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cooper landing alaska

Shall We Gather at the River

Cooper Landing is a friendly roadside town on the Kenai River where the stream starts from the turquoise waters of Kenai Lake. Two world-class salmon streams – the Kenai and Russian Rivers – meet here. The surrounding countryside is beautiful. Salmon fishing in Cooper Landing is excellent. Fly-fishing in September is also good.

(Photo, Alaska Clearwater)

What Can You Find in Cooper Landing?

Cooper Landing is a group of stores, outfitters, and lodging establishments that runs along the Kenai River west of Kenai Lake. It’s around 40 miles northwest of Seward on the Sterling Highway.

The area is named after Joseph Cooper, who found gold here in 1884. Buildings hug the road. Cooper Landing was isolated for quite awhile. The original “road” was the Resurrection Trail, which passes through Cooper Landing on its way from the town of Hope on Turnagain Arm to the town of Seward on Resurrection Bay.

It wasn’t until 1938 that an actual automobile road was built to Seward. And you couldn’t drive to Anchorage until 1951.

Fishing on the Russian River

The best salmon fishing in the world happens right here in Cooper Landing.

There are two places to fish the Russian River.

The first is accessed from the Russian River Campground, at mile 52.6.
(Area "C" in the regulation book)

The second is where the Russian River enters the Kenai River. This is called the "Sanctuary Area". This is accessible via the Russian River Ferry at mile 55.

Check the regulations which have a special page for fishing the Russian River. This great fishery also is subject to emergency changes in the season and bag limits so check locally or at the ferry.

(Photo, Alaska Clearwater)

Only In Cooper Landing: You'll Ride the Russian River Ferry

Fishermen use the Russian River Ferry to get across to the other side of the river at the Russian River Campground. It’s a nominal fee for the journey.

They say that Teddy Roosevelt rode an earlier version of the ferry (similar to the old one next to Gwin’s Lodge) when he visited Alaska.

The Russian River

The Russian River opens for fishing in mid-June, when the first red salmon arrive. A second run of reds arrives in mid to late July, and you can fish for silvers in the middle of August. The fish don’t necessarily run way out in the river. They may be right at your feet. Use care when casting with someone near you.

Brings Out The Kid In Us

If your kids are on the bank, make sure they’re out of range of any backcasts.

Historic Fishing Spot

The Kenaitze Indians fished the Kenai and Russian Rivers.

Not surprisingly, they had a large fishing camp where the Russian River Ferry now operates. They caught their fish with dipnets, weirs, and traps.

There are two places in Cooper Landing where you can learn more about the early Native residents of the region.

One is right across from the Russian River Campground, at mile 52. The other is just down the road, at mile 53.7.

Local people still heavily rely on salmon.

Try to Avoid Bears

Bears like to eat salmon. So you’ll find them along salmon streams.

If you see a bear, make noise and give the bear a wide berth. It’s their country – and their food source.

Getting very close to a grizzly is nothing to brag about. People are seriously mauled by bears nearly every year in Alaska.

(Photo, Gary Lackie, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center)

+ For more about bears, check out the Alaska Wildlife section.


Launching Out on the Kenai River

There are a number of places to put in your boat, raft, kayak or canoe into the Kenai River.

Two of the more popular ones are the state park boat launch, right by the bridge at mile 48, at the end of Kenai Lake.

Boaters also put in at the Russian River Ferry boat launch.

+ Print out the Kenai River Fishing Map.

Using a Fishing Guide

There are numerous restrictions on boat and motor use, as well as changeable fishing regulations. You’ll feel more confident if you go out with a guiding service here before attempting this trip on your own.

Taking Out

Because you can’t use motors on the Upper Kenai River, you won’t be able to get back upstream to where you put in.

This means you’ll have to have two vehicles or use a shuttle service.

Jim’s Landing is the most widely used public take out point. Parking is limited, but there’s a nice graveled, flat launch to the river.

Be aware before you go further down the river that there is Class 2 and Class 3 whitewater ahead, and you’ll have to go all the way to Upper Skilak Lake Campground to take out.

Catch and Release Rainbow Trout Fishing

The Upper Kenai is famous for its rainbow fishery, which is basically catch and release.

This means you must get a copy of the Sport Fishing Regulations. You can find them on the web at:

The regulations are complicated, so check at local sports shops to make sure there isn’t an emergency closure or regulation in effect.

It’s important to handle rainbows that you are releasing carefully. Follow the technique used in the photo above if you want to take a picture of your catch.

Protect Alaska’s rainbow population.

(Photo, Alaska Clearwater)

Cooper Landing Museum

Two historic cabins, the 1920’s era Cooper Landing post office, and the 1955 Cooper Landing Schoolhouse, have been turned into a museum at Mile 48.7 Sterling Highway. Up until several years ago, you would have mailed your letters from the old post office. The school was used until 2001.

The museum is open Wednesdays through Mondays in the afternoon, and is staffed by local volunteers, so this is a good place to meet local people.

Why You May Need to Go Out With A Fishing Guide

Even the rules about fishing with beads are complicated.

Fishing For Rainbow and Dollies

Rainbow trout and dolly varden follow returning salmon, first feeding on the salmon roe that float downstream, and then on pieces of salmon as they fall apart after spawning.

In the Kenai River and its tributaries, you’ll find people fishing with beads and flies that imitate salmon eggs, as well as flies like the flesh-colored flies on the left, that mimic salmon flesh. These rabbit fur flies come in varying colors, faded orange to dull white. They come as single flies, or as two flies tied together (“articulated.”)

Open Door Policy

Alaska is becoming more modernized by the year. But, in some of the more remote rural places, where you know every neighbor, there is still not much need for a lock. Cooper Landing is a place like that

Traditionally, trapper’s cabins have been left, stocked for emergency use by anyone going by. The visitor’s job is to add firewood, replace any food if possible, leave things better than you found them – and put the spoon back in the door latch.

Walkways, Boardwalks, and Boat Launches

Boardwalks and walkways are in use in Cooper Landing and elsewhere in the Kenai to protect riverbanks and waterfronts.

The Cooper Landing boat launch has a scenic viewing platform and telescopes. Right next door is the Chamber information center.

+ Activities + Things to Get
+ Where to Stay + Where to Eat

upper kenai river


Flying Cow Rafting
Kenai River Drifters

Cooper Landing Grocery And Hardware
Gwin's Lodge

Gwin's Lodge
Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge
Kenai River Drifter's Lodge

Gwin's Lodge


Cooper Landing Chamber

+ Map of Cooper Landing and Surrounding Area
+ Map of Skilak Lake, Road & Trails
+ Map of Resurrection Trail
+ Kenai River Fishing Map
+ Map of Bearfoot Campgrounds


Public Use Areas on the Upper Kenai River
• Mile 48 / State Park Boat Launch
Just past bridge on north side.
• Mile 50.5 / Cooper Creek Campground
Both sides of the road.
• Mile 52.6 / Russian River Campground
Very large campground with steep stairways.
• Mile 55 / Russian River Ferry Parking, boat launch and ferry access across the Kenai River.
• Mile 58 / Refuge Information Center
Large parking area, toilets, and small contact center.
• Mile 58 / Skilak Lake Road
Turn south to go to Jim’s Landing on Skilak Lake Road. This is the most used take out for the upper Kenai River. Past Jim’s Landing, the river runs through the more difficult Kenai River Canyon and then to Skilak Lake, where outboard motors can be used. Skilak Lake Road continues for 19 miles. It has several campgrounds and trail access.

While in Cooper Landing, Don't Miss...
• Turquoise Kenai Lake
• The Russian River Ferry
• Cooper Landing Museum
• Rafting the Kenai River
• Native cultural historical sites
• The world’s finest fishing

Q: How Far is Cooper Landing from Anchorage?

A: The town is located 100 miles from Anchorage.

Not one, but two great rivers to fish… the Kenai and Russian Rivers. The historic Resurrection Trail from Hope to Seward passes through it.

It's an old fashioned summer tourist community, with lots of cabins, fishing services, tackle and outfitters.



Here’s an easy hike on a wide trail.

Start at Russian River Campground at Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway. Follow the hiking trail 2 miles on gradual grades to Russian River Falls. Along the way, you may see spruce grouse, eagles, moose and other wildlife.

You’ll reach two viewing platforms and a boardwalk that looks down on the Russian River and leaping salmon. To access the trail, use the Lower Russian Lake Trail parking area. It’s 2.5 miles in on the campground road. A longer 12 mile trail that lead to Upper Russian Lake starts at mile 1 on the campground road.

(Photo of falls above, Bob Siter, Gwin's Lodge)


This former gold rush trail from Seward to Hope crosses through Cooper Landing.

The trail has a north and south section. The northern section is a little over 19 miles and runs from Hope to Cooper Landing. The trail continues south of Cooper Landing along the Russian River.

This Russian Lakes Trail branches with part going over to Cooper Lake, and on to Kenai Lake, and another branch going down the Resurrection River to mile 8 of the Exit Glacier Road.

There are ranger stations in Girdwood and Seward. Call 907-224-3374 to get detailed information and maps.

You can also download the Bearfoot Resurrection Trail Map here.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
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