Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Homer

People stroll along Bishop's Beach on Kachemak Bay in Homer. The snow- and glacier-covered Kenai Mountains are across the bay.

People stroll along Bishop's Beach on Kachemak Bay in Homer. The snow- and glacier-covered Kenai Mountains are across the bay.

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2012 Alaska Visitors Guide - Front

A bay of beauty

From the top of Baycrest Hill, Homer looks like a little slice of paradise.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News
The Salty Dawg Saloon is a Homer landmark at the end of the Spit

Shorebird Festival
The 17th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is May 7-10 in Homer.

• The festival features more than 50 events including advanced ornithology workshops, beginning backyard birding presentations, field trips, boat tours, arts events and activities for children.

• Several thousand shorebirds use sites around Kachemak Bay as feeding grounds during their spring migration.

• For more information, visit birdinghomeralaska.org.
An explosive past
Volcanoes are part of Alaska's history, and today they still dominate portions of the state's horizon. The Aleutian arc contains 80 volcanoes, 44 of which are active. A drive from Anchorage to Homer can highlight a number of volcanoes. Remember "AIR" -- Augustine, Iliamna and Redoubt from south to north -- to recall the volcanoes in the proper order. In the past couple of years both Augustine and Redoubt have made news for stirring to life.

• AUGUSTINE VOLCANO: It is an island volcano in lower Cook Inlet and rises 4,025 feet. The volcano was active a few years ago, belching ash clouds more than eight miles into the air.

• MOUNT ILIAMNA: It is a stratovolcano and part of the Aleutian Range in Lake Clark National Park. Iliamna rises 10,016 feet. At least 10 glaciers come from the summit area.

• MOUNT REDOUBT: It is also a stratovolcano and is almost Iliamna's twin, rising 10,197 feet. It most recently erupted in 1989-90.

• MOUNT DOUGLAS: It is visible only on the clearest days southwest of Homer. It rises about 7,000 feet.

More on Alaska's volcanoes
Editor's Picks
• Walk the beach: Bishop's Beach is my favorite place in Homer, summer or winter. You can walk for what seems like forever, and when the tide is out there are cool things to look at.

• See some bears: The Pratt Museum is one of the state's best. One of its most popular features is the BearCam, a live feed from Katmai National Park. Katmai can be costly to visit; this is the next-best thing.

• Get across the bay: While it might be hard to pull yourself away from Homer, the other side of Kachemak Bay is just as interesting, maybe more so if you want solitude. The small towns of Seldovia and Halibut Cove are fascinating, and Kachemak Bay State Park has tons of trails. Spend a day or more kayaking in Tutka Bay for a little bit of fun.

• Halibut habit: Go halibut fishing. They have this little saying that Homer is the Halibut Capital of the World. They know what they're doing.

From that vantage point, Kachemak Bay spreads out in front. The view is mesmerizing. Across the water is Kachemak Bay State Park with its tall peaks, glaciers and many bays and beaches. To the west is Augustine Volcano and to the east is the Homer Spit and more wilderness beyond.

When it comes to Homer -- whether it's beach walks, fishing, kayaking, inspiration for artists or wildlife -- it's linked with Kachemak Bay.

Once visitors pull themselves away from the view at Baycrest Hill, they descend into Homer and generally head for one of two places: the Homer Spit or the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

They'll arrive first at the visitor center, 95 Sterling Highway ((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 11 a.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Estuary walks are at 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Programs on glaciers, volcanoes and Alaska wildlife are also available.

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies ((akcoastalstudies.org, 235-6667) specializes in 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 $105 for adults and $73 for children younger than 12. The tour-kayaking combo is $155 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.

On the Homer side of the bay, the center's Wynn Nature Center has guided hikes for $7, 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.

The Pratt Museum ((www.pratt museum.org) offers above-the-waterline tours of the harbor several times weekly. 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.

A trip to Homer wouldn't be complete without a stop at the museum, 3779 Bartlett St. The museum is unlike many, offering 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.

"We've got a good five hours of activity -- both indoor and otudoor -- for visitors," said museum director Heather Beggs. "We have the botanical garden, the homestead cabin, 10 acres of urban green space. And there are a myriad of summer programs that offer visitors afternoon and evening guided activities.

"The wildlife cams are a big hit. This year, the bear cam is at Katmai National Park. ... We have a ranger, and guests can learn all about bear behavior and ecology without actually going to the site."

The museum's main summer programs focus on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. "Reflections of a Spill: 20 Years Later" is on display through the first part of the summer.

"We have a good six months of exhibits about local reflections on the spill," Beggs said. "It's so important to keep this story to the forefront."

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. About 90 miles of hiking trails are in the state park, which can be reached only by boat or plane. Several air and water taxis provide access to the park and the smaller communities across the bay from Homer, including Halibut Cove and Seldovia.

The Otterbahn Trail in Seldovia 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. A boardwalk crosses a wetland. It would be easy to spend an entire day enjoying the hike and scenery.

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