On the Kenai Peninsula it’s pretty much all about the Kenai river. Not that the hikes and the shore of Cook Inlet do not matter, but it is the Kenai river that brings tourism to Alaska. People visit from all over the world to catch salmon. Red, Silver and even King salmon runs up the river every summer to spawn. We thought that fishing would be a fun experience, but it turned out to be quite cost prohibited considering the gear you need in order not to ruin the river banks, and the licenses required to even make an attempt at a catch. Water lovers we are however, so we opt to experience the river from a different perspective and book a Kenai River Float at the Kenai River Drifters Lodge.
If you like wild water and expect to get wet, the river float is not what you’re looking for. Find this experience near Hope, Alaska on the Six Mile Creek. Since we are traveling with a 2 year old, the float seems perfect for us. It is advertised as suitable for people of ages 2 to 89. The standard length of the trip is 2 hours, but if you add an extra hour, the boat can make it into the wildlife reserve. The chance to see a bear or a moose increases drastically, according to the organization.
We show up somewhat in a frenzy. The attempt to be early was challenged because of the usual chores that need to be done when we leave our camp host spot for a couple of nights. Laundry, groceries and on to our reserved camp spot at Russian River Falls campground. We have been given a spot that does fit the trailer, but the narrow loupe makes it impossible for us to maneuver into it. We try several times but it’s not our skills that are lacking, we simply don’t fit. We drive all the way back to the entrance, get a different spot assigned to us and finally sit down for a quick meal. Good thing that at least we were trying to be early, since we have no time to spare at this point.
The kids are in their life jackets, we get ours on and its time to head to the water. Our guide has the intention to have us sit in the back of the boat, to minimize the chance of getting wet, but somehow we end up on the other end. This is a good thing as the kids are having a blast. The rapids that we do encounter on this ride are minimal and there are only a few, but when a big splash of water jumps into the kids’ faces, they think it is hilarious. At some point we have to keep Metta in her seat, when she thinks she can just randomly shuffle through the boat and hang over the edge. Finn does get bored when the excitement of the rapids is over. He asks multiple times how far we still have to go. Our guide points out bald eagles, tries to spot bear and moose and jokes that we will come upon a spot with white eagles soon. It turns out to be a flock of seagulls. We see probably two hundred fisherman in the water of the Russian River, when we paddle by. They stand in the river, lined up one after the other with maybe 25 feet between, from one end of the horizon to the other, with the water up to their waist. Apparently quite regularly bears show up to take their share of salmon. There are rules on how to dispose of fish carcasses in order to not attract bears to these popular fishing locations, but with this number of people, the bears have to go somewhere to catch dinner. If a bear does show up, the very popular Russian River Ferry blows a horn to warn the fishermen in the area.
It’s a good thing that we filled a backpack with snacks and peanutbutter sandwiches. The three hour float requires quite some patience. No big deal for us, but for the kids somewhat more of a challenge, especially since we don’t actually see that much wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy being on rivers and lakes, but the attraction was certainly wildlife viewing and wild animals don’t just show up on command. To get a little more adventure in his calm float, I suggest to steer the boat into a side stream. The guide has not been here before, but he knows that this side stream merges back with the main river. It gets a little narrow and we have to carefully steer around some sweepers (fallen trees that will literally sweep you off your boat if you fail to navigate around them). It is fun though and it brings the kids’ interest back to our environment.
Before we know it, we reach the end of our Kenai River Float, where a van is waiting to pick us up. According to Finn, this is the best part of the adventure. Little does he know when he voices his opinion, but he turns out to be correct. We drive by the river where we just floated by the shores in hopes of a glimpse of some wildlife. Now that we are safely away from the river, we see two bears plunging in the water, in search of fish. The driver doesn’t really slow down, but it still makes this trip a success. When we get back to our truck however, we decide to ignore that we are way past kids bedtime and make use of the midnight sun. We drive the 12 mile back to where we first saw the bears and hope that they are still there. Sure enough, we see three bears this time. We find a decent place to park and pull out our cameras. The bears go into the forest, come out again and jump into the water to catch salmon. It is spectacular.
Although the Kenai River Float was not as exciting as we had hoped it would be, our guide was fun and entertaining and we enjoyed the always beautiful Alaska views. But these three bears, they certainly made our day.