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Get your feet wet on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula: Adventure awaits for LGBT travelers

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Rafting with Alaska Wildland Adventures — Photo by John McDonald
Rafting with Alaska Wildland Adventures — Photo by John McDonald

Alaska is big. So big, we're not even going to try to give you guidance on the whole state. For starters, let's focus on Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and home to a hearty Queer population.

"I know lots of Queers that come up here for a vacation adventure and love this place," said Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant, a Gay man who migrated from the central California coast 25 years ago and fell in love with the northern lights.

Mad Myrna's memorabilia — Photo by John McDonald  

With a population hovering around 300,000, Anchorage has all the things an urban dweller would desire. Mad Myrna's (530 E. 5th Ave.) is the drag bar downtown, with dinner shows, and The Raven (708 E. 4th Ave.) is a nearby Levis-leather bar that oozes a bunkhouse feel for the more mature crowd.

Anchorage also offers an assortment of independent restaurants and cafés, a world-class art museum, and a full range of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. A scrumptious tundra omelet at the Snow City Café (1034 W. 4th Ave.) is a good way to fuel up for a day of exploring. Reindeer sausage can be found on a lot of menus, but you may have to answer to Santa Claus if too many go missing!

To immerse yourself in the community, drop by Writer's Block Bookstore & Café (3956 Spenard Rd.), which has a nice selection of books, magazines, and small gifts and hosts a wide array of events. The food is homemade, and the pelmeni is delish!

Once you've seen the city, get a rental car at the Anchorage airport, because you will need it. Taking the Alaska Railroad down to Seward is an option, but for this story, we are sticking to the road.

There are several photographic pullouts on the Seward Highway. I recommend Potter Marsh for bird-watching and Beluga Point for a look into the gorgeous Turnagain Arm, a body of water that got its name from notorious British explorer Captain James Cook, who, as the story goes, had to keep telling his crew to "turn again!" (While in Anchorage, be sure to peek inside the historic Hotel Captain Cook.)

Kenai Lake shimmers in the sunlight — Photo by John McDonald  

Once in Seward, hop on one of the fascinating ocean cruise tours into Kenai Fjords National Park, where you can get an up-close look at huge glaciers and likely see a lot of marine mammals along the way. Orcas and humpback and gray whales frequent these waters, and harbor seals and sea lions can be spotted on the ice and rocky cliffs.

Seward is named after former New York Gov. William H. Seward, who served as President Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state and negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians shortly after the Civil War. Criticized at the time as "Seward's Folly," the deal has turned out to be anything but a dud, as Alaska is rich in natural resources. It is also now beginning to reassert itself as a top international travel destination in the postpandemic world.

From Seward, motor north and hang a left onto the Sterling Hwy. This road takes you to Cooper Landing, where you can book rafting and fishing trips on the turquoise waters of the Kenai River, led by professional guides. We recommend Alaska Wildland Adventures (https://www.alaskawildland.com/) for these activities due to the outfitter's commitment to LGBTQ diversity and inclusion.

Fish for dinner — Photo by John McDonald  

Along the Kenai River is where you'll find anglers waist deep, hoping to reel in a sockeye salmon or rainbow trout. There are good hiking and mountain bike trails in this area too. The Resurrection Pass Trail linking Cooper Landing to the gold-mining town of Hope is a two-day trek at the very least (be sure to book a cabin in advance at https://www.recreation.gov/.)

The Cooper Landing area is also a good place to bunk down for the night, as it's the halfway point between Anchorage and Homer; Alaska Wildland Adventures also operates three lodges and is the perfect host for small groups. Some past guests include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. However, a huge highway construction project might make rooms scarce.

Finish off your Kenai Peninsula experience by going all the way to the end of the road in Homer. This is a funky town with cute art galleries, interesting shops, and beautiful views of Kachemak Bay. Ferries and fishing boats leave from here, as do air tours to nearby islands and parks.

For example, you can take a day tour from Homer to Katmai National Park and Preserve, where you can see brown bears, up close, fattening up for the winter.

"...There's a little six-foot-high waterfall that, during the month of July (the salmon run), bears stand on the lip of..., catching salmon as they swim upstream," said retired NPS ranger Gary Bremen (https://www.thetravelingranger.com/). "People love the national parks for seeing wildlife, but that wildlife is often just a fleeting glimpse. At Katmai, you can stand for hours and watch the bears feed. You start to recognize their habits, and you can predict what they'll do next. It's absolutely extraordinary."

Back in Home, the Spit — a four-mile road into the bay — is where all the tacky tourist traps are clustered, along with a campground typically packed with RVs and motorhomes. If you arrive in late June, the roadside is blossoming with purple lupine flowers.

Timing is important when planning your Alaska visit. The peak season runs from late May to early September, when the state truly becomes the home of the midnight sun. Alaska, Delta, and American Airlines all offer nonstop flights from Seattle to Anchorage.

For more information, discounts, and trip ideas, visit https://www.travelalaska.com/.

John McDonald is a Queer Southern writer who has relocated to the Pacific Northwest. Listen to his podcast, Slice of Good Ol Boy Life, on Spotify.