Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Self-guided scenic tours: Great way to see the Homer area

Some of the prettiest views in Alaska are free to those who drive, bike or hike the roads around Homer. Stunning views of town, the Spit, and the mountains and glaciers across Kachemak Bay can be found in any kind of weather. In early morning or late afternoon you might see a moose, black bear, porcupine or coyote ambling along, and in spring and early summer -- June or July at higher elevations -- you can find fields of wildflowers.

Views from the top of the bluff above Homer are among the most spectacular. Once you've settled in, you might want to retrace your incoming route to the top of Baycrest Hill. Pause for photographs there before continuing back toward Anchor Point, then turn off the Sterling Highway onto Diamond Ridge Road, at Mile 167. This rambling gravel road traverses the grassy hills where the area's first homesteaders settled early this century. Every turn in the road, as it wanders east for about 10 miles, offers a new view and a different photograph.

Diamond Ridge Road becomes Skyline Drive at its intersection with West Hill Road. Take West Hill down for a quick route back to the west side of town, or continue east on Skyline Drive another three miles or so to the East Hill Road intersection, which is another route to town. Keep driving, however, and eventually you'll see Ohlson Mountain Road branch off to the left. The road ends at l,513-foot Ohlson Mountain, once used as a military communications site, then for scientific research, but now is privately owned. Skyline Drive ends shortly past its intersection with Ohlson Mountain Road.

No visit to Homer would be complete without a drive out East End Road, which parallels Kachemak Bay for about 20 miles. Just outside Homer, the road runs between hayfields and the bay, with magnificent views of the glaciers just a few miles across the water. Gradually East End Road climbs into spruce forest, and about eight miles out crosses Fritz Creek, the heart of the East End Road community. Stop by the U.S. Post Office in Fritz Creek General Store and mail a postcard back home.

About 12 miles out of town, the forest gives way to more fields and a beautiful view of the head of Kachemak Bay. The pavement, which used to end at McNeil Canyon Elementary School, now continues to the end of the road, skirting the edge of the bluff. The farther you get from town, the better are the views of Portlock and Dixon glaciers and Bear Cove.

Other scenic vistas can be found along Kachemak Drive, which connects Spit Road with East End Road about three miles out of town. Watch for browsing moose, sandhill cranes and other migratory waterfowl in the Beluga wetlands. For an even better view, check out the wildlife observation platform at the end of the Airport Access Road.

If you don't have a car or don't feel like driving, taxis are available. Guided tours are another option, and aren't limited to cars -- among the options are horseback rides, kayaking, hiking, biking and clamming excursions.