The Final Frontier’s Fishy Festival

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

For many, Alaska is synonymous with rough conditions and impenetrable nature, and when thinking about Alaska, our mind wanders to the guy from Into the Wild falling into a gushing river and Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck staring at the white topped Yukon Mountains during the Klondike Gold Rush. People who travel to Alaska are often thought to be crazy athletes, and/or passionate fly fishers. It comes as a surprise for many that during the summer time, the Kenai Peninsula is pretty easily accessible from Finland and it offers one-of-a-kind cultural experiences, full of that Alaskan craziness and humor that is exclusive to this great state.

One unique Alaskan happening is definitely Salmonfest, an annual festival dedicated to protecting the wild sockeye salmon. Describing the festival’s atmosphere is difficult with just adjectives – a tiny narrative from when I visited the festival works better.

Picture this, it’s a warm Saturday – well, Alaskan warm, so not too hot. On a low stage painted with huge pictures of red and green salmons, there’s an artist with shoulder length locks, steel guitar, and a melancholy yet hopeful rock sound. There are women with Janis Joplin hair hula hooping in front of the stage accompanied by dancing kids whose hair is colored with spray-on blue and purple.

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

The festival area is full of both exotic food trucks, with spreads that would make Flow festival jealous, and little booths of local people making you cheese toasts and lemonade. From the merch booths, you can find the raddest tie-dyed t-shirts, but also a lot of crafts made by the local artists. The area is full of young people in groups, families, and old couples who’re enjoying the music on folding chairs. In between American and Alaskan artists, there’re talks about the importance of protecting the wild salmon.

Salmonfest, in addition to being a fun event for everybody, is one of the most upfront adversary parties of the famous Pebble mine discussion. Most cars, coffee houses, restaurants, hotels, and shops I saw during my trips to Alaska had a red and white sticker opposing the Pebble mine. Salmonfest takes it a step further with their t-shirts, beer koozies, and tents that offer information about the mine and its ecological effects.

If you do decide to take on the Kenai Peninsula and Salmonfest, it’s easiest to fly to Anchorage, rent a car from the airport, and drive to Ninilchik. The drive takes approximately four hours, but since the roads are tiny and there’s plenty to see, and places to sleep during the drive, you might want to take your time. Salmonfest is an annual event, so if your travel plans and budget is set for this summer, it’ll be there next year as well. From Salmonfest, you can continue your road trip to gorgeous Homer, the cultural hometown of Kenai full of restaurants and galleries. Another great Kenai road trip destination after Salmonfest is the town of Seward. Seward is home to Alaska SeaLife Center, a combination of research facility and aquarium, and the port of call for many day cruise ships that can take you killer whale and glacier watching.

While traveling from Europe to the US has become pretty common vacation option, Alaska is still, in many ways, the Final Frontier for tourists. This might be due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Anchorage from many countries, and Alaska’s tourism industry is mainly focused in getting American people to the giant cruise ships that sail to Alaska. In spite of this, Kenai Peninsula is very welcoming for visitors, since the hard winters mean that businesses must meet their annual financial goals during the summer months. Alaska is a wonderful option for travelers who wish to experience local things, not spoiled by the tourist industry.

Alaska and its people remind me of Finland in many ways – they’re quiet, love nature, and go a little crazy during the summer time. Salmonfest lies in the heart of wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula, ready to surprise even the most experienced travelers.