Bear Viewing - Gateway to Katmai
To see a bear is high on the wish list of anyone who visits Alaska, and no place is more synonymous with bears than Katmai National Park on the southwest Alaskan Peninsula. Departing from cities such as Soldotna and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, or from Kodiak Island, visitors can view bears by floatplane or extended 5 to 7 day boat expeditions.
Brown bear viewing packages to Katmai National Park are available out of Soldotna through Talon Air and Natron Air. Talon Air (907-262-8899) is a full service air charter providing transportation into the remote regions of the state, including Katmai. Natron Air (877-520-8440) is a statewide air taxi service located at the Soldotna Airport, providing unforgettable flights offering brown bear viewing in Katmai, as well as chartered flight seeing, fly-out fishing and hunting trips.
Known for its world-class halibut fishing, Homer is a scenic four-hour drive south of Anchorage and only about an hour’s floatplane flight from the Katmai coast. Homer Air (800-478-8591) flies passengers across Cook Inlet to enjoy the pristine Alaskan wilderness and the brown bears that live there. Bear viewing on Katmai and Lake Clark is a passion for Homer-based Alaska Bear Adventures with K Bay Air (877-522-9247).
Kodiak Island offers bear viewing trips to Katmai by way of floatplane and deluxe boat cruises. Andrew Airways (907-487-2566), Harvey Flying Service (907-487-2621) and Island Air Service (907-487-4596) are Kodiak based air charter companies that can arrange for brown bear viewing across Shelikof Strait to Katmai National Park and on Kodiak Island’s Frazer Lake. Board the M/V Single Star, a 58’ custom-built blue water yacht and enjoy a 5 to 7 day cruise to Katmai and Kodiak’s coastline to view brown bears with Adventure Kodiak (907-486-2766).
Just saying the word Katmai conjures up images of wild untouched places, volcanoes and bears. Declared a national monument in l918 to protect the volcanic features, the boundaries of Katmai have been extended over the years largely to protect brown bears and their habitat. Designated a National Park and Preserve in 1980, it encompasses not only some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Alaska but the largest population of brown bear in the world.
Ursus Arctos is North America’s largest land predator; brown bears and grizzlies are now considered one species. Habitat and nutrition play a role in the outward variation in their appearance. Brown bear is the common name given to those bears that have access to fish in their diet; grizzlies on the other hand generally live more inland away from salmon spawning streams. The highly nutritious diet of salmon allows the brown bear to grow larger, have more offspring and live longer than their inland cousins the grizzlies. An average male brown bear weighs upwards of 900 pounds, about twice the size of the average grizzly. Brown bears have an average of 2.5 cubs per litter, 3 is common and 4 is not unheard of, while a grizzly has 1.5. Brown bears can live into their 30’s while 20 would be an old grizzly. Put quite simply, it’s just easier to be a brown bear. The Kodiak brown bear, an island population isolated for enough years to create some slight genetic variations, is basically a brown bear that lives on Kodiak Island. Standing side by side you would not be able to distinguish between the two.
TRAVEL NOTE: Like the bears, every bear viewing trip is a little different; different companies offer different experiences, from photo safaris to educational natural history trips, no two are exactly the same. When you have made your decision to go see a bear, ask lots of questions: Where do you go? What will the bears be doing? Will we be sitting or doing some hiking? How much time will we have on the ground with the bears? How long have you been in business and how much time have your guides spent with the bears? Trips vary from the controlled environment at Brooks Falls to more adventuresome trips into more remote coastal areas by floatplane and extended boat cruises; the secret to finding the trip that most closely meets your expectations and limitations is asking lots of questions. To be accepted by such a large, potentially dangerous animal, to be graced by his presence in the place that he lives is a humbling and life altering experience for most. The great predators of the world are being driven into extinction by our fear and misunderstanding. Knowledge and understanding is all that will save them. There is no better way to gain this kind of knowledge and the heartfelt understanding that comes with it than to spend a day and let the bears be your teachers.