THE Best Way To View Alaska's Brown Bears!
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Accessible only by air and sea, Lake Clark National Park is located just over 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. Craggy mountains, steaming volcanoes, and pristine forests lend to its stunning beauty. A visit to Lake Clark National Park is an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. Choosing the proper tour guide and pilot is essential. The National Park Service permits only a few air companies access to the park. Alaska Air Service is among the most respected and recommended. Alaska Air Service founder Bill Starr has flown all over Alaska for over 25 years. A former Anchorage city councilman, Starr understands Anchorage and Alaskan culture, and has established respectful, professional relationships with the National Park Service and others in his line of work.
My adventure started bright and early at 7AM at Merrill Field, a small-craft regional airport just east of downtown Anchorage. After meeting with Bill and two fellow travelers boarded the small Cessna, we received a thorough safety briefing, and we were in the air within moments. We were treated to an aerial view of Anchorage before beginning our one-hour-and-fifteen-minute flight along Cook Inlet’s western shore. We could see Denali and Mt. Foraker over 100 miles in the distance. We flew right past the recently active volcano, Mt. Redoubt.
As we approached the park, the landscape became indescribably beautiful and dramatic. Just a few more minutes in the air and we would reach our destination… Chinitna Bay, nestled among the jagged snow-capped peaks of the lower Alaska Range. The primary attraction amidst the natural beauty… brown bears. We landed on a 100-foot-wide section of sandy, stony beach, joining 3 or 4 other small planes. We immediately saw our first brown bear… digging for clams in the shallow waters along the beach. Awestruck at seeing a brown bear in the wild for the first time, I snapped a few photos before the bear was startled by an aircraft engine and lumbered off. I followed Bill across a trail and into a stand of tall evergreens. Bill shared important instruction about safely interacting with bears within their environment. As we continued to walk, Bill cautioned me not to react noisily at what I was about to see. As we reached the edge of the evergreens, we came upon a broad grassy meadow bisected by a wide, shallow stream. About 100 feet from us stood two very large brown bears, each about 400 or 500 pounds. Several others bears were visible in the distance. We sat silently in the pristine wilderness as we watched these beautiful animals graze in the meadow.
Our hike to the next bear viewing location took us back to the beach. We and another group of visitors crouched as we watched yet another large bear walking among the parked planes on the beach. His trajectory seemed to indicate that he would walk right up to us, but he decided to make a right turn away from the beach and into the grass. A short scenic hike along the beach brought us to another viewing area where a small group of serious photographers with two-foot lenses had set up their equipment.
Yet another large bear was grazing in close proximity. The shutters clicked in unison each moment the animal raised his head to examine the surroundings. The view across the meadow extended for well over a mile. My guide pointed out several “brown dots” in the distance… more brown bears. I’d estimate that we saw 40-50 bears in all. No description, photos, or video of such an encounter within such exquisite natural beauty can fully illustrate the experience Whether you’re interested in the Lake Clark National Park brown bear experience, exploring glaciers or a Denali flightseeing tour, Alaska Air Service is your most experienced, knowledgeable and safest choice. Visit them online at flyakair.com.