Alaska’s Kenai River

Following is a very brief summary of the Kenai River, its species, and river sections. To gain access to much more detailed and useful information on fishing the Kenai, as well as many other topics on this website, please invest in becoming a Standard or above member with us as described in the Membership section. Becoming a paid member has many benefits as well as rewards and opens up a plethora of concise and practical information regarding fishing Alaska’s road system.

The Kenai is an incredible river. Draining an area of approximately 2,200-square miles, its glacial-green waters and adjoining tributary streams and lakes support fourteen species of game fish in varying degrees of abundance, some of them routinely numbering in the millions. Its reputation as a world-class sport fishing destination is owed at least in part to the fact that the Kenai is easily accessible, offers a reasonable opportunity to land trophy-sized king salmon, has phenomenal runs of red and silver salmon, fantastic fly fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, and an active angling season that runs continuously from May to October with the possibility of year-round open-water fishing. In addition, wildlife along the river is thriving and the scenery magnificent.

Viewing the Kenai drainage in sections, it soon becomes clear how different they all are. Even the mainstem Kenai differs greatly between the upper and lower portions, not to speak of the smaller lakes and streams that pour out of mountain valleys and lowland marshes into the river. The distinct turquoise color of the Kenai derives from very fine silt shed from area glaciers and clarity and volume changes according to the seasons. Most all tributaries, however, run clean and clear.

From the outlet of 20-mile long and narrow Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing, the “Upper” Kenai River runs in a westerly direction to Skilak Lake, another major glacial lake in the system. The next section, officially recognized as the “Lower” Kenai River, flows out of Skilak and continues the journey to its terminus at Cook Inlet, at the town of Kenai. However, that section of the river between Skilak Lake and some disputed point between the communities of Sterling and Soldotna is more popularly known among locals and guides as the “Middle” Kenai River. The elevation drop from Kenai Lake to sea level is 430 feet, the total river length being 82 miles.

Kenai River flows deep and swift throughout much of its length but does display an abundance of braided channels, gravel bars, and some islands that are easily waded and fished from shore. Along its course, the mainstem Kenai is joined by three other sizable drainages; namely the Russian, Killey, and Moose rivers. There is essentially prime spawning habitat for salmon along the entire river with superb sporting opportunities for trout and char.

Sterling Highway parallels the Kenai as it travels through the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, with several side roads, turnouts, and pulloffs that aid in the accessibility to the river. The Seward Highway provides additional access to the eastern half of Kenai Lake and adjoining lakes and streams. Being only 100 miles from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, it is no wonder the Kenai River system is a major playground for substantial numbers of anglers in the region.

For a complete rundown on logistics concerning the Kenai River, such as guiding, fish processing, weather, etc., please click here.



It is no secret that Kenai River is the most visited angling destination in all of Alaska. Virtually the whole length of the river is more or less accessible by road and trail and boating is permissible throughout the mainstem Kenai, leaving anglers with a wide open program in which to pursue one of the multiple salmon runs and enjoy the intense trout and char fishery.

Most anglers that fish the Kenai are the “do-it-yourself” types, the only real expense being transportation costs and perhaps campground or other accommodation fees. The fishing part is actually quite easy and you have dozens of miles of riverbank to find a spot. If you have never fished the Kenai before and need a helping hand or hot tip, local anglers are usually very forthcoming with information. Just ask. Also, do consider posting your question(s) in the forum section of this site.

Despite the popularity and easy access, it is possible to find solitude – even in mid-season. One increasingly popular option is to visit the Kenai during the fall months as the summer crowds are largely gone but the fishing incredible.


Kenai River Species & Timing

Species:  Please click on the species of interest in the below chart for more information. Also, visit here for a brief summary of other species found within the Kenai River drainage.

Timing: Few things are as important as timing when it comes to fishing. Your knowledge of equipment and fish habits and behavior becomes irrelevant if the fish are not there. The timing chart below lists Kenai’s top game species, when they are generally present, and peak season. For much more details on timing and fishing regarding individual species and areas of river, see the following sections and provided links on this page.

Type of Fishing: Boat and wade/bank; spin- and bait-casting, fly-fishing. For a general summary of types of fishing in the Kenai River, including methods and techniques, please click here.

Species Available Peak
King Salmon May – July June – July
Red Salmon May – September June – August
Pink Salmon June – September August
Silver Salmon July – November August – October
Rainbow Trout All Year June – October
Dolly Varden All Year July – October



The information below is a very brief description of each section of river; please click on the main link as indicated in blue to visit page detailing species, access points, and river conditions.


Upper Kenai River

Section:  Outlet of Kenai Lake at Cooper Landing to inlet of Skilak Lake.

Main Species:  Red Salmon, Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden.

Open Season:  June 11 through April 30.

Access:  Sterling Highway parallels large portion of river; developed campgrounds, parking areas, and boat launches available; light watercraft or hike in. For a listing of public access points on the Upper Kenai River, please click here.

Logistics:  Mainly drift boats and rafts, some kayaks; casting from shore (fly-fishing).

Land Ownership:  State and federal lands; Chugach National Forest, Alaska State Parks; little private property.


Middle Kenai River

Section:  Outlet of Skilak Lake to Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna.

Main Species:  King Salmon, Red Salmon, Pink Salmon, Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden.

Open Season:  January 1 through December 31; upstream of Killey River confluence June 11 through April 30.

Access:  Sterling Highway parallels the north side of the river more or less starting in Sterling and down to Soldotna. Developed state access points are present, including campgrounds, parking areas, and boat launches. There is little hike-in or trail access available with most stretches reached by boat. For a listing of public access points on the Middle Kenai River, please click here.

Logistics:  Mainly drift boats and rafts, some powerboats and kayaks; casting from shore.

Land Ownership:  State and federal lands; some private property, mainly in or around local communities.


Lower Kenai River

Section:  Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna to mouth of river at Cook Inlet in Kenai.

Main Species:  King Salmon, Red Salmon, Pink Salmon, Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden.

Open Season:  All year (January 1 through December 31).

Access:  Sterling Highway crosses river in Soldotna; Kalifornsky Beach Road and Kenai Spur Highway parallels south and north sides of river, respectively. Developed access points, including campgrounds, parking areas, and boat launches available. Mainly boat access beyond roadside easements; little hike-in or trail access available. For a listing of public access points on the Lower Kenai River, please click here.

Logistics:  Mainly powerboats; some drift boats and rafts; casting from shore.

Land Ownership:  Mostly private property; some municipal and state land.