Soldotna, the city seat of the Kenai Peninsula Borough of Southcentral Alaska, has gone a long way since its settlement began in the late 1940s.
Over the years, Soldotna’s development saw the rise in popularity of various points of interest within its nearly 20-square-mile territory.
The 1957 discovery of oil in the Swanson River region in 1957 largely brought about the leaps and bounds of Soldotna from a homesteading town to a vibrant city.
Two other waterways, the Kenai River and Soldotna Creek, have helped this city grow and attract visitors.
Many of these visitors are anglers eager to catch some trophy silver salmon, rainbow trout, and other prized fish on the waters in and around this city.
The joy of fishing, however, is but one recreational activity that brings folks for a vacation in Soldotna.
Besides rivers and streams, the mountains and glaciers of the Kenai Peninsula plus the life and leisure facilities of the city also promise to easily fill a visitor’s itinerary of activities.
Find out more on the treasure trove of things to do in Soldotna from the list below.
Paddle a Kayak or Raft on the Kenai River
This river flows for 80 miles from the western end of the Chugach Mountains passing through canyons and whitewater great for kayaking and rafting.
The Kenai River features Class 3 and Class three-plus rapids which can be a casual float in a raft but adrenaline-pumping in a kayak.
These thrilling rides can be experienced on the river’s three sets of whitewater onwards to the seven-mile-long Skilak Lake.
It will take 4 to 5 days to navigate the whole 80-mile length of this river, but Soldotna offers many riverside spots for put-in-and-take-out rafting or kayaking.
For another convenient option, it would be smart also to go on guided boating trips offered by outfits like Alaska Boat Rentals & Guide Service on North Aspen Drive.
Preview Soldotna Destinations at the Visitor Center
The charming Soldotna Visitor Center is a logical initial stop for visitors to this city, especially for the first-timers.
The Visitor Center is nestled amid pine trees on Sterling Highway at the southern end of the scenic Kenai River Bridge.
You can already have a sampling of the outdoor thrills that Soldotna offers from a stroll at the elevated river boardwalk on this center’s periphery.
Lush trees flank this walkway along the banks of the river, and you can already fish from the boardwalk’s stairways to the water.
At the Soldotna Visitor Center, which also hosts the city’s Chamber of Commerce, you can gather not only travel brochures and information about the recreational destinations in the Kenai Peninsula.
This center also displays a collection of stuffed animals endemic to Alaska, including the world-record King Salmon caught in America’s “Last Frontier State.”
Visit the Soldotna Historical Society & Museum
The Soldotna Historical Society maintains its Homestead Museum at a six-acre woodland area on Centennial Park Road, just some 300 meters west of the Soldotna Visitor Center.
The Homestead Museum consists of a historic village with log structures surrounded by tall masts of pine trees.
The log cabins here include the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s last territorial school, the Slikok Valley School built in 1958.
The gas lanterns that its students used are still hanging in the school as endearing reminders of Soldotna’s early settlement.
Damon Hall, a large log cabin built for the 1967 Alaska Centennial, is a must-visit in the Homestead Museum.
It features an amazing display of mounted wildlife with a background mural of the natural habitat of these animal species.
Artifacts of Alaska natives are also displayed in the Homestead Museum, where wildflowers and berries also grow in abundance on its grounds.
The Soldotna Historical Society also maintains the restored Lee homestead cabin, which housed the city’s first Post Office.
Located on Corral Street off the Spur Highway, this cabin is listed on the roster of the National Register of Historic Places.
Camp in Seclusion at Swiftwater Park
Turn to the Swiftwater Park about 3 kilometers east of Soldotna’s town center if you want a more secluded campground.
This park’s site of nearly 60 acres has 40 campsites spread on a forest bordering the banks of the Kenai River.
Picnic tables and fire pits are provided on each campsite, while potable water can be drawn from the park’s well houses.
Swiftwater Park has over 800 feet of elevated boardwalk and fishing platforms where you can try catching pink and silver salmon as well as sockeye.
The park has a boat launch and a large parking area that can accommodate day users of its campgrounds.
Pick an RV Site at the Centennial Campground
This large wooded campground is located just north of the Soldotna Homestead Museum on Centennial Park Road.
Centennial Campground boasts a stretch of more than a mile fronting the Kenai River, and it has a boat launch to take advantage of this riverfront location.
Built in the 1980s and expanded in subsequent years, this campground offers more than 176 sites for RVs.
The best picks are those located riverside, and all the campsites have fire pits and picnic tables, with added privacy provided by the abundance of lush trees.
Along the picturesque river, the campground also provides boardwalks, including a dedicated “fish walk” with stairs where you can fish for red and silver salmon.
Other campground amenities include fish cleaning stations and restrooms, plus trails to nearby points of interest, including Homestead Museum.
Check What’s Up at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex
This sports complex is on Arena Road off Kalifornsky Beach Road, with only a steep slope separating it from the Centennial Campground.
Opened in 1983, the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex flaunts a 2,000-seat multipurpose arena where the U.S. and American hockey teams played an exhibition match in its inauguration.
Also known as the Soldotna Sports Center, this facility is home to the Kenai River Brown Bears competing in the North American Hockey League.
Soldotna Regional Sports Complex takes pride not only in its Olympic-sized ice sheet for winter sports competitions like hockey and ice-skating.
This sports center also features two racquetball/wallyball courts, a snack bar, and a walking track.
Besides hosting sports events, the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex also holds learn-to-skate programs, including lessons on figure skating.
Fish the Waters of Soldotna Creek Park
You can go fishing in Soldotna without leaving its city comforts, given its facilities like the Centennial Campground with boardwalks available for fishing.
Should you find this spot too crowded, you can shift to other nearby locations like the Soldotna Creek Park on States Avenue.
The creek that this park is named after runs from the lakes north of the city to merge with the Kenai River.
At the Soldotna Creek Park fishing spots, the fish species you can catch include rainbow trout, coho salmon, sculpin, and stickleback.
You can cast your fishing line on any of the 12 sets of river access stairs on the park’s 2,300-foot long riverside boardwalk.
The other facilities in the park include a community playground and three covered pavilions for local events,
The park also has a trail and ramp over 100 feet wide, leading straight to the mouth of Soldotna Creek.
Go Hunting at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
This is the most popular wildlife refuge among visitors of Alaska because it is easily accessible.
The entrance to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is via Ski Hill Road on the southern side of Soldotna.
As part of wildlife management, the Kenai Refuge offers hunting opportunities in certain areas within its 2-million acre expanse.
Allowed in these areas are black bear baiting and trapping of several wildlife species, as well as subsistence, general, and special permit hunts.
Most visitors of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge would be content with the wildlife observation, camping, and canoeing it offers.
Likewise, hiking is enjoyable in the Ski Hill Multi-Use Trail located within the Kenai Refuge.
Enjoy the Multi-Use Tsalteshi Trails
Check out the two managed trail areas of the nonprofit Tsalteshi Trails Association (TTA).
This association advocates the promotion of trail-based family-oriented activities such as biking, running, hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing,
One of TTA’s trails has a trailhead across from the Soldotna Regional Sports Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
This trail system runs for over 15 miles and is suited for cross-country skiing during winter, and it is also interwoven with a six-mile single-track winter bike trail.
This trail system is open to runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and dogs during non-ski months.
TTA’s second location is the 3-mile Slikok Multi-Use Trails open year-round to biking, snowshoeing, skiing, walking, and running, plus another 3 miles for dog-walking.
These trails can be accessed from the parking area of the A.R.C. Lake Park.
Play a Short Game at Birch Ridge Golf Course
This nine-hole course is located off Sterling Highway on the eastern side of Soldotna.
Opened in 1973, this public golf facility is on the Golf Digest list of the finest nine holes to play in Alaska.
The Birch Ridge Golf Course was masterfully developed to integrate Soldotna’s natural land contours in its 3,105-yard layout.
A marvelous Alaskan scenery, including views of the Kenai River Valley, two active volcanoes, and the Kenai Mountain Range, will inspire golfers going for the par 35 play in this course.
Group and individual golf lessons are available at the Birch Ridge Golf Couse.
Sample Soldotna’s Restaurant Offerings
Visitors of Soldotna won’t be disappointed in looking for good dining places, as the restaurants in the city offer varied types of cuisine.
For Thai-style street food, the place to go is the Pad Thai Café on Sterling Highway, just across the Wells Fargo Bank.
The servings in this family-owned and operated restaurant also include unique gluten-free, vegetarian, fusion, and contemporary dishes.
Another must-try is the spiced rum teriyaki at the German restaurant Schnitzel Bomber on East Poppy Lane.
Other popular choices in this eatery are its coconut-crusted pork schnitzel sandwiches and grilled pineapple and mango slaw.
Sample the Wines of Alaska Berries
Visit the farm and winery of Alaska Berries on West Poppy Lane, where all products are certified grown in Alaska.
Every phase of wine production is done within the farm to ensure product quality.
One of the bestsellers in Alaska Berries is its award-winning Blueberry Wine with a smooth, aromatic taste.
This winery, touted as the first and only winery in Alaska, is also noted for its Sassy Goose combining the taste of Saskatoon and gooseberry wines.
Its light, refreshing taste and semi-dry flavor fit perfectly while having a spicy or salty meal.
Have a Beer at Kenai Brewing Company
Located on Homestead Lane, this microbrewery specializes in handcrafted ales.
In its taproom, you can pick from 20 beers brewed in-house as well as house-made root beers.
Kenai Brewing Company also has a kitchen providing a regular menu of homemade favorites like burgers that pair well with beer.
Other good combo picks are the kitchen’s offerings of BBQ wings with spicy or boneless choices.
Shop for Gifts at Dragonfly Gallery
This gallery is located on Soldotna Avenue, offering high-quality art pieces and handcrafted gift items.
Dragonfly Gallery taps the creative talents of 40 artists not only from Alaska but also those in the rest of the lower 48 states.
This gallery’s offerings focus on originality, quality, as well as variety.
Summer would be the best time to visit Dragonfly Gallery, as during this time its gardens bloom with colorful flowers.
Explore the A.R.C. Lake Park
Many outdoor recreational activities are accessible at the A.R.C. Lake Park on a 22-acre site off Sterling Highway, some 1.5 miles south of Soldotna’s city center.
Named after the Alaska Road Commission, this park was developed in the early 1980s.
The placid waters of the park’s small lake are great for paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking.
You can also fish in this lake stocked with Arctic grayling and have a snack at the park’s picnic tables on the lakeshore afterward.
When winter conditions allow, visitors can skate on a rink looping around the lake, and they can stay warm around the park’s fire pits.
Caribous are also known to cross this lake, which would be a delight to see.
In addition, the park’s parking area enables access to the extensive nature trails in and around Soldotna.
Take Photos with Soldotna Murals
Soldotna murals began when Rotary Club members wanted to promote more public artwork in the city.
They commissioned small-scale paintings from local artists and photographed the finished works in high quality.
Then, they sent the photographs to local businesses to sell them murals (to pay the artist and cover the cost of printing).
Those that consented had the mural reproduced on an aluminum panel for indoor or outdoor display.
It resulted in a relatively low-cost strategy for bringing aesthetic joy to locals.
In addition, the rotary has disseminated its concept to other Alaskan communities so that they may also use it to create their public art.
The reception for the painting project was so good that it naturally led to other painted murals.
You may also spot the second group of murals, painted on aluminum panels by students in 2019 and led by local art professor Cam Choy of Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna Creek Park.
Explore Soldotna on Air with High Adventure Air
High Adventure Air has been flying in the remote areas of Alaska for over 30 years, making them the ideal guides for a comprehensive exploration of Soldotna.
Popular recreational pursuits in the region come with its trips, including fishing, bear watching, hunting, and exploring the region's glaciers.
You may tailor your experience to include the sights and activities you choose.
It aims to ensure you enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
A local family runs the firm, so you can be confident that they are familiar with the area around Soldotna.
Have Your Kids Burn off Some Energy at Jumpin' Junction
Bring the kids for some bouncing good times at Jumpin' Junction.
Children of all ages will enjoy leaping around on one of the several inflatable castles available at this amusement center.
The 9-hole, dinosaur-themed, black-light mini golf course is entertaining for people of all ages.
Additionally, Jumpin' Junction features a state-of-the-art Virtual Reality gaming arcade, guaranteeing that everyone in the family will have a fantastic time.
It also offers birthday party packages.
The facility is perfect for children's birthday parties because of the special rates it gives for the occasion.
Go Bear-Watching with Talon Air Service
Tourists in Alaska often protect themselves against bears with bear spray and stay away from them if feasible.
However, the bear-viewing tours in Soldotna bring visitors within mere feet of wild grizzly bears.
Seeing bears in their natural habitat is an incredible experience.
You may observe them fishing for salmon in rivers or entering them to swim.
Trips to Big River Lakes and Crescent Lake will take you to a place where you can view plants and animals you won't find anyplace else.
Aside from brown and black bears, you could also encounter sea otters, eagles, moose mothers, and their young.
Peruse the Stalls at Soldotna Saturday Farmer's Market
The Central Kenai Peninsula Farmers Market (now known as the Soldotna Saturday Farmer's Market) was founded in 1995 as a place for farmers from the peninsula to display and sell their fresh produce, plants, flowers, eggs, and honey.
Later on, cottage foods and local artisans joined the mix.
Its original intent remains unchanged: to promote locally farmed food on the Kenai Peninsula, to connect buyers and sellers, and to launch new ventures.
It draws hundreds of shoppers to its more than two dozen stalls on a typical Saturday.
You may find the market at the intersection of Kenai Spur Highway and East Corral Avenue, which serves as the bus turnaround for Soldotna Elementary School.
Soldotna is the top destination when visiting the Kenai Peninsula Borough of Alaska.
This city has a municipal airport, and its neighboring Kenai City has one also, enabling convenient air travel in and out of Soldotna.
Best of all, visitors can enjoy exploring the great outdoors of the Kenai Peninsula and yet still within easy reach of Soldotna’s city comforts.