Northwest Kenai Locations:

Captain Cook State Recreation Area

Autumn on the beach.

Notable Species

  • Coho salmon
  • Rainbow trout
  • Wood frog
  • Black bear
  • Moose
  • Bald eagle
  • Gray jay
  • Black-billed magpie
  • Varied thrush
  • Amphipods

With its jungled understory and big trees, this 3,460-acre park north of Nikiski along Cook Inlet offers a hint of the lush lowland forest that greeted explorer Capt. James Cook in 1778. The seldom-visited woods host a range of Kenai Peninsula mammals: moose, black bear, coyote, beaver, muskrat, red squirrel. Thrushes, warblers and jays fly through the trees, and mergansers and goldeneyes swim in the streams. The slow-moving Swanson River meanders to the sea, rainbow trout in its pools, its shorelines chirping with wood frogs. Coho salmon arrive in July and August. Along the beach, watch for bald eagles, gulls and shorebirds. Immense boulders dropped by melting glaciers dot the beach and mud flats offshore. Amphipods and other tiny invertebrates can be found beneath rocks after the tide has ebbed.


Paper birch and white spruce forest, with an open understory of willow, alder, devil’s club, cow parsnip, and other low-growing plants, spread across the flat uplands. The Swanson River glides through a riparian wetland with floating bogs, through a marsh and into a shallow, silty estuary.

Cultural Connection

Dena'ina Natives harvested fish and other foods in this area.

Economic Connection

Today fishermen operate beach nets to the north and maybe half of Cook Inlet’s 15 oil and gas production platforms can be seen from the beach.


Viewing Tip

Turn over rocks on the beach and watch translucent amphipods before they scurry away. Sit by the Swanson River estuary with binoculars and scan for birds, muskrats and beavers. Listen for common loons on Stormy Lake.

Getting There

Take the Kenai Spur Highway north; milepost 35.5 you enter the park; milepost 38.6 Swanson River; milepost 39 (the end of the road) turn left to Discovery Campground and the beach.