The Great Alaskan Grizzly Photo Itinerary
8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Kodiak, Alaska
On arrival in Kodiak, our local guide meets you and transfers you to our hotel, pointing out sights along the way. Depending on your arrival time, you may be able to explore some of Kodiak's Russian and Native heritage on your own this afternoon. Options include the Baranov Museum, Alutiiq Museum, Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. All are centrally located in the compact town of Kodiak that surrounds St. Paul's Harbor. Our grizzly photo expedition officially begins this evening with an informal welcome dinner and orientation hosted by our local guide.
Day 2: Kodiak Island Wildlife Cruise
While Katmai's grizzlies will be our main focus, Kodiak Island is an impressive wildlife photography destination in its own right, and today we explore a sampler of its coastal waters on an all-day private boat trip. A cruise among Kodiak’s secluded bays and rockbound shorelines, past tidal pools and kittiwake rookeries, may reveal sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, sea lions and sometimes humpback and fin whales. Kodiak is remote, not often visited by travelers to Alaska, and our sense of an intimate encounter with wild nature is palpable. We'll also spend time touring historic Kodiak, with a mix of activities that may include a walk through the coastal rain forest at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, a fisheries research center with aquarium and touch tank, and/or a drive up Pillar Mountain for sweeping views over the town and sea, when weather permits.
Day 3: Kodiak / Katmai—Board Natural Habitat Ursus
Exciting aerial photo opportunities await on our float plane journey from Kodiak to Katmai where we meet our privately chartered ship, the Natural Habitat Ursus. Our plan is to fly out late morning, but timing is flexible in the event of weather delays—in which case we'll explore more of Kodiak as we wait for clouds to lift. Once we board the plane, we fly west over Kodiak's steep green mountains and across Shelikof Strait to the Katmai Peninsula. The pilot is in radio contact with the Ursus, and soon we're taxiing on the water to pull up alongside the ship. Exiting the plane, we embark the vessel that will be our floating home for the next several days. The 73-foot Ursuswas built as a deep-sea fishing boat called Time Bandit, which navigated the stormy Bering Sea in pursuit of the lucrative king crab catch. Its successor, the second Time Bandit, gained fame in the Discovery Channel TV series "Deadliest Catch." The original boat was later transitioned for research use by the National Park Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since retrofitted for custom tourism charters, this sturdy veteran of wild Alaskan waters now offers our guests comfortable accommodations in this remote marine wilderness.
Bear viewing begins in earnest as the Ursus (which means "bear" in Latin) cruises slowly along the coastline. In this area we commonly find giant Alaskan brown bears—the world's biggest coastal grizzlies—foraging for food, and the opportunities to capture impressive close-up photos is simply remarkable, Since we are mobile, we can cruise to wherever the bears are, following them from bay to bay. Bring double the memory capacity you think you'll need, as you won't believe the shots you will get!
Days 4–6: Bear Photography in Katmai National Park
While we’ve all seen footage in nature documentaries of Alaskan brown bears in the wild, nothing prepares us for the drama of an actual encounter with these magnificent beasts, often just yards away! They are North America’s largest land predators, and an adult male can weigh 900 pounds. As we cruise just off the coast, bears often dot the shoreline. We go ashore by skiff for an even closer view, exploring the beaches on foot. It’s not uncommon to find several massive grizzlies at once. And far from dozing lethargically, these bears may put on quite a show in their efforts to fill up on enough protein-rich food to prepare for a long winter in hibernation.
The bear activity we witness will vary according to the season, weather conditions, and timing of the salmon runs, but there's always something riveting to watch and photograph. With cameras poised, we may see bears fight to capture salmon in their jaws as the fish make their way up streams flowing over the intertidal area, swiping out at them with talons as long as man's fingers. As omnivores, the bears also dig for clams and mussels in the sand and browse on protein-rich sedge grass. Depending on the timing of our visit, we may see bears mating or cubs gallivanting on the beach. On our other Alaska trips, we watch grizzlies from viewing platforms or vehicles. Not here! In coastal Katmai we are on foot, carefully wandering the area in our small group under the cautious guidance of our Expedition Leader, who offers thorough coaching in safe "bear etiquette." Sometimes we see wolves, too, observing their interesting interactions with the bears. While occasionally there may be another boat in the region, we're usually alone in the wilderness, moved by a profound sense of solitude, peace and raw beauty. Suffice it to say this trip offers wildlife photo opportunities that will thrill you beyond expectation!
Day 7: Katmai Bear Viewing / Return to Kodiak
One last morning is set aside to photograph bears before we plan to fly back to Kodiak later today. Traveling in an open skiff, we head to shore once more, looking for a glimpse of the glaciers that crown the high mountain backdrop above Katmai's lonely coast. Typically these peaks are cloaked in clouds while evocative mists weave in and out of the bays, providing the moisture that keeps Katmai so lush and verdant. Deep ash covered the region after the massive 1912 eruption of Mount Katmai and adjacent Novarupta, and revegetation in the century since has come mostly as a thick blanket of willow and alder bushes, though some stands of spruce thrive as well—keep an eye out for bald eagles in the treetops. Seabirds abound, too—look for kittiwakes, terns, mergansers, pigeon guillemots and black oystercatchers.
On shore, we walk across the tidal flats and gravel bars, possibly fording a few streams to find the best vantage point for a last chance to capture images of the bears. Inevitably, it's going to be hard to leave here. Most travelers never get such an immersion in genuine wilderness, let alone the chance for close-up photos of some of the world's most magnificent carnivores in their natural habitat. We're sure to come away awed by the way the bears allow us into their world, and inspired to protect their future from the very real threats of mining, climate change and other forces that may impact the ecosystem that sustains them—especially the salmon runs on which they rely. Back in Kodiak, our local guide meets us once more as we transfer to our hotel. A farewell dinner is planned at a local restaurant, where fresh seafood is always on the menu, along with other varied choices.
Day 8: Kodiak / Depart
Fly home today from Kodiak. We recommend booking an afternoon flight out, in case inclement weather prevents us from returning to Kodiak on Day 7 as planned.
All This Included
Nature puts on few displays as arresting as Alaskan brown bears feeding on summer’s bounty. The bears of this area—the largest coastal grizzlies in the world—gorge on spawning salmon as the fish swim up the rivers that pour onto these wild beaches. Our private chartered ship, the Natural Habitat Ursus, offers an exclusive opportunity to follow and photograph the bears along the shoreline as they fish, dig for clams and lope along the beach. Ashore, as we walk with our experienced guide, we have an even closer vantage point as we watch from a careful distance. Here in Katmai National Park, experience this rarest of encounters with Ursus arctos in all its untamed majesty!
Kodiak: Kodiak Inn
Cruising: Cabin onboard M/V Natural Habitat Ursus
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