Northeast Kenai Locations:

Kenai Float

Seagulls perch in the Kenai River.
©Helen O'Harra

Notable Species

  • Chinook salmon
  • Coho salmon
  • Pink salmon
  • Sockeye salmon
  • Rainbow trout
  • River otter
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Red-throated loon
  • Common loon
  • Osprey
  • Bald eagle
  • Northern goshawk
  • Spotted sandpiper
  • Belted kingfisher
  • Tree swallow
  • Violet-green swallow
  • Bank swallow
  • White-winged crossbill

The 12-mile float from the Lower Skilak Lake boat launch downstream to Bing’s Landing traverses the wild middle stretch of the Kenai River. Almost half a million salmon spawn annually in the broad, meandering channel in the first four miles downstream from the lake outlet. Watch for the swirls and wakes of churning fish, especially in shallow gravel flats. This feast of protein draws out brown and black bears, especially sows with cubs, making this a potentially dangerous place to explore on foot in the fall and early spring. Lynx, river otters, coyotes, wolves and mink also venture out, particularly at night when fishing boats are off the river. In early winter and spring, open water draws 50 to 100 trumpeter swans—and similar numbers of bald eagles—to the sweeping oxbows downstream from the lake. During summer, bald eagles and ospreys scan for meals from overhanging trees. There are several active eagle nests in large cottonwoods, easily viewed from a boat. Loons and other waterfowl nest along the banks and large family groups paddle together in mid-summer. Watch for flocks of seed-seeking white-winged crossbills in the spruce tops. Bank swallows and belted kingfishers burrow their nests into the exposed dirt cliffs. Watch for Arctic terns in early summer and shorebirds through August.


The trip offers an intimate view of lush riparian habitat. A mixed white spruce, birch and cottonwood forest with interspersed wetlands lines most of the shore. The river flows through oxbows, pauses in pools, and swirls past gravel bars.


Cultural Connection

Private recreational cabins line sloughs and canals at Kenai Keys, about half way from the Skilak Lake outlet to Bing’s Landing. The entire stretch is popular with fishermen.

Viewing Tip

Floating this section during May and June or October-December will be the most rewarding, due to lack of fishing boat traffic.

Helpful Hints

You must do this trip by water. Allow at least half a day for time to explore backwaters and watch animal activity.

Getting There

Sterling Highway milepost 75.2 — Take Skilak Lake Loop Road from the west entrance 5.3 miles, turn right on the Lower Skilak Lake Campground access road. The take-out is at Bing’s Landing State Recreation Site, at Sterling Highway milepost 80.3.

A guided trip is essential for novices—and recommended for all but the most experienced river runners—and simplifies logistics for all. Sudden winds can turn Skilak Lake into a froth of boat-flipping rollers. At the outlet of the lake, be prepared for a wilderness river with cold water, debris and submerged trees, sudden shallows, changing water levels and occasional strong currents. Be sure to exit the river at Bing’s Landing to avoid Naptowne Rapids just downstream.