Best place to see bears in Alaska - Brooks Falls Lodge
Best place to see bears in Alaska – Brooks Falls Lodge
Every other client enquiry for an Alaska bear safari mentions the ‘fabled’ Brooks Falls Lodge and wants to know if it is either available to book, or when is the best time to visit Brooks for the best grizzly bear viewing? However, let’s just step back for a moment from those eye catching images of brown bears fishing for salmon and consider the ‘real’ merits (or not) of a visit to Brooks Falls Lodge on your Alaska wildlife holiday and the many different ways of organising a visit here.
How to get to Brooks Falls Alaska?
So, although there is only one Brooks Falls Lodge and if you want to stay here in the ‘peak season’ month of July, you need to book 18 months in advance (more on that later!); there are actually many different ways of organising a bear safari at Brooks Falls. The easiest and in some ways the most boring, is simply to book a flight from Anchorage to Brooks. There are several companies in Anchorage who offer this and the cost is normally around $700. When you factor the time in the plane, the walk to the park headquarters and debrief; you will probably be left with around 4 hours of actual grizzly bear viewing from the famous stands.
Another option, is to drive down the picturesque Kenai Peninsula to Homer and take a shorter floatplane transfer to Brooks across Cook Inlet and into the world famous Katmai national park. With clear weather, this is an incredibly scenic floatplane journey and if you are lucky like us; you may spot your first brown bears at Brooks from the plane itself! Again, after the flight itself and your debrief by the park rangers, you are looking at a maximum of 4-5 hours of bear viewing at Brooks.
Stop at Kulik Lodge en route to Brooks Falls!
So, because the same company owns both Kulik Lodge and Brooks Falls Lodge; due to the difficulty of getting availability of rooms at Brooks during July, a tactic employed by some travellers is to stay at ‘nearby’ Kulik and take an early morning floatplane ride to Brooks for the bear watching. This gets you there before all the ‘day tour flights’ and allows you to access the famous Brooks falls viewing stands before it gets too crowded. However, Kulik Lodge is more luxurious than Brooks and is therefore more expensive. It is actually more of a fishing lodge than a bear viewing lodge; but this is an option that can work for some travellers.
How to book your stay at Brooks Falls Lodge
So, if you want to stay at the lodge in July you need to be seriously organised, as starting on the morning of January 2nd, they take reservations for the following year. So, we are coming up to January 2018 as I write this blog; therefore, people wanting rooms at Brooks Falls Lodge for July 2019 will be applying at this time. I know from personal experience that in a matter of just a few days (maybe less) the entire lodge will be sold out for July. So why is this time of year so popular? Especially when you consider there will be different species of salmon in the river from July through to September? In previous years this was considered the best time to see grizzly bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls and taking some of those iconic bear photos of large male brown bears stood on top of the falls waiting for a salmon to come close enough to grab with their mouth.
With global warming affecting salmon runs do we need a rethink about Brooks Falls?
I think we do, as when I visited Brooks Falls on July 24th, 2016 I saw just a handful of bears and none of them waiting on top of the falls to catch salmon. In this day and age with changing weather patterns can we confidently say; come in a particular month and enjoy the best bear viewing in Alaska? I’m not sure you can and I feel more confident stating that mid-July to mid-August (overall) offers the best bear viewing in Katmai National Park and Brooks Falls.
Best time for bear viewing at Brooks Falls
So again, following on from my words of caution about the difficulty with current global weather patterns about predicting the best time for bear viewing in Alaska, I prefer to promote a bigger ‘window of opportunity’ for your bear viewing at Brooks and provide a summary of what you might be able to see coming at different times of the year.
Late June into early July bear viewing at Brooks Falls will give you a much better chance of seeing female grizzly bears and cubs. Simply because the main salmon runs have not yet started or peaked and therefore the large male brown bears or adolescents – both of which pose a threat to the cubs – have not yet arrived at their favourite fishing spots.
Mid-July to mid-August generally sees a peak in the salmon runs, with different species peaking at different times. This is definitely the time for the serious photographers and wildlife lovers wanting to get that grizzly bear catching salmon photo for their collection. Because Brooks Lodge accommodates around 60-80 clients and there is a campsite, as well as many fly-in bear viewing tours; don’t expect this time of year to be quiet!
Finally, we have late August and early September with the salmon runs fading and the grizzly bears feeding on dead or dying salmon. This can still be a great time for ‘bear action’, with plenty of bears bulking up for the winter and far less human visitors to the Brooks Falls stands. Infact, our first experience of visiting Brooks was during the month of September.
If you would like to visit Brooks Falls Lodge or enjoy an Alaska bear safari which includes a fly-in bear viewing tour to Brooks then check out our selection of Alaska wildlife holidays.