A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage: 45°/66°/Partly sunny
From Baycrest Hill, Homer looks like paradise.
As visitors first descend into Homer along the Sterling Highway, Kachemak Bay spreads out in front of them. The view is mesmerizing. Thankfully, there's a park atop the bluff so drivers can pull off and enjoy the sweeping vista from Augustine Volcano to the Homer Spit and beyond.
When it comes to Homer - whether it's beach walks, fishing, kayaking, inspiration for artists or wildlife - it's linked with Kachemak Bay. "I think Homer is one of the most beautiful places in Alaska, but, of course, I'm biased," said Marilyn Sigman, executive director of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. "I've heard people say that their life changed when they came over the mountain and stopped at that turnout at the top of the hill. It's just a beautiful place.
"Kachemak Bay is just so wonderful. That combination of the bay and the snow-capped mountains across the bay make this place something special."
Sigman, who has lived in Alaska for 30 years and in Homer for a decade, should know about Kachemak Bay. Going across the bay is one of the things the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies specializes in. The center has a field station on Peterson Bay, which is reached via a boat ride.
The center (www.akcoastalstudies.org, 235-6667) offers guided hiking tours and tours that include both hiking and kayaking. The boat trip from Homer to Peterson Bay includes a stop at the Gull Island seabird rookery. Cost is $100 for adults and $63 for children younger than 12. The tour-kayaking combo is $150 per person.
Hikes can include trips to the rich intertidal areas of Peterson and China Poot bays and the coastal forest between the two bays. Kachemak Bay's broad tidal range and the rocky beaches make for excellent viewing and photographing of marine invertebrates.
The center also has yurts that allow guests to spend the night across the bay. Sometimes the best time to look for marine invertebrates is early in the morning on a low tide, so a night spent in the comfort of the yurt can open up new opportunities. The yurts are $25 per person or $80 for the whole yurt.
Sigman said the hiking-kayaking combo is popular. St. Augustine's Kayak and Tours (www.homerkayaking.com , 299-1894) provides the guided kayaking. St. Augustine's also offers half-day, full-day and multiday trips along with kayak rentals apart from the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies.
"We have a variety of experiences to get people out into the 'real Alaska,' " Sigman said. "On our trips, you're accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who can interpret what you're seeing. Or you can go off exploring on your own."
On the Homer side of the bay, the center's Wynn Nature Center has guided hikes for $5, featuring forest and plant ecology. There also is a Creatures of the Dock Tour for $5 on the Homer Spit. The one-hour tour looks at the under-the-sea life right in the harbor. "It's the most fun you can have for $5 in Homer," Sigman said.
The Pratt Museum (www.prattmuseum.org ) offers above-the-waterline tours of the harbor at 3 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays. A museum docent begins the tour near the Salty Dawg Saloon, one of Homer's oldest buildings and worth a trip on its own. The guides share stories about the Spit, commercial fishing and the history of some of the boats. The tours are $5.
One of the first stops for many visitors to Homer is the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Highway (www.islandsandocean.com , 235-6961). The $18 million center gives visitors a glimpse into the world's largest seabird refuge, the remote Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which includes 2,500 islands stretching from Southeast Alaska to Point Hope and Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea. The 38,000-square-foot visitor center sits above Bishop's Beach with an outstanding view of Kachemak Bay. Information is also available about the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
The visitor center includes interactive programs, exhibit halls and hiking trails along Bishop's Beach and Beluga Slough. Beach walks are at 9 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
A trip to Homer wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Pratt Museum, 3779 Bartlett St. The museum is unlike many, with exhibits co-developed with the community.
The museum's main exhibit, "Kachemak Bay: An Exploration of People and Place," features community-based videos, photo essays, computer interactive displays and remote video technology that takes visitors beyond the museum's walls.
"It's the community telling stories about itself rather than curators telling them," said director Heather Beggs.
Annually, the museum invites community artists to create special artwork to be displayed along the mile-long forest ecology trail. The "Facing the Elements" exhibit is exposed to weather and changes throughout the year.
In addition to the museum, Homer is a great art community, with several galleries displaying creations from local artists. Back across the bay from Homer is Kachemak Bay State Park, one of the largest coastal parks in the nation. The park and its neighbor, Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park, offer about 400,000 acres. The area includes islands, mountains more than 4,000 feet high, glaciers, fjords, beaches and rugged coastlines. There are about 90 miles of hiking trails in the state park, which can be reached only by boat or plane. There are several air and water taxis that provide access to the park and the smaller communities across the bay from Homer, including Halibut Cove and Seldovia.
Seldovia is just a plane flight or boat trip away, and it's worth a little effort to get to the unique community.
The Otterbahn Trail leads to Outside Beach, with beautiful views across Kachemak Bay and out into Cook Inlet. The volcanoes across Cook Inlet are visible on clear days.
The easily hiked trail is rich with birds and berries. It is thickly wooded and fairly flat. There is a boardwalk across a wetland. It would be easy to spend an entire day enjoying the hike and scenery.
Special sections editor Steve Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4316. Visit his Alaska travel blog at www.alaska.com/alaskology.