June | July | Late July, Early August | August | September
It's a great place to take photos with the 7,000 ft. snow-covered volcanic mountains as a backdrop. There's quite a lot of interaction going on among the bears because of the breeding season. The older breeding boars will be checking the sows to see if they're receptive. This is also the time of year that the sows chase the two-year-old cubs away. If the cubs were to be around when the sows come into estrus, it could be fatal. The cubs might be killed by the dominant boars.
We'll eat lunch at the airplane and then store everything back in the plane so the bears don't tear up our gear. They're really curious, and they inspect anything new that doesn't belong in their territory. We ask that you bring your own lunch and plenty to drink. Please bring insect repellent, warm clothes and rain gear — both jacket, pants, a hat and gloves, if you've got them. If not, we have some rain gear. We provide hip boots for this trip. If you're traveling around the rest of Alaska, you might want to buy your own. The weather could be hot and dry to cold and rainy. Like my grandfather used to say: "One thing for sure, you never know."
From the plane, it's an easy walk of about 15 or 20 minutes to where we'll sit for the day taking pictures. That's if we aren't held up along the way by bears. This area often has tundra swans and many nesting ducks. Last year, we had a den of red fox right behind where we set up. The baby fox have no fear of us at all. We usually sit in the same place every trip. This lets the bears and other animals get used to us easier than if we were moving around or advancing towards them. After the first couple of days, they don't seem to notice us at all. We ask everyone to stay together as a group so we don't disturb the animals. If you look on a map, this is the body of land that eventually ends up in the Aluetian Islands. It is the southern coast of the Alaska Penninsula and Katmai National Park.
Brooks is the most famous place in Katmai to see the bears. It's the place you've probably seen videos of bears lined up to catch fish as they're jumping up the falls. There have been some changes at Brooks in the last couple of years with the construction of a new viewing platform being built just below the falls and an elevated walkway. It’s a great addition and has solved most of the delays. Its not unusual though for bears to fall asleep next to or on some of the trails. If this happens, then there is a possibility that the trail could be closed. Brooks has a 50 yard rule that prevents people from getting too close unless you are on a viewing platform. We tell our people that most likely bears will get in the way of your bear viewing at some point at Brooks. There's another viewing platform at the mouth of the river. Most of the time, there are bears along the trail and the lake and river … I guess there can be bears almost anywhere at Brooks, even at the picnic tables. Just remember, bears have the right of way.
The walk to the falls from where we land is about a mile and half. The trail is easy walking and you shouldn't be in a hurry. Most of the time, there are bears on the trail and this can cause a delay. Of course, our trip may be longer if one of them decides to go to sleep on the beach next to our plane!
Late July, early August
This trip has some of the world's best bear viewing opportunities, but it comes with a price. You have to do a little walking. We have a couple of options of access. One is a short mountain lake that takes the right wind to get into. From this spot its about a mile of fairly easy going to get to the river where the bears are. If the wind isn't favorable, we go to Crosswind Lake. From there, the best viewing is about a mile and a half away, down a steep cutbank and across the river. Here, bears can be almost anywhere. We stop along the way and take pictures and hone our wildflower identification skills. With folks in average condition, we make the trip in about 45 minutes to an hour. The terrain is open tundra with creek bottoms filled with alder gently sloping to glacier capped mountains. And there's lots of bears and its not to unusual to see caribou from time-to-time. We guarantee you'll see bears and have a good appetite by the end of the day!
The river is full of pink and chum salmon and it’s not uncommon to see 10 or 15 bears on the river right in front of us. The beach is full of clams and bears are excellent clam diggers. If you were to choose a place in all of Alaska to watch bears, this is the place. Words cannot describe how beautiful it is here!