Alaska Grizzly Itinerary
Welcome to Kodiak Island! 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. On your arrival at the airport, our local guide meets you and transfers you to our hotel in town. Depending on your arrival time, you may be able to explore some of Kodiak's Russian and Native heritage on your own this afternoon. Our adventure officially begins this evening with an informal welcome dinner and orientation hosted by our local guide.
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—formerly an 18th-century fur storehouse and one of Alaska’s oldest wooden structures—and Holy Resurrection Church, rebuilt in the 1940s after the original 1795 building was destroyed by a fire. Both are walking distance from our hotel. Other options for free time 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 of Kodiak surrounding St. Paul's Harbor. Kodiak is also home to Alaska’s largest fishing fleet, bringing in a great haul of salmon, halibut and herring each season.
Day 2: Kodiak Island Wildlife Cruise
While Katmai's brown bears 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
Day 3: Kodiak / Floatplane to 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 more of Kodiak as we wait for the clouds to lift. Once on board, we fly west over Kodiak's steep green mountains and across Shelikof Strait to the Katmai Peninsula, where the backbone of the ice-crowned Aleutian Range rises behind the shoreline. 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 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 brown bears, or coastal grizzlies, 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
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. Early in the season, mothers with cubs gallivanting on the shore provide amusing entertainment. Later on, 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 see bears mating or males sparring over females.
On most Alaska bear trips, you'll 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 Flight to Kodiak
One last morning is set aside for time with the bears before our planned return by floatplane to Kodiak later today. Cruising 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 green. 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, oil and gas development, climate change and other forces that may impact the ecosystem that sustains them—especially the salmon runs they rely upon. 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 as we wait for flight departures, and our Kodiak guide makes sure there's plenty to engage us. Options may include a drive to the top of Pillar Mountain for views over the harbor and neighboring islands (hardy travelers may choose to hike to the summit or back down); a stop at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center featuring regional species on display; or a visit to Fort Abercrombie, where we can walk trails through dense rain forest to a wild beach, sample salmonberries in season and encounter relics from a World War II coastal defense installation.
Please note: Most floatplane flights will depart Kodiak to meet the Ursus by
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.
Click here to view the seasonal variations of our Alaska grizzly-viewing encounters.