Traveling with children means limiting distances and increasing time for casual fun. The best place to do that is on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. Despite being a relatively contained area, the peninsula is a microcosm of the whole state, with glaciers, mountains, trails, and rugged coastline like that found over the vast span of Alaska. Consider renting an RV, which takes the stress out of having to keep children quiet in restaurants and hotel rooms. If you prefer to sleep in a tent, rent a car and your camping equipment in Anchorage. You'll have even more flexibility and opportunities for spontaneous fun. If you can, improve on this itinerary by adding days in Homer or on the Swan Lake Canoe Route.
Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage
Fly to Anchorage and pick up your rented RV, or pick up your car and rented camping gear. After buying your groceries, you can get on your way south on the Seward Highway, stopping at the Bird Creek Campground or the Williwaw or Black Bear campgrounds at Portage Glacier. The children will need to burn off some energy after your flight and drive, and this stretch of the highway has some of Alaska's best hiking trails.
Day 2: To Seward & Kenai Fjords National Park
Drive the rest of the way to Seward on the Seward Highway and get on a tour boat to see Kenai Fjords National Park . Every kid enjoys a boat ride, and on this one, you're likely to see whales, glaciers, and lots of seabirds. Note: These vessels go into the open ocean, and seasickness is common. Everyone in the family should take a seasickness remedy 2 hours in advance. Make sure to take a vessel headed all the way into the park so you see the best of the wildlife and get close to a tidewater glacier. After you get back on land, set up your camp: If in an RV, set up at Waterfront Park, or if tenting, drive out of Seward to the Primrose Campground.
Day 3: Seward
You have three choices today, depending on the ages of your children and your interests (consider splitting up, as we often do, so everyone can choose what he or she enjoys most). (1) Visit the Alaska SeaLife Center, where you can encounter the marine life and seabirds you saw in the fjords yesterday up close, and join in educational programs that get you even closer. Allow half a day. (2) Sea-kayak for half the day or the whole day with Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking. You'll likely see sea otters, birds, intertidal creatures, and maybe spawning salmon. (3) Take a water taxi and hike the Caines Head State Recreation Area to Fort McGilvray to explore the dark corridors of the abandoned World War II installation. (Bring a flashlight.)
Day 4: Homer
Today you'll drive 135 miles from Seward to the end of the road on the southern Kenai Peninsula and the town of Homer. Allow 4 hours, with traffic and some stops. In Homer, you can get hookups for the RV on Homer Spit -- a fingerlike point into the middle of Kachemak Bay -- or in the downtown part of Homer (still near the beach). Tenters have even more choices. Spend the afternoon beachcombing and enjoying relaxed time on the many miles of pebbled shoreline. If it's raining, take in the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center or the Pratt Museum.
Day 5: Kachemak Bay Natural History
Join the nonprofit Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies for a boat ride to the far side of Kachemak Bay. Their all-day natural history outings take visitors through tide pools to see strange little creatures, through a forest of big trees and wildflowers to learn about ecology, and to an ancient Native archaeological site. Even without the guides and all their knowledge, this would still be an enchanting place to visit, with wide beaches, caves, and plenty of space for a kid's energy and imagination to run free. Bring your own lunch.
Day 6: Swan Lakes Canoeing
Now it's time to start heading back toward Anchorage. Drive about 90 miles to Sterling and stop at Alaska Canoe & Campground to rent a canoe you can take down Swanson River Road to the Swan Lake Canoe Route in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Spend the rest of the day paddling in this placid network of connected lakes, where you can fish and explore in solitude. There are numerous primitive campgrounds for the RV overnight, or, if you are tent camping, you may want to paddle to a campsite among the hundreds on the lakes.
Day 7: Anchorage
From Sterling to Anchorage is about 150 miles and will take more than 3 hours with traffic. You probably won't have extra time after returning the RV or camping equipment before your flight, but if you do, the best way to spend it is at the Alaska Zoo, where you will be sure of seeing all the most popular Alaska wildlife.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.