Home » 2006 Alaska RV Road Trip

Ninilchik, AK

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 5:30am by Lolo
140 miles and 3 hours from our last stop


Part of what I like best about traveling is exploring small towns and villages and seeing what it would be like to live in a place so different from my own home. Ninilchik was just what I was looking for.

Russian Orthodox ChurchRussian Orthodox ChurchI must admit that my first impression of Ninilchick was not very positive. At first glance, all I saw were the rusty junked cars scattered about and a dilapidated old fishing boat lying half on its side on the beach--definitely not spruced up for the tourist crowd. The only inhabitant in sight was a small boy racing up and down the street on his bicycle. However, when I looked a little closer, I noticed that the houses, although quite small, were neat and cozy, and atop the hill overlooking the village sat a picturesque old Russian Orthodox Church, complete with onion domes. This was the kind of place that definitely grew on you. Today, when I look back on my trip to Alaska, one of the images that first comes to mind is that beautiful old church.

If the weather hadn't been so awful, I would have loved to have stayed the night and camped on Ninilchik Beach. RVs are allowed to camp on the hard-packed sand where the Ninilchik River flows into the Cook Inlet. It really would have been a lovely spot on a nicer day.

Ninilchik creek?Ninilchik creek?Instead, we decided to just explore the village before continuing on to Homer. Before going up the hill to the church, we stopped in a gift shop adjacent to the footpath. I was shocked. Here in this tiny run-down village in the middle of nowhere was one of the nicest gift shops I have ever seen. No tacky wares here, but beautiful hand-made traditional Russian and Alaskana crafts. The woman who owned the store was so nice and gave us a good feeling for what life was like in this tiny village. She, as did every other Alaskan we met in our travels, absolutely loved her home. I found Alaskans to be some of the happiest people I have ever met. The only other ones that even came close were the people of Newfoundland. It's funny how the happiest people seem to live in the places with the worst weather. I guess happiness must truly come from within.

Next, we wandered up the footpath to the church, which sat atop a bluff with a commanding view of Cook Inlet and the volcanic mountains across the way. Surrounding the church was a small cemetery of white crosses in a field of wildflowers. Even the cemetery seemed to be a happy, or at least a peaceful, sort of place. As we opened the doors to the tiny church, I was startled at first by a bearded, black-robed Russian Orthodox priest, who greeted us and then stood quietly by the door as we gazed at the incredible golden icons lining the walls and altar. It seemed more like a museum than an active church, but every Sunday the Ninilchik villagers still gather here to worship.

Ninilchik means "peaceful settlement by a river." It certainly is.


Ninilchik villageNinilchik villageNinilchik is a quaint old village located where the Ninilchik River flows into the Cook Inlet in the western Kenai. Its name means "peaceful settlement by a river." The original village was settled in the early 1800s by Russian colonists who retired from the Russian-America Company and married local Native women. When the U.S. purchased Alaska, many of these settlers remained. Later, in the mid-1900s the village was relocated about ½ mile away. However, some of the old buildings still exist in the old village and many descendants of the old families still live there. A beautiful 1901 Russian Orthodox Church, which is still used by villagers today, sits atop a hill overlooking the sea and the old village. A footpath next to the old village store leads up to the church. The church is open to the public.

To get to the original old village, you must take a side road at Mile 135 on the Sterling Highway and stay to the right when the road branches. To get to Ninilchik Beach, stay to the left and follow the road that parallels the Ninilchik River out to the "spit," where you can camp with your RV on the hard-packed sand. During the king salmon run in the summer, the Ninilchik River is overrun with fishermen lining its banks. There are many camping opportunities in the area, including 4 Ninilchik State Recreation Area campgrounds.

Ninilchik location map in "high definition"

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