Homer to Kodiak Itinerary
Arrive in Homer, a scenic fishing town of 5,500 on Kachemak Bay 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. Surrounded by 280 acres of protected state land, this critical wildlife habitat sustains more than 100 bird species and a large 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. This evening, gather with our Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner and orientation to the incredible bear adventures that lie ahead.
Day 2: Homer—Kachemak Bay Private Cruise
Today we explore Kachemak Bay on a private boat cruise, with opportunities to photograph the dramatic backdrop of the glaciated Kenai Mountains (weather permitting, of course) and abundant marine wildlife and seabirds. The bay is transformed daily by some of the largest tidal fluctuations in the world, and it's home not only to coveted sport fish but also sea otters, seals, porpoises, sea lions and whales, many of which we see frequently. A highlight is is the Gull Island rookery, home to 10,000 nesting seabirds with a chance to get shots of puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, murres and more. Later this afternoon, enjoy some free time to wander along the spit, lined with local boutiques, galleries and eateries.
Day 3: Private Flight to Lake Clark National Park—Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp
Today we plan to fly across Cook Inlet to Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp. Our departure time will depend upon the weather, but we’ll hope to have time this morning to explore a bit more around Homer. We might tour a local family homestead and artist studio, and/or take a walk along the long, sandy strip of Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough. When the tide is out, we can investigate the tidepools in search of small sealife including jellyfish and crabs. Once it’s time to take to the air, the view from our chartered bush plane is staggering. On the wild, western shore of Cook Inlet, we pass snow-clad volcanoes and jagged glaciers pouring down from icefields on high. The terrain below us, where the Aleutian and Alaska ranges meet, is part of Lake Clark National Park, some of the world's most critical brown bear habitat. Look for bears along the shoreline as we come in for a landing, taxiing down the beach. The exact timing of our arrival is dependent on the tides. Bear Camp is located on a historic homestead, a rare private inholding of coastal land surrounded by the roadless wilderness of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. These 4 million protected acres are the ancestral homelands of the Dena'ina people, preserving an intact ecosystem at the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
Accessible only by plane or boat, Bear Camp offers Nat Hab guests alone an unparalleled immersion in pristine brown bear habitat. Once we’re settled into our weatherproof tent cabins, we gather for an orientation and safety talk with our Expedition Leader, an expert bear naturalist and accomplished wildlife photographer, before heading out for our first opportunity to photograph bears. Two viewing platforms are located behind the camp, surveying the vast meadow where dozens of bears feed. One is elevated for a territorial view, enabling us to see bears nearby and at a distance. The other offers an eye-level vantage on bears that may wander close to us. And we often watch them right from camp, which is surrounded by electrified wires, ensuring our safety on site.
Days 4-6: Brown Bear Photography in Lake Clark National Park
Prior to this rare opportunity, some of us will have seen bears only in zoos or nature documentaries. Yet nothing comes close to this immersive experience, being peaceably among them in their wild home. Alaska's mighty brown bears—the coastal version of the interior grizzly bear (which is the same species, Ursus arctos)—are the largest land predators in North America. Adult males can weigh up to 1,500 pounds! Here at Bear Camp, we have some of the best, most consistent viewing anywhere in Alaska, due to the season-long availability of food. All summer, nature serves up a steady bounty to these omnivores, with protein-rich sedges and clams dug from the beach the “first course” before the late summer salmon run that will fatten them up to survive a long winter. Since the bears are sated by this abundance, they see us humans merely as part of the scenery, allowing us to move safely in their midst on guided outings, at times photographing them from just a few yards away. Two viewing platforms, one elevated for a territorial view, enable us to see bears nearby and at a distance. And we often watch them right from camp, which is surrounded by electrified wires, ensuring our safety on site.
Against a backdrop of sheer-sided peaks rising above the green valley floor, the bears are sometimes near enough that we can hear them chewing their food and communicating with one another in woofs, purrs and growls. While bear activity varies according to the time of season and weather conditions, and we can never predict exactly what bear behavior we'll witness, there's always something riveting going on. We may get to photograph bears wandering the tide flats on Chinitna Bay, mothers with playful cubs, or animated mating activity. And while bears are usually plentiful right in the vicinity of camp, we also go into adjacent Lake Clark National Park for added variety.
At every turn, we explore the area in the careful company of our Expedition Leader who offers thorough coaching in respectful "bear etiquette" to ensure your safety. Our low-impact presence ensures that we never disturb the bears, and they in turn grant us comfortable access to photograph them going about their daily routines. After each exhilarating day, gather in the dining tent for dinner—you'll be surprised at the outstanding meals our resident chef is able to prepare in such a remote location. Fresh local fare is always on the menu, including abundant Alaskan seafood.
Day 7: Bear Camp / Chartered Flight to Katmai National Park—Board Natural Habitat Ursus
Depending on the weather and our flying window, we have one last chance this morning to photograph the bears of Lake Clark National Park, admiring their majesty and whimsy alike. Eventually, it's time to leave Bear Camp behind as we board our small bush plane and taxi down the beach, headed south for the Katmai Peninsula. Our pilot is in radio contact with our ship, and soon we're taxiing on the beach near Hallo Bay where the Natural Habitat Ursus awaits. Behind us, the ice-crowned peaks of the Aleutian Range rise in a serrated spine. Exiting the plane, we embark the vessel that will be our floating home for the next several days. The 73-foot Ursus was 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 photography continues in earnest as the Ursus (which means "bear" in Latin) cruises slowly along the roadless coastline of Katmai National Park. In this area we commonly find giant Alaskan brown bears—the coastal version of the interior grizzly bear, which is the same species, Ursus arctos—foraging for food, and the opportunities to capture impressive close-ups are simply remarkable. Since we are mobile, we can cruise to wherever the bears are, following them from bay to bay. Bring more memory capacity than you think you'll need, as you won't believe the shots you will get!
Days 8-10: Brown Bear Photography in Katmai National Park
As we cruise just off the coast, bears often dot the shoreline. We go ashore by skiff for a closer view, exploring the beaches on foot, traversing the area carefully under the watchful eye of our guide who is one of Alaska’s most experienced bear naturalists. It’s not uncommon to find several massive bears at once, and when we do, we may spend hours in once place with them. While we’ve all seen footage in nature documentaries of Alaskan brown bears in the wild, nothing captures the drama of an actual encounter with these magnificent beasts, sometimes just feet away. Far from dozing lethargically, they often put on quite a show for us as they go about filling up on enough protein-rich food to prepare for a long winter in hibernation.
The bear activity we witness varies according to seasonal patterns and weather conditions, but there's always something exciting to photograph. We may see mating activity, with males chasing females; mothers with new spring cubs gallivanting on the beach; or bears digging clams from the sand, swiping them out with talons as long as a man's fingers. As omnivores, bears also browse on protein-rich sedges. Sometimes we esee wolves, too, capturing 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.
Day 11: Katmai Bear Photography / Chartered Floatplane to Kodiak Island / Kodiak Walking Tour
One last morning is set aside for bear photography in the Hallo Bay region before we plan to fly to Kodiak. Our timing is flexible in the event of weather delays, but soon our floatplane taxis right up to the Ursus to collect us. Once on board, we leave the Katmai Peninsula behind, flying east across Shelikof Strait and over the steep green mountains of the Kodiak Archipelago. At 3,670 square miles, Kodiak is the second-largest island in the United States. Defined by high mountains, lush forests and a crenellated coastline, much of the island's wild terrain lies within the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, home to 3,500 brown bears and a multitude of other wildlife.
Once we land, our local guide meets us and transfers us to our hotel. After we get checked in, we meet a walking tour guide who takes us on foot to explore Kodiak's Russian and Native heritage, and its thriving fishing industry. Kodiak is home to Alaska’s largest fishing fleet, bringing in a great haul of salmon, halibut and herring to St. Paul Harbor each season. Inhabited by Alutiiq natives for more than 7,000 years, Kodiak was colonized by Russian fur traders in 1792, whose harvest of sea otter pelts drove the species to near-extinction by the mid-19th century. As the first permanent Russian settlement in what would become Alaska, it served as the capital of Russian America until it was moved to Sitka in 1804. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church established its first North American mission in Kodiak. Reminders of this residency are on display at the Kodiak History Museum housed in a former Russian fur storehouse built in 1808, Alaska’s oldest wooden structure, and at Holy Resurrection Cathedral, rebuilt in the 1940s after the original 1795 building was destroyed by a fire. Other highlights of Kodiak we may see during our visit include the Alutiiq Museum, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, and several galleries featuring the work of resident artists. All are centrally located in the compact town surrounding the picturesque boat harbor.
Day 12: Private Kodiak Wildlife Photography Cruise
While bears have been our main focus elsewhere, 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 chartered boat trip. Our cruise among Kodiak’s secluded bays, islets 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 may also spend time photographing sites in and around 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 panoramic photos over the town and sea, when weather permits. Tonight, we gather for a farewell dinner, replete with memories of our matchless adventures among Alaska's bears.
Day 13: Kodiak / Depart
Our Bear Quest photo expedition comes to a close today as our local guide transfers us to the Kodiak airport for individual homeward flights.
Due to the extremely remote nature of this adventure, we require that all travelers submit a medical form before departure. This form must be completed and signed by your primary care physician. Good health and overall fitness are a must, as we are far from medical facilities in this roadless region—it may take several hours or potentially a full day or more to evacuate to a medical facility should health problems arise.