (near Sunrise Inn), go about a 1/8 of mile down to the Quartz Creek day use area. Then at around half a mile you will find the Quartz Creek Campground with 45 sites with flush toilets available. (Reservations: 1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov). The pavement ends just past this campground.
At just after a mile in, the road will fork. If you go left, at nearly 3 miles in you will find the Crescent Creek Campground with 9 sites, toilet, and water pump. If you continue on the road past the campground, you will find the Crescent Creek Trailhead, which is 6.2 miles to Crescent Lake. There is a public-use cabin at the lake that requires a permit. If you go right at the fork in the road (mile 1), you will reach the day-use area on the Kenai Lake; however there are no toilets or tables.
Mile S 47+ – Cooper Lake (Snug Harbor Road): Just past the Kenai Bridge is the road that heads up into the mountains for about 12 miles to reach Cooper Lake. Pavement ends about a mile in and the gravel road conditions really depend on the year and the grading.
At mile 10, you will find a winter recreation site for snowmachines that heads up into the Chugach National Forest. At nearly 11 miles, you will find the Rainbow lake Trailhead with a ¼ mile trail to trout fishing. Then a little over 11 miles in you will see the Russian Lakes Trailhead, which is a fairly long trail at 23 miles. There are public-use cabins on the trail but permits are required.
At a little over 12 miles, you will find a gate (large vehicles turnaround here) and a short access, very rough road down to the lake. Cooper Lake offers primitive camping (with no facilities and no fees) and beautiful views.
Mile S 50+ – Cooper Creek Campground (South) & (North): At mile 50.5, there is a bridge over Cooper Creek and, just after the bridge, is the turn off, South, to Cooper Creek Campground (USFS) with 23 sites and some outhouses. I have some great memories of this campground from when I was a child. There is access to the creek and it is nicely wooded and well maintained. If you continue past the South entrance to mile 50.6, you will find the exit to Cooper Creek Campground (North). The narrow short gravel road leads you to a small camping area with 7 sites and an outhouse.
Mile S 52+ – Russian River Campground (USFS): You will follow a paved road for about 2 miles once you enter. This campground has parking areas for day-use, trailheads, overflow parking, dump station, and a campground with 84 sites with toilets available. Watch for bears!!! Bears are extremely common in this area and they will attack! This campsite is often full to overflowing during the summer due to the famous Russian River Red salmon runs. (Reservations: 1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov) (**Note: To cross the Kenai River and fish, use the Russian River Ferry at mile 54.9 on Sterling Highway)
Mile S 58 – Skilak Lake Loop Road Campgrounds (4 total): Skilak Lake Loop Road leaves the Sterling Highway at mile 58 and travels 19 miles (gravel; original highway) through the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and reconnects with the Sterling Highway at mile 75.3. This is a known brown bear habitat so watch for bears! There are many trailheads along this road so I will only point out the four campgrounds.
At about 3.5 miles in, you will find the Hidden Lake Campground which is about a ½ mile in. This campground has 44 sites, picnic pavilions, dump station, wheel-chair accessible toilets, water, and a boat launch. This campground holds a ton of memories for me. There is some great trout fishing and many summer activities here.
At nearly 8.5 miles in, you will come across the beautiful Upper Skilak Lake Campground, which is about 2 miles in along Lower Ohmer Lake. There are 25 sites, toilets, water, and boat launch. There is also a day-use picnic area.
Just past that, at around 8.6 miles, the Lower Ohmer Lake Campground is a very small campground with a narrow road. It has only 5 sites, toilet, and a boat launch. You can trout fish from this lake.
The last campground on Skilak Lake Road is the Lower Skilak Lake Campground at mile 13.7. There is a 1 mile gravel road that leads to 3 large parking areas, boat launch, and the campground. The campground has 14 sites, toilets, picnic areas, and boat launch for Skilak Lake and Kenai River fishing. The lake is cold and has fierce winds from a glacier, so please wear life jackets. Watch for bears! (**Return to Sterling Highway at mile 75.3**)
Mile S 59+ – Jean Lake Campground: There is a large gravel turnoff to the north and there is no sign for this entrance. This is a nearly primitive campground with only 3 sites, a picnic area, and a boat launch. At the time that I visited, there were no toilets.
Mile S 68+ – Kelly & Petersen Lakes: Turn to the south and you will encounter a fork. Go to the right for Petersen Lake with a small campground with lakeside gravel parking, toilet, water, and boat launch. Go straight for Kelly Lake with a similar camping set up as Petersen Lake. Both lakes are pretty basic in amenities but they do have rainbow trout in them. There is access to the Seven Lakes trail.
Mile S 71+ – Watson Lake public campground: There are parking areas on both sides of the highway. There is an entrance with only 3 sites, toilets, water, and steep boat launch (for canoes, etc). This is a very basic campground with access to the East Fork Moose River trailhead. Watson Lake has rainbow trout.
Mile S 80+ – Bing’s Landing State Recreation Site: A half a mile down this road brings you to a well-maintained campground with 36 sites, picnic area, toilets (wheelchair accessible), water, and boat launch. There is access to the Kenai River by walking the Naptowne Trail, which is a ¾ mile hike to Rapids Hole.
Mile S 81+ – Izaak Walton State Recreation Site: This campground is located at the junction of the Moose and Kenai Rivers. There is paved access to the day-use parking area, boat launch, and camping area. The campground has 31 sites with toilets, water, and lots of fishing. This area is famous for salmon and trout fishing. There are a lot of amenities in the nearby town of Sterling.
Mile S 83+ – Swanson River Road Campgrounds (North): The Swanson River Road leads to what Alaska Magazine calls “a world-class canoe trail system.” This area that is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge hosts 2 canoe trails. The 60-mile Swan Lake route connects 30 lakes, while the 80-mile Swanson River rout links 40 lakes. Since there are multiple trailheads and lakes with great trout fishing, I will focus only on the campgrounds.
At nearly 14 miles in, after passing many trails and fishing lakes, you will come across the Dolly Varden Lake Campground. This campground has 15 sites, toilets, water, and a boat launch. The loop is very narrow and bumpy, so check before bringing a large vehicle in. You will find great trout fishing here. I also remember picking mushrooms and the rare watermelon berries here with my mom when I was pretty young.
When you have gone about 15 ½ miles, you will come across the Rainbow Lake Campground. This campground is very small with 3 sites, outhouse, water pump and boat launch. This area is not good for RV’s and it has a steep road.
At about mile 17, you can take the Swan Lake Road junction and access several somewhat primitive campgrounds with many trails, canoe routes, and much lake trout fishing. At Mile 3 (Swan Lake Rd), you will reach Fish Lake Campground with only 2 sites and an outhouse. At mile 3.9 (Swan Lake Rd), there are no campsites, but there is a large parking area with restrooms. At mile 12.5 (Swan Lake Rd), you reach the end of the road and parking area with an outhouse.
Back on Swanson River Road, if you continue to mile 17.5, you will reach the Swanson River Landing that includes a graveled parking area, outhouse, picnic table, firepit, boat launch, and fishing. This is a single, nearly primitive campsite that marks the ending of the Swanson River Canoe Route.
Mile S 84+ – Morgan’s Landing State Recreation Area: Turn South on Scout Lake Loop Road and travel past the Scout Lake day-use area, going about 1 ½ miles in and then turn right on Lou Morgan Road, then drive about 2 ½ miles in to Morgan’s Landing State Recreation Area. This is a beautifully maintained campground with a day-use area, 41 campsites, 10 RV pull-through sites, toilets, and water. There are gravel paths down to the Kenai River for fishing. The Alaska State Parks Special Management Area Headquarters is located at Morgan’s Landing. This is another one of my favorite spots to camp.
Mile S 94+ – Swiftwater Park Municipal Campground: Take East Redoubt Avenue (just after Fred Meyers) about a ½ a mile to the park entrance. This campground hosts 42 sites with some pull-throughs, toilets and boat launch. This campground is located on the Kenai River and is usually pretty crowded during the summer due to salmon fishing. It is a heavily wooded area and has a narrow road.
Detour to Kenai here, the road to Homer continues at mile 95.8. (Please consult a good map or The Milepost for more detailed information)
Mile S 94+ – Kenai Spur Highway to Kenai and Nikiski area campgrounds: Take a right at the Y and head towards Kenai.
At nearly 12 miles, after passing the visitors center, you will find Spruce Drive with Kenai Beach access and rest rooms. There is camping allowed on the beach; however it is fairly primitive with no tables or firepits, although you can have a campfire on the beach. They do have bathrooms available. I would not recommend camping down there during the local Dip-net fishery as the beach becomes quite crowded and smelly. It is a sight to see and I would try to stop by if possible just to see the craziness. There are parking fees.
At about 35 ½ miles down the Kenai Spur Highway, you will enter the Captain cook State Recreation Area. This area has many lakes with swimming, fishing, picnic, and day-use areas dotted all over the place. I will just mention a few spots.
At mile 35.9, you will see Bishop Creek to the west. This area is very primitive but has parking, water, picnic tables, firepits, and trail to beach. There is a camping and day-use fee. Watch for salmon spawning. No salmon fishing allowed.
At mile 39, you will turn left to enter the Discovery Campground with an additional day-use area that has a gorgeous view (Very steep, high cliffs!!) with toilets and tables. The campground has 53 sites, hiking trail, water, and scheduled fireside programs (in season). There is a beach access road but it is only good for 4-wheel drives and the beach is unsafe due to high tides and loose sand. There are also mud-flats that you can get stuck in, of which I know about from personal experience. This is an amazing place!
Back to the Sterling Highway at mile 95.8. (After passing through Soldotna)
Mile S 95+ – Traffic Light Junction to Funny River State Recreation Site (Funny River Road) and Centennial Park Municipal Campground, Kenai Landing, and Kasilof Beach Road (Kalifornsky Beach Road).
Funny River Road Junction: At mile 95.8 of the Sterling Highway, there will be a stop light and you must turn left (east) to head towards the Funny River State Recreation Site. At mile 1.6, you will find the Kenai River Center and it is a major resource for information on the Kenai River. At mile 2.9, you will enter the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The road is about 22 miles long in total. A recent, very large forest fire in the area makes this area not very desirable (2014).
At a little over 11 miles, you will come to the Funny River State Recreation Site. This park has about 6 RV spots and some tent sites with outhouse, water, and a trail to the Kenai River fishwalk. It is a very basic campground.
Kalifornsky Beach Road Junction (Also called the K-Beach Road): This road heads west from the Sterling Highway for about 22.2 miles and reconnects back to the Sterling Highway at mile 108.6. The first 5 miles has Soldotna businesses and there is a Kenai Bridge Access road that connects to Kenai at about mile 6. There are also lakes and trails along this road.
Within seconds of turning onto the Kalifornsky Beach Road, you will want to take a right hand turn at mile 0.1 for the Centennial Park Municipal Campground and the Homestead Museum. This park is huge and is right on the Kenai River. It has 126 sites with water, restrooms, dump station, boat launch, fishwalk, and numerous trails. There is also the nearby Homestead Museum. I have many memories from camping here as a child and it has grown since then. I think I camped here more than anywhere else while growing up.
At mile 8.3, after passing the Kenai Bridge Access Road, you will take a right on Cannery Road and drive 1.2 miles for the public beach access and the historic Kenai Landing. On the public beach, you can camp but it is primitive camping only and preferably with a 4-wheel drive vehicle as there is soft sand and gravel. The Kenai Landing is a 1920’s-era salmon cannery that has been renovated as a resort community which offers lodging, camping, restaurants, shops, galleries, and fishing. This is the only time I will mention a business but that is because they offer camping and it is a must-see for anyone visiting the area. (www.kenailanding.com)
At mile 17.4, the Kasilof Beach Road leads nearly a mile down to the very primitive picnic area and beach access. There are some locals who camp here for the dip-net fishery (Alaska residents only) during fishing season but it is very primitive and messy. I would not recommend it to anyone who is visiting the area from out of state.
Back to the Sterling Highway at mile 95.8 (again).
Mile S 108+ – Kalifornsky Beach Road Junction (See above).
Mile S 110+ – Johnson Lake State Recreation area & Tustumena Lake: From the large metal T at the beginning of Tustumena Lake Road, drive 0.1 mile to the Johnson Lake State Recreation Area. This area has 50 sites with wheelchair accessible restrooms, water, boat launch, and some RV sites. Johnson Lake is stocked with trout but it is a non-motorized lake.
If you continue down Tustumena Lake Road for about 6 miles, you will come to the Slackwater Boat Launch on the Kasilof River. The surrounding area is owned by the Salmatoff Native Assoc. and is private property. You must have permission to camp in the primitive sites.
Mile S 111 – Crooked Creek State Recreation Site: Take a right on Cohoe Loop Road (junction) and travel 1.6 miles. Take the turn off for the rest of the ½ a mile to the Crooked Creek State Recreation Site on Rilinda Road. This campground has 79 side-by-side overnight parking sites, 36 day use sites, toilets, water, pay phones, tent sites, and trails to the Kasilof River for fishermen. (**Note: Cohoe Loop Road is a 15.6 mile loop that runs along the Cook Inlet for at least half of it with great views.)
Mile S 117+ – Clam Gulch State Recreation Area: Take the dirt access road about a ½ mile down to the campground. This campground has 116 side-by-side overnight parking spaces with picnic tables, picnic shelter, toilets, water, and a long stairway leads down to the beach. There is a steep beach access road but it is for 4-wheel drive or ATV access only due to deep, soft sand on the beach. Clam digging for razor clams on the Kenai Peninsula is a favorite pastime and you must have a sports-fishing license to dig. Watch for closures and read the regulations. Nearby, in Clam Gulch, there is usually some delicious, famous clam chowder at Bakers Clam Shell Lodge.
Mile S 134+ – Ninilchik River Campground: Take the turnoff to the east for a basic campground with 39 sites with water, grills, and out-houses. There is a trail to the Ninilchik River and fishing for salmon and Dolly Varden. Don’t forget to visit the Ninilchik Village and the old Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church which is nearby.
Mile S 135 – Ninilchik Beach Campground: This campground is accessed by the beach access road and has 35 sites, toilets, water and razor clamming. The sea breezes are known for keeping the mosquitos down. The view is amazing here and you can see the Russian Ninilchik Village from the beach. Please respect private property; however they don’t mind you walking through the road system. Be careful of the tides as they have had a few people drown in the area.
Mile S 135+ – Ninilchik View State Campground: This state campground has a narrow gravel loop road with 12 campsites. They have tables, toilets, drinking water fill-up, and litter disposal available. View of the village from the campground and there is a long stepped bath that leads down to the beach and the village.
Mile S 136+ – Deep Creek North & Deep Creek South: These sites are located right near the Bridge over Deep Creek. Deep Creek North offers camping while Deep creek South is day-use only. Both have restrooms, water, interpretive kiosks, tables and firepits.
Mile S 137+ – Deep Creek State Recreation Area: This campground is located on the beach at the mouth of Deep Creek. There is a gravel parking area with 100 over overnight campsites, water, tables, restrooms, pay phones, and firepits. There are some beach-side camping sites as well as there is some great salmon fishing along the beach. This is a really great site but it can get windy. Please be careful of the tides.
Mile S 151+ – Stariski State Recreation Site: This campground is set up just past Stariski Creek fishwalk at mile 150.8. It is located on a bluff with great views of Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt; however there is no beach access. The small campground features 16 sites in the trees on a gravel loop road with toilets that are wheelchair accessible and water.
Mile S 157+ – Old Sterling Highway (Junction/Access to Anchor River Beach Road): When you see the Anchor River Inn, take a right at about Mile 157. This will have you cross the Anchor River Bridge and just beyond the bridge; turn right onto the Anchor River Road which will take you 1.2 miles down to the Anchor River Recreation Area for camping and fishing. There are 5 recreation sites in the area.
At the junction, is the Silver-king Campground which is on the river, and has a parking area and toilets.
At mile 0.6, is the Coho Campground with side-by-side parking and toilets.
At mile 0.8, is the Steelhead Campground with day –use parking, picnic tables, and toilets.
At mile 1.1, is the Slidehole Campground with 30 campsites that feature a day-use parking area, tables, water, toilets, wheelchair camping areas, and trail access to the river.
At mile 1.5, is the last campground called Halibut Campground and it has 20 campsites with a day-use parking area, toilets, and water.
The Anchor River Beach Road dead-ends on the shore of the Cook Inlet and features a viewing deck, telescopes, beach access, a parking lot, benches, and display boards. (Return to Sterling Highway mile 157.1)
Mile S 169+ – Rest Area/Kachemak Bay: Not a campground, but too good to miss! You must stop here and take pictures!! You will then descend into Homer and head to the Homer Spit!
Mile S 172/173+ – Karen Hornaday Hillside Park: This is a city campground accessed via W. Pioneer Avenue, then Bartlett and Fairview Avenues (follow signs) and located behind the ball fields. It is in a thickly wooded hillside and it has 31 campsites, restrooms, water, and a playground. There is no campground host. No reservations allowed and only small RVs.
Mile S 173+ – Bishop’s Beach: Turn west (right) on Main Street towards water, then left on E. Bunnell Avenue and right on Beluga Avenue to reach Bishop’s Beach Park. There is a public beach access, parking, picnic tables, and the Beluga Slough Trailhead. I don’t know for sure that you can camp here but I have seen people camping on the beach, so I am listing it just in case. You may want to visit the visitors’ center to find out for sure. Either way, it’s a must-see destination.
Mile S 175+ – Mariner Park public beach parking and camping: You are now on the Homer Spit! This campground is very primitive. Make sure you camp on the side that is furthest away from the sea bog as that really has a strong smell as the tides move in and out (personal experience).
Mile S 178+ – The Fishing Hole Public Campground: restrooms and rudimentary campsites. Very close to the Pier One Theatre and The Fishing Hole. This campground can fill up fast in the summertime as the Homer Spit is a popular destination.
Mile S 178+ – Home Jackpot Halibut Derby: There are maps, information, toilets, and you can ask them about the beach camping spaces that are provided by the city of Homer. There are no RV hookups and they are primitive.
Mile S 179+ – The Homer Spit Campground: This campground has quite a bit more to offer but it fills up extremely fast. They have RV camping on the beach, showers, electric, RV pull-throughs, dump station, laundromat, and gift shop. I am pretty sure you can tent camp there as I have seen them. The Homer spit is usually pretty packed so calling ahead would be a great idea. (907-235-8206)
That is the end of the road and it is considered the most Western highway in North America at the tip of the Homer Spit. Please share and take the time to leave me a small comment if this information was useful to you.