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Best place to see bears in Alaska - Katmai National Park

Posted in: Alaska


Best place to see bears in Alaska – Katmai National Park

Nowhere in the Northern Hemisphere can you come face to face with more and bigger brown bears, often at close range, than in Alaska’s legendary Katmai National Park. Two decades of carefully managed bear viewing in Katmai national park has produced a unique environment in which bears are incredibly tolerant of human observers, provided they conduct themselves in a predictable and non-intrusive manner, and can be safely viewed on foot for prolonged periods, often in close proximity

Katmai National Park – Walking with giant Coastal Brown Bears

It’s hard to explain the sheer exhilaration when coming face to face with a giant coastal brown bear in the wild. If you visit beautiful Katmai Wilderness Lodge this is an experience (weather dependent!) that you will experience every day; in the company of an expert bear guide and with a small group of equally lucky travellers who are staying at the lodge. Katmai wilderness lodge is one of the best wilderness lodges in Alaska and is the only permanent structure permitted within the boundary of Katmai national park.

To reach Katmai wilderness lodges you travel by floatplane from Kodiak across storm tossed Shelikof Strait to the Katmai Coast. The lodge offers surprising home comforts in the wildest of places, where the only neighbours you meet out walking are bears. After settling into your warm and cozy cabin, complete with en-suite bathroom, and enjoying a hearty lunch, it will be time for the main event: your first encounter with an Alaskan Brown Bear (Alaskans refer to coastal bears as Brown Bears, and inland or mountain bears as Grizzlies).

Here is an exert from our visit to Katmai Wilderness Lodge

‘Having boarded the covered skiff used to transport guests to the various bays and river mouths where bears gather, we didn’t have long to wait for our first sighting. We’d barely turned the corner into the first bay to the west of the lodge when my guide, a 20 year veteran of bear viewing in Katmai, spotted 2 bears ambling along the beach towards the mouth of a small creek. The first bear, a healthy and rotund sow, reached the creek first and immediately plucked a pink salmon from the water, barely breaking stride. The second bear was a tall, gangly male, obviously a “teenager” on the cusp of sexual maturity. He made a beeline for her, clearly intent on stealing her prize, but she stood her ground and simply ignored him. Despite the initial impression of an impending confrontation, it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t nearly so sure of himself as his swagger suggested. She eventually finished her salmon and departed the scene, and he did likewise after lingering for 15 minutes while we observed from the skiff sitting just offshore’. One of the advantages of staying at Katmai wilderness lodge is that even if the weather stops the use of the skiff, you can still enjoy walking safaris close to the lodge, with the chance to see brown bears up close and personal.

Best time of year to visit Katmai National Park for bears?

The peak time for visitors to Katmai wilderness lodge is mid-July to mid-August as this coincides with the peak of the salmon run. This is when you are likely to observe more ‘explosive’ brown bear action, as both juvenile bears and some large male boars, compete to grab the ‘running’ salmon which have just entered the estuaries – so still have plenty of vigour. It is not usual for large male bears to dominate a section of the river and aggressively defend their patch. Juvenile bears have to be wary, but can still adopt a ‘grab and run’ strategy; whereas females with young cubs are likely to stay away from this type of action and the risks to their cub’s lives is just too high.

How to get to Katmai National Park?

Katmai national park has the highest number of brown bears in Alaska and is a very large protected area which can be accessed by floatplane or bushplane from several locations. Although it is possible to visit Katmai on a day trip, if time and budget allows we would recommend staying at Katmai Wilderness Lodge for a minimum of 3 nights – especially because poor weather can often disrupt some of your bear viewing in the park. We recommend flying from Anchorage to Kodiak and staying a minimum of 2 nights here before taking the floatplane to Katmai wilderness lodge. This is because it is not uncommon for the Alaska Airways flight to be cancelled or delayed due to poor weather; so you must build in a bit of contingency time into the trip.

Interested in a bear safari to Katmai National Park?

We are experts in designing bear viewing tours in Alaska and would highly recommend the following Alaska bear safari which visits the wonderful Katmai Wilderness Lodge. Alternatively, simply contact us at [email protected] and we can start designing your own custom Alaska wildlife tour.

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