Day 1: Homer, Alaska
Arrive in Homer, a scenic town of 5,000 located near the bottom of the Kenai Peninsula. Known as “the end of the road,” Homer is the most southerly point on Alaska’s contiguous highway system. For guests who arrive by 1 pm, an informal city tour is included. Highlights may include the Pratt Museum showcasing the natural and cultural history of the Kachemak Bay region, the Norman Lowell Gallery, Islands and Ocean Visitor Center at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and/or a hike to an overlook surveying Homer’s Critical Habitat Area, 280 acres of protected state land home to more than 100 bird species and which provides winter habitat for the local moose population. Homer’s key geographic feature is the Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile-long gravel bar that extends into the bay. Visitors to the town harbor frequently see fishing boats unloading their catch—Homer is heralded as the Halibut Capital of the World.
Day 2: Kachemak Bay Cruise
Homer sits on Kachemak Bay, a 40-mile-long arm of Cook Inlet, which we explore on a full-day private boat cruise. Much of the bay environs are part of Kachemak Bay Wilderness State Park, accessible only by boat or floatplane. The park, which contains wild, rockbound beaches, dense mountain forests, glaciers and ice fields, has been designated a Critical Habitat Area due to the important biodiversity it harbors, and we expect to see plenty of wildlife from on deck. Marine mammals frequently spotted include whales, harbor porpoise, sea otters and Steller sea lions, while on shore we may glimpse moose, coyote
and black bear. The bay also encompasses the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a fertile marine environment that’s home to prolific waterfowl and shorebirds. We return to Homer for dinner and overnight.
Day 3: Homer / Katmai—Board Natural Habitat Ursus
Take a floatplane (weather-contingent) from Homer to Katmai National Park to meet our private chartered ship, the Natural Habitat Ursus
. The plane pulls up right alongside, and we disembark to board the vessel that will be our floating home for the next several days. The Ursus
cruises slowly along the coast, where we commonly find coastal grizzlies, or brown bears, foraging for food. As we are mobile, we can cruise to wherever the bears are, following them from bay to bay.
Days 4–7: Coastal Katmai—Grizzly Bear Viewing
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, 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 dot the shoreline. We go ashore by skiff for an even closer view, exploring the beaches on foot. It’s not uncommon to find massive grizzlies in great numbers; our previous trips have seen as many as a dozen of them at once. And far from dozing lethargically, these bears put on quite a show in their efforts to fill up on enough protein-rich food to prepare them for a long winter in hibernation.
We watch as they fight to capture salmon in their jaws, trying to seize spawning fish as they make their way up the streams that flow into the tidal area. As omnivores, they also dig for clams in the sand and browse on sedge grass. Depending on the time of our visit, we may even see bears mating or cubs gallivanting on the shore. On our other 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. In addition, it is not uncommon for our groups to
frequently see wolves and observe their interesting interactions with the bears. As a result, this trip offers a wildlife encounter that will thrill you beyond expectation. On Day 7, we plan to return to Homer by floatplane.
Day 8: Homer / Depart
Our Alaska wildlife cruise comes to a close today as we depart from Homer. We recommend that travelers book an afternoon flight out in case inclement weather prevents
us from flying back to Homer on Day 7 as planned.
Exact times of our flights between Homer and our ship, the Natural Habitat Ursus
, vary according to weather and other logistical factors beyond our control.
Physical Rating: Moderate