Destination Guides

A Guide to Hope, Alaska: How to Visit My Favorite Small Alaskan Town

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I have a soft spot for small towns. Maybe it developed during my four years of college at a small Iowa town. Maybe it is just part of my nature, to love exploring smaller and lesser-visited cities and town. It’s part of the reason I fell so in love with Long Beach, Washington while living in the Pacific Northwest. Or why we ended up living in Sausalito when we called California home.

As a kid growing up in Alaska, I remember trips to one particular small town with a special name. Hope is a relatively short drive from Anchorage (by Alaska standards), and one of the great spots for salmon fishing each summer. The town goes from about 80 residents in the off-season to 5-10 times that when the salmon are running during the summer months. The campgrounds overflow with RVs, tents, and crumpled beer cans. The unpaved streets are clogged with pickup trucks, ATVs, and pedestrians in fishing waders with poles slung over their shoulders.

Hope Alaska Hero

Hope is small-town Alaska at its finest, an admittedly romanticized sentiment. I know that life in small towns across Alaska is hard, often a matter of subsistence and survival. Hope has the luxury of being close to Anchorage, and drawing ‘tourist’ crowds (usually fellow Alaskans and people like you who read this guide) and benefiting seasonally from that influx of visitors and money. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorite destinations and a fun detour for visitors looking to get a sense for what life in Alaska is like.

If you’re intrigued to escape the tourist crowds in more popular cities and discover a part of Alaska that the vast majority of visitors never even hear about, consider planning a stop or overnight in Hope. This guide covers everything you need to know to plan a trip, whether it’s a road trip stop or off-beat Alaskan getaway.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Dena’ina Ełnena and Dënéndeh peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in September 2014, and was updated in July 2017 and September 2022.

The History of Hope

Hope, Alaska was founded in 1896 under the name “Hope City.” As you might infer from the year, the town was established as a mining camp due to Resurrection Creek, which runs along the edge of the town.

The Post Office opened in 1897, and the schoolhouse opened in 1938. Life, I imagine, moved pretty slowly, and the geography of the region didn’t lend much growth to the town. In the years after the gold rush, Hope residents fell back on other Alaska industries such as timber and fishing, as well as some commercial mining. Nothing changed until early 1964.

Those familiar with Alaskan history will be unsurprised to learn that Hope was dramatically affected by the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964. Major portions of Hope were destroyed, and most coastal parts of the city sank several feet closer to sea level. The mouth of Resurrection Creek widened and flattened; it became an ideal breeding ground for Pink Salmon. Whereas people had once come to hope to see a flash of gold, they now seek a flash of sunlight on the scales of ‘Humpy’ salmon.

How to Travel to Hope

If you’re curious to visit Hope during your Alaska trip, it’s actually quite easy. Hope is an 88-mile drive south from Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. To reach hope, you’ll follow the Seward Highway south for 71 miles to the Hope Highway. It’s then a 17-mile scenic drive to the historic district of Hope, where the vast majority of things to do are located. Generally, it takes about two hours to reach Hope (one-way), given the speed limits of the Seward Highway and regular traffic and construction during the summer season.

Hope is a great detour on your way to/from other cities on the Kenai Peninsula such as Seward and Homer; you can stop for a short leg strech and meal, or spend a night here if your Alaska itinerary affords you that time. Below, I’ve covered what to do in Hope, where to eat, and where to stay, depending on how much time you want to spend in this unique little corner of The Last Frontier.

The Best Things to Do in Hope

To be clear, Hope is not a big town – it’s home to just about 80 people, and doesn’t have a robust tourism economy. In some ways, that’s what makes Hope such a special place: those 17 miles of the Hope Highway take you way off the beaten path to see what life in Alaska was and is like.

If you decide to visit Hope – which I obviously recommend – here are some of the best things to do in Hope.

1. Fishing

When salmon are in season, the #1 thing to do in Hope is to grab a fishing pole (and your fishing license) and head to the flowing waters of Resurrection Creek before it flows into Turnagain Arm. There are two giveaways that the salmon are running: the swarms of Pink Salmon attempting to swim upstream, and the crowds of fisherfolks crowding the banks engaging in a bit of fun sport-fishing.

2. Historic Walking Tour

While there isn’t a formal self-guided walking tour route, you can easily walk or drive around the historic district in Hope and see signs on many of the buildings explaining the original construction and year it was built. Some of the oldest buildings date back to the turn of the 20th Century; you can even peer through the windows of the 1902 Social Hall.

3. Gold Panning

Since gold is what brought people to Hope, why not try your hand at it? Gold panning outfitters – like Gold Rush Peck – have access along Resurrection Creek near town, or you can try your own hand at a public access site along the creek too.

I’m pretty sure Peck is still set up near the Hope-Sunrise Mining Museum, with a small covered trough where you can try to strike it rich under the guidance of this lifelong miner.

4. Visit the Hope-Sunrise Historical Society

Hope, Alaska - Historic Museum

The Hope-Sunrise Mining History Museum gives you a good sense of how important gold was to bringing settlers to Hope and Alaska as a whole. The museum has a number of authentic artifacts from the Gold Rush era in Hope, and you can learn directly from local residents about them.

5. Visit the Community Library

Hope, Alaska - Library

The small community library is one of my favorite places to visit in Hope. The one-room library stocks interesting books and always makes me want to sign up for a library card. There’s also a neighboring building with a book store in case you want to bring home a unique souvenir from your visit to Hope, and a cafe, Grounds for Hope, where you can get refueled before your next Alaskan adventure.

6. White Water Rafting

On nearby Six-Mile Creek, you can get an adrenaline rush from class IV and V rapids. There are rafting outfitters in Hope that provide rafting trips; Nova Alaska (the same company I hiked on Matanuska Glacier with) is the main company and has good reviews for their 2-3 hour trips.

Where to Eat in Hope

TK

  • SeaView Bar & Cafe – Hope’s historic and beloved local watering hole, this is a great spot right in town to grab a bite before walking around or seeing the fishermen along Resurrection Creek. Even if you eat elsewhere, be sure to swing by for a slice of apple pie at SeaView.
  • Creekbend Company Cafe – I ended up at Creekbend Company for lunch in Hope by chance, and their food was surprisingly great. Be sure to try the Hungarian mushroom soup – easily the most unique item on the menu – and the wings with Creekbend sauce.
  • Dirty Skillet – Recommended to me by several fellow Alaskans, I was unable to visit this hip new home-style dining spot on my most recent trip (due to their hours), but this is #1 on my list for my next trip.
  • Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge & Cafe – The primary option for fine dining in Hope, Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge & Cafe has a ‘Dinner House’ that serves good American-style food like steaks and seafood.
  • Salt of Hope Food Company – If you’re looking for a quick and/or takeaway bite in Hope, this small food truck specializes in tasty tacos and Asian-style sandwiches (like the Bahn Mi, my favorite!).
  • Grounds for Hope Espresso – No small town should exist without one good coffee shop, and Grounds for Hope Espresso solves this need. Swing by on the way out of town to ensure you’re properly caffeinated for your drive.

Where to Stay in Hope

When I used to visit Hope regularly, I always stayed in a tent or camper owned by my family. For full disclosure, I haven’t stayed at any of these accommodations. This is an extensive list of all the places you can stay, the distance from downtown, and the rates.

Have questions about how to visit Hope? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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