There’s really only two reasons anyone should know about the Kenai River: either you live in Alaska or your a fisherman, for which it is a ‘bucket-list’ river. Otherwise the measly 80-mile long river flowing across the Kenai Peninsula into Cook Inlet is easy to overlook in a land with thousands of miles of more remote, wild waterways.
But the aqua blue flows of the Kenai pack more into it’s moderate distance from source to sea than a few hundred miles of Arctic giants such as the Colville or Kongakut. Born from several different glaciers, the Kenai flows from it’s namesake lake near Cooper Landing through a tight canyon section (class 3) before easing into Skilak Lake. This ends what is known as the upper river. The second half meanders through more subdued country before gathering it’s strength again at Naptowne Rapids (class 3) and eventually dumping into Cook Inlet.
Along the way you’ll pass old homestead cabins, modern residential areas and designated wilderness. Five species of Pacific salmon make spawning runs up the Kenai, usually accompanied by some the best trout fishing in the world. Campsites are shared with brown and black bears, moose, wolves and sometimes creepy dudes living in their windowless vans down by the river.
Last summer we invited experienced SUP paddlers Alex Stoy and Andrew Muse to get together on a trip down the Kenai, from it’s source to the Pacific Ocean. With the help of Anchorage friend Scott Banks, we rowed a dory in support of their SUP descent of the river. The Utahans got to experience the varied nature of the Kenai up close and personal during the four-day paddle.