The best map of the Kachemak Bay area is produced by Alaska Road and Recreation Maps and is available all over town.
On the Homer Side of Kachemak Bay
Exploring Tide Pools -- Exploring Kachemak Bay's tide pools is the best way to really get to know the sea and meet the strange and wonderful animals that live in it, and it doesn't cost anything but the price of a pair of rubber boots. First, check a tide book, available for free in virtually any local store, or ask a local to check one for you. You'll do best on a low tide of -1 or lower, meaning that low water will be at least 1 foot below the normal low, some 25 feet below the high. Extralow tides expose more of the lower intertidal zone that contains the most interesting creatures. At a -5 tide, you could find octopus and other oddities. The lower the tide, the more time you'll have to look. But keep track of the time: The tide comes in faster than you imagine, and you could get stranded.
The best place to go tide pooling right in town is reached from Bishops Beach Park, near the lower end of Main Street. Walk west on the beach toward the opening of the bay to Cook Inlet. It's at least a half-hour brisk walk to the Coal Point area, where the sand and boulders end. This is where you'll find pools of water left behind by the receding tide, many full of life. Explore patiently and gently -- look at the animals and touch them, but always put them back as they were and try not to crush them underfoot. Marine invertebrate identification keys and many other field guides are sold at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, where rangers happily give advice. They also offer ranger-guided tide-pool beach walks. If you want to keep going beyond Coal Point, there's usually a raft of sea otters offshore about 3 miles down the beach. Just continue walking, keeping your eyes on the water. As always with watching wildlife, binoculars will improve the experience.
Hiking & Nature Walks -- The Wynn Nature Center, operated by the nonprofit Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (tel. 907/235-6667; www.akcoastalstudies.org), offers a chance to learn about the ecology of the area and see its birds and wildflowers on an easy walk or hike while taking in sweeping ocean views. The center encompasses 140 acres of spruce forest and wildflower meadow off Skyline Drive, with an 800-foot boardwalk accessible to people with disabilities. The center has done a fine job of adding an educational component without diminishing it -- including a log cabin where you can meet a host and ask questions. The center is open daily from 10am to 5pm mid-June through Labor Day, with guided walks twice a day. You can also hike on your own with a printed guide. Fees for adults are $7, seniors $6, 17 and younger $5. Call about interesting daily programs as well.
More ambitious hikes explore more of the bench of land above Homer or the mountains across the bay at Kachemak Bay State Park . The 7-mile Homestead Trail is an old wagon road used by Homer's early settlers. A map and guide produced by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust is available at the visitor center.
Horseback Riding -- Ranchers have worked around Kachemak Bay for decades. Drive east of town on East End Road to see pastures overlooking spectacular marine and mountain views. Go beyond the road, and you're in some of Alaska's most beautiful untamed country. Mark Marette guides trail rides to the head of Kachemak Bay, leading every group himself, as he has since 1986. Guests used to typical, boring tourist horseback riding come back thrilled at how adventurous their ride has been. Mark's a real working cowboy in the old style (he recently apologized to me for being out of touch with a note that said, "I'm off the road system calving out my cows"). His business is called Trails End Horse Adventures (tel. 907/235-6393), 11 miles out East End. He charges $25 per hour, or $85 for a 4-hour trip. He takes all ages and raw beginners.
Mountain-Biking or Driving -- Several gravel roads around Homer make for exquisite drives or bike rides. Mountain-bikers can use the Homestead Trail, too. A lovely drive leads out East End Road, through seaside pastures, a forest, and the village of Fritz Creek, then follows the bluff line through meadows toward the head of the bay. When the road gets too rough, explore onward on a mountain bike. Skyline Drive has extraordinary views of high canyons and Kachemak Bay; drive up East Hill Road just east of Homer. The great mountain-biking across the bay is described below.
On & Across Kachemak Bay
Along the south side of the Kachemak Bay, glaciers, fjords, and little wooded islands are arrayed like a smorgasbord before Homer. A quick boat ride puts you there for sea kayaking, mountain-biking on unconnected dirt roads, hiking in the mountains, or eating sushi in a top-flight restaurant on pilings. Or gallery hopping, resting at a remote lodge, studying at a nature center, or walking the streets of a forgotten fishing village. The far side of the bay has no road link to import the mundane, mass-produced world, but it does have people, and they make the landscape even richer and more enchanting than it would be alone. And underneath the water, there's a wealth of halibut and salmon.
Transportation Across the Water -- Many water taxis operate from Homer to wilderness cabins, kayaking waters, hiking trails, and mountain-biking roads accessible from the Jakolof Bay Dock, Seldovia, Halibut Cove, Kachemak Bay State Park, and other remote points. Rates vary little; it's around $75 per person to get to Kachemak Bay State Park, plus a $4 park fee, for example. Mako's Water Taxi (tel. 907/235-9055; www.makoswatertaxi.com) has experience and a good reputation. Mako Haggerty also rents sea kayaks and drops them off; with his advice, you can plan a one-way paddle, with the water taxi providing a lift at each end. Karl Stoltzfus's Bay Excursions Water Taxi and Tours (tel. 907/235-7525; www.bayexcursions.com) offers transportation across the bay but also specializes in small-group tours -- he takes no more than 12 at a time -- for serious bird-watching or, on other days, to encounter sea otters as well as see the bird rookeries. Stoltzfus rents kayaks, too. Contact other water-taxi operators, and make other outdoors booking arrangements, through Inlet Charters Across Alaska Adventures (tel. 800/770-6126; www.halibutcharters.com).
Kachemak Bay State Park -- The park comprises much of the land across the water that makes all those views from Homer so spectacular. For around $75, you can be dropped off there after breakfast, walk the beach, hike in the woods, climb the mountains, and meet your boat in time to be back in Homer for dinner. Enough people are doing it now that some water taxis offer scheduled service to the most popular trail head. If you want to be on your own, there are plenty of lesser-used trails as well.
Its center is the summer-only ranger station in Halibut Cove Lagoon, where there's a dock and mooring buoys for public use, three public rental cabins over the water, a campsite, and excellent king salmon fishing in mid-June.
The park has about 80 miles of trails, many linking at the ranger station; a free trail guide is available there, but you're well advised to get a good map before you leave Homer. The trails generally start at tidewater amid a lush, mossy forest and rise into the craggy mountains -- up sharp peaks or, if you don't want to climb that much, over the hills to the next secluded beach. The most popular is the Saddle Trail, which rises through forest from a staircase at the east side of Halibut Cove over a low ridge to the icy lake in front of Grewink Glacier. It's an easy hike of around 3 miles total. If you want to be away from other hikers, however, discuss choices with a ranger or your water taxi provider, as there are plenty of quieter trails; since some trails are not adequately maintained, local advice is critical.
All hikers should prepare with proper shoes and clothing and bring mosquito repellent. Review bear-avoidance skills. Mobile phones work over much of the bay.
Besides the three cabins at Halibut Cove Lagoon, you can hike to two more public rental cabins less than 3 miles from the lagoon's dock. The park's fifth cabin is on Tutka Bay, off the Halibut Cove trail network. Cabins rent for $65 a night peak season and $50 nonpeak, and can be reserved 6 months in advance. Seven remote yurts with woodstoves and sleeping platforms are for rent from a concessionaire, Alaska Yurt Rentals (tel. 907/235-0132; www.alaskanyurtrentals.com), also for $75, and may be easier to reserve. You use can any of these places as a base for self-guided sea kayaking, and most are at trail heads.
Seldovia -- This historic fishing village is like Homer without all the cars and people: just a lot of quiet, the lovely ocean waters, and some nice places to stay. It belongs in this outdoor section because there's nothing at all to do there other than bike, paddle, or fish (you can do nothing there very well, too). Seldovia comes alive a couple of days a year: for Independence Day celebrations, which include a parade and small-town games and activities, and for a community festival for Memorial Day.
The trip across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia is one of the best parts of going there. For most people, the Rainbow Tours (tel. 907/235-7272; www.rainbowtours.net) daily round-trips are the practical alternative. They offer shuttle service from Homer Harbor that allows a long day there and a narrated natural history tour with a 3-hour stop in the village. You don't need to stay overnight in Seldovia to get a feel for the town and take a bike ride, a kayak tour, or just walk around the town. Round-trip fares to Seldovia, with or without the nature tour, are $45 adults, $40 seniors, $35 children 12 and under; going one-way is $30 for everyone. A passenger ferry began operating in 2010 using a large, fast catamaran and offering service three times a day. The Seldovia Bay Ferry (tel. 877/703-3779; www.seldoviabayferry.com) also offers nature tours on some runs.
Go sea kayaking in Seldovia with Kayak'atak (tel. 907/234-7425; www.alaska.net/~kayaks). The couple leading the tours, longtime Seldovia residents, take pride in showing off the wildlife and beauty of this area. They charge $120 for a 5-hour tour, including lunch, or $80 for a 3-hour tour, without lunch. They also rent kayaks and offer overnight trips. For a less taxing look at Seldovia Bay, take their evening skiff tour for $35 per person (with two to four passengers).
King salmon are stocked in Seldovia Slough, which passes right through the town. The run peaks in mid-June, and you can fish from shore. Seldovia also has an edge for halibut anglers, because you start out an hour closer to the halibut grounds than in Homer, potentially giving you more time to actually fish. The best source of town information is its extraordinary website, www.seldovia.com.
Jakolof Bay -- A state-maintained dock opens an area of gentle shorelines and abandoned roads to visitors who seek the wilderness without paying to stay at a wilderness lodge. West of Kachemak Bay State Park and east of Seldovia, the lands have roads, but the roads aren't connected to anything and are used as much by mountain-bikers as by anyone else. You can take a water taxi straight to the Jakolof dock. Lodgings are nearby at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast. The waters of Jakolof, Little Jakolof, Kasitsna, and Little Tutka bays, and the tiny Herring Islands, are appealing and protected for sea kayaking. Supreme mountain-biking trails lead along the shore and right across the peninsula through forest and meadows for berry picking. The Red Mountain and Rocky River roads are prime routes, different each year depending on wash-outs and intermittent maintenance -- that's part of the adventure. A maintained 10-mile road west leads to the charming village of Seldovia, described above.
Gull Island -- This rock across the bay from Homer Spit is a busy bird colony in the summer. It's easy to get to and boats can edge close, as the water is deep all around. You may see tufted and horned puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres, red-faced and pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, and glaucous-winged gulls. Tour boats to Halibut Cove or Seldovia may cruise by the island, and if you are taking a water taxi to Halibut Cove Lagoon, ask for a look on your way.
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.