15 Facts About the Kenai Peninsula

The Kenai Peninsula is a fascinating region. It has a rich human and natural history and a complex ecosystem of animal and plant life. There’s so much to learn, and so much to see! Here are 15 of our favorite facts about the mysterious Kenai Peninsula.

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  • 1. The first European visitors to Kenai were Russians, who built fish camps and canneries along the coast. Prospectors never found much gold here, but the fishing industry would support the area for hundreds of years.

    2. Russian settlers established the Holy Assumption of Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Church in 1791. The current building, constructed 1894, still stands in that spot today, along with many other cultural relics of Kenai’s Russian roots.

    3. Kenai is famous for the record-breaking size of their salmon. In fact, the biggest salmon ever caught with hook and line was landed on the Kenai River in 1985. It was 97 pounds, 4 ounces!

    4. The native tribe of the Kenai is the Dena’ina. Of all the North Athabaskan tribes indigenous to Alaska, the Dena’ina were the only ones who lived near saltwater and fished for marine species, allowing them to have a sedentary lifestyle.

    5. No one is completely sure where the name “Kenai” comes from. Many believe it is descended from a Dena’ina word meaning an open meadow, or flat area without trees.

    6. Two different species of puffin (horned and tufted) nest in Kenai National Park.

    7. One creature lives within the glacier itself—the iceworm. At three centimeters long, these small, dark brown worms resemble tiny black earth worms. They’re able to move through what looks like solid ice using small bristles on the outsides of their body to pull themselves forward.

    8. The longest day on the Kenai Peninsula is June 20th. The sun sets at 11:36 PM and rises at 4:36 AM.

    9. If you love water, you’ll love Kenai. Of it’s 25,600 square miles only 15,600 is land.

    10. The first two men to cross the Harding Ice Field were Eugene “Coho” Smith and Don Rising in 1940. They didn’t tell anyone about their adventure, however, and for twenty years their achievement remained unknown to anyone except Smith’s wife.

    11. The preservation of the Harding Icefield and the Kenai Fjords as a National Monument was started by the Nixon administration in 1973. It was put on hold after the Watergate Scandal, and finally made official by Jimmy Carter in 1978. The beauty of Kenai is something both parties helped preserve!

    12. The tidal range is the second largest in north America at 38.9 feet.

    13. The ice of the glaciers looks blue because the long, red wavelengths are absorbed by the ice crystals while the short, blue wavelengths are transmitted and scattered. The more densely crystallized the ice, the bluer it looks, which is why glaciers are often such a vibrant turquoise!

    14. Glaciers have a reputation of being hard to reach, but you can drive right up to the Exit Glacier of the Harding Ice Fields!

    15. The North Pacific Plate is gradually subducting beneath the North American Plate. This means that the coastline of the Kenai Peninsula is essentially being dragged into the sea.

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