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The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter

Itinerary

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 adventure 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 destination in its own right, and today we explore a sampler of its coastal waters on a day-long private boat trip. A cruise among Kodiak’s secluded bays and rocky 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 nature is palpable as we glide through its rockbound coves and islands. 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 
The day has arrived: We're off to see the bears! And we reach them via a classically Alaskan means of transport: a floatplane journey from Kodiak to Katmai to 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 a bit more of Kodiak as we wait for the 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 along the water to pull up alongside. 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. The Ursus (which means "bear" in Latin) cruises slowly along the coast, where we commonly find coastal grizzlies, or brown bears, foraging for food. Since we are mobile, we can cruise to wherever the bears are, following them from bay to bay depending on weather and sea conditions. Along the way, the friendly captain and staff of the Ursus ensure we're welcomed, safe and attended to.

Days 4–6: Bear Viewing 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 dot the shoreline. We go ashore by skiff for an even closer view, traversing 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 them 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. We may see bears fight to capture salmon in their jaws, trying to seize spawning fish that make their way up the streams flowing over the intertidal area. As omnivores, bears also dig for clams and mussels in the sand and browse on protein-rich sedges. Depending on the time of our visit, we may even see bears mating or cubs gallivanting on the shore. 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. This trip offers an encounter with the Alaskan wild that we trust will thrill you beyond expectation.

Day 7: Bear Viewing in Katmai / Return to Kodiak 
One last morning is set aside for time with the bears before our planned flight back to Kodiak later today. Traveling in an open skiff, we head once more toward shore, looking for a glimpse of the glaciers that crown the tall mountains behind Katmai's lonely coastline. 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 sojourn with 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 to sit in solitude with some of the world's most magnificent carnivores. We're sure to come away awed by the access the bears grant us to their world, and inspired to protect them 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. Fresh seafood is always on the menu, along with other varied choices.

Day 8: Kodiak / Depart
Our Alaska bear adventure comes to a close today as we depart from Kodiak. We recommend guests book an afternoon flight out in case inclement weather prevents us from flying back to Kodiak on Day 7 as scheduled. (Occasionally, weather delays may require a morning flight today from the Ursus back to Kodiak.) Several morning activity options are available in town as we wait for flight departures, however, and our Kodiak guide makes sure there's plenty to engage us.

Please note: Most floatplane flights will depart Kodiak to meet the Ursus by late morning on Day 3 and return to Kodiak by mid-afternoon on Day 7. The exact timing will vary according to weather, marine conditions and other logistical factors.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult


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