Brad Josephs: Gray wolf and brown bears, mother and cubs, brown bear and snow
Fungai Katsande: Kodiak hiking
Marion Owen: Sea otters, whale tail, stellar sea lions
C. Friedman Scout: Grizzly ship
Dan Crandall: Katmai tidal flats Holly Glessner: Traveler in fireweed, guide with binoculars
Meet the Mighty Brown Bears of Katmai Up Close From Our Private Small Ship
Frequently Asked Questions
Summer and early fall is the best time of the year to see grizzlies. Because the bears are preoccupied with feeding, they are calmer and more unconcerned with humans than at any other time of year. Each month brings something unique to the viewing experience. June is when bears congregate to socialize, mate and eat from ocean-supplied food sources. Mating season along the Katmai coast peaks in mid to late June, and play behavior among younger bears is at its highest during this time. July is a transitional month that offers diverse bear behavior as well as frequent grazing on wildflowers, which peak during this month. In August bears are focused on feeding on salmon, which run upstream from the sea to spawn. Because of this, intense, feeding bears are mostly oblivious to the presence of humans. September is a great time to visit due to the bears’ filled-out physical appearance and seasonal golden light, which make for wonderful photography opportunities.
These are some of the most temperate months of the year, and temperatures normally range between 45°F and 60°F. Temperatures rarely fall below 40°F in Katmai National Park during these most popular months of travel. It is not unusual for coastal Alaska to experience rain and cooler conditions, so it is best to be prepared for a wide range of weather.
Home to approximately 2,200 brown bears, Katmai is the best place to see them in Alaska because of the park’s few remaining unaltered habitats and food-rich areas. Other bear viewing areas in Alaska do not provide as much food for the bears, so the chances of seeing them are lower. Travelers will visit the protected bays of Katmai’s southern coast where bears gather in large numbers to fish for spawning salmon and to take advantage of other food sources. The Natural Habitat ship, the Ursus, is able to navigate up the coast and visit narrow inlets and bays for optimal bear viewing that is otherwise inaccessible.
Katmai National Park is one of the few bear-watching destinations where access is largely unrestricted, so visitors to the park may come within very close contact of grizzlies. Here is a description of our encounters written by Brad Josephs, one of Nat Hab’s top bear guides: “It does seem impossible to fathom—standing at such close range on the ground with these brown bears. Yet we have been running trips to Katmai for many years, and the bears are very accustomed to respectful bear viewers. We have developed the same relationship with the bears as lions that ignore safari vehicles in Africa, or humans sitting with gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. When we step ashore among the bears, we are the only humans around—and the bears tend to be nonchalant about our presence. That’s because these bears have never been hunted or harmed by humans—they are uninterested in us as they focus their summer feasting on salmon, clams and beach grass. We limit our group size to just eight travelers so that we can approach the bears without disturbing them. Our groups always maintain a careful and respectful distance under the cautious guidance of our naturalist Expedition Leader. You can always trust that on these trips we have safety and respect for the animals as the two highest priorities. This is a place where people and bears respect each other, and bears can show humans their good side, as opposed to other areas where humans and bears have conflicts because humans lack proper respect for bears.”
Aside from grizzlies, one may spot gray wolves, sea otters, seals, humpback whales, golden eagles, bald eagles and various other bird species.
This really is an authentic Alaskan adventure! Aside from bear viewing, additional activities include a boat cruise outside Kodiak and exploration of the historic island, including visits to Russian and native museums. Once onboard the Ursus, we’ll be able to soak in the beauty of the surrounding scenery and spend time on the boat decks while searching for other wildlife, such as eagles and whales. There will be lectures and informational sessions given by guides both on the ship and on land. Guests may enjoy sharing photography information and receiving photo tips from our professional Expedition Leader.
A 45- to 60-minute chartered floatplane brings guests from Kodiak to Katmai where you’ll meet our private chartered ship, the Natural Habitat Ursus. This vessel will be guests’ home base while in Katmai.
Lightweight, breathable, waterproof rain gear is essential for staying dry and warm, so bring both a rain jacket and rain pants. Plan on wearing layers to be prepared for any weather, so pack a fleece, warm coat, hat and gloves, thermal underwear, long pants, and short- and long-sleeved shirts. Bring sturdy hiking boots, tennis shoes and sport sandals. Additionally, Nat Hab will provide waders and boots because you’ll be walking through shallow streams and tidal waters to reach prime bear viewing destinations. For further information, we provide all guests with a comprehensive packing list in a pre-departure trip booklet.
Chest waders and boots are provided because guests will be walking through shallow streams and tidal waters to reach grizzly viewing locations. Waders are worn over normal warm clothes.
Because we travel aboard a privately chartered small ship, our group is limited to a maximum of eight guests. The small size of the group is essential for approaching the bears safely without disturbing them.
This trip is rated “moderate to difficult” as guests must be able to walk at least two miles to reach some of the bear watching areas through varying conditions and sometimes rough terrain. There may be long periods of time when guests are stationary or in one place in order to best view wildlife. Travelers must be capable of walking across unstable surfaces and making big steps to board on and off the ship. Please click here for further details of the physical requirements of this trip.
This trip focuses primarily on bear viewing in one of Alaska’s most stunning areas, while other Nat Hab Alaska tours incorporate more diverse activities and wildlife viewing opportunities. Bear enthusiasts will enjoy this particular trip as they are likely to experience countless sightings from both land and sea. But the scenery is another reason to select this trip, as there is no more beautifully remote spot on the planet than coastal Katmai. Our privately chartered ship is ideal for exploring the scenic wilderness waterways of Katmai, and a maximum of just eight guests guarantees intimate wildlife experiences.
Though rooms on the ship are simple and not fancy, they are clean and serve the purpose of keeping us cozy and comfortable during our adventure. The simplicity and size of the rooms enable the ship to reach bear viewing areas otherwise inaccessible by other vessels. There are four guest bedrooms on deck with two shared, adjoining bathrooms (equipped with toilets and showers). There is a galley where we enjoy wonderful meals prepared by our chef. Outlets are available for charging phones and cameras.
Single rooms are available on the Ursus at a surcharge. Travelers making the journey on their own can also request to be matched with a suitable roommate of the same gender in a twin room.
Free Wi-Fi will be available at the Kodiak Inn, but there will not be Internet available on the boat. Cell phone service will only be available in Kodiak, but very limited or nonexistent in the more remote areas we’ll visit via boat.
Yes! We reserve some dates for private groups of families and friends so please call our office at 800-543-8917 to get details on group size and pricing.
You will need to make roundtrip airfare arrangements from your home city to Kodiak, Alaska. Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, American and United Airlines service Anchorage. You will need to book a connecting flight to Kodiak, arriving no later than 7 p.m. on Day 1 of the trip. You are free to depart at any time on the final day, though we recommend an afternoon flight should the floatplane be delayed returning to Kodiak.
Yes, we offer two opportunities to extend your Alaska trip.
Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari
This 13-day itinerary is designed to showcase more of Alaska’s diverse landscapes and wildlife. Enjoy a visit to Denali National Park where grizzlies and caribou roam freely, watch a calving glacier and look for whales and eagles from a chartered boat in Kenai Fjords, and observe giant brown bears fish for salmon at Brooks River in Katmai National Park.
Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness
Spend eight days onboard Lindblad Expeditions’ small ship, which will bring you through the inlets and fjords of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage. On the ship you’ll search for bald eagles, whales and otters and watch glaciers calve into the sea.