Our brown bear photography adventure begins in Anchorage. Located at the head of Cook Inlet, Alaska's largest city is home to half the state’s residents plus some 1,500 moose, while the ocean at its doorstep is the domain of all five species of Pacific salmon and an endangered population of endemic beluga whales. Wedged between wilderness areas and within sight of the Chugach, Kenai
Day 2: Anchorage / King Salmon / Brooks Falls Bear Photography
Fly southwest from Anchorage to King Salmon, an isolated hamlet at the head of the Alaska Peninsula that is the gateway to Bristol Bay and Katmai National Park. We make the short transfer to Gold Creek Lodge to get fitted with our waders before returning to the airport for the 20-minute flight by private floatplane to the Brooks Falls area. Once we touch down, we stop for a safety talk with local rangers who share the proper protocol for behavior in close proximity to brown bears. Bears are usually abundant in the area this time of year, spending the fall fattening up on salmon that remain along the Brooks and Naknek rivers. While they won't be fishing in famous Brooks Falls this time of year, they linger for the end-of-the-season feast where the rivers meet Naknek Lake.
Alaska's autumn light is dramatic with the sun hanging low in the southern sky. A golden glow may linger on the landscape as cottonwood and birch leaves turn yellow before succumbing to frost. It’s an irresistible setting for photographing these enormous coastal grizzlies. By late September, bears have consumed so much salmon that their weight is up as much as 40% since August, and they sport thick, lustrous coats in preparation for winter.
Watching bears in the field is a rustic backcountry experience during a season of changing
Days 3–4: Bear Photography in Katmai National Park
Prepared for unpredictable fall weather that can often be chilly and wet, we follow the bears during full days around Brooks Falls and the surrounding area. Their food supply is prolific, with fish still plentiful following summer's salmon runs that moved from Bristol Bay, the world’s largest fishery, into the Naknek River, Naknek Lake and beyond. Chance encounters with snow or one last silver salmon run are possible at this time of year—both of which optimize opportunities for exceptional photographs.
A highlight of our visit is a chance to see the famous ursine competitors who will be the stars of the Katmai Conservancy's annual Fat Bear Week. This popular mid-October event offers the public a chance to "weigh in" by voting online for which brown bear best exemplifies the heft that sets it apart from the rest. As the bears bulk up for their long winter hibernation, they pack on the pounds during a final salmon fling in the Brooks River (which we are witness to), and our Expedition Leaders are often familiar with "who's who." Once you get home, you can vote for some of the very bears you've likely had a chance to see in person during our expedition.
Since we taxi in and out of the Brooks River area in our chartered floatplane, we have the flexibility to follow the bears and land where they’re lingering. We might walk on the wide, level trails around the falls near Brooks Camp (which is closed for the season, so crowds are nonexistent), or touch down at the river inlet to bushwhack along Naknek Lake to gain the best proximity. With the opportunity for aerial flightseeing, our paths will survey different natural areas each day, offering an overhead vista of the vast Katmai wilderness. Each evening we return to our well-appointed haven at Gold Creek Lodge, surrounded by forest that's home to bald eagles, moose, bears and other wildlife. Relax on leather sofas in front of the stone fireplace to ward off fall's chill, and enjoy time after dinner for photo editing and photography lessons, bear lectures, geology talks and more.
Day 5: Bear Photography / King Salmon / Anchorage
Day 6: Anchorage / Depart
Our Alaskan bear expedition comes to a close today as we transfer to the airport for onward flights.
Physical Rating: Difficult
Click here to view the seasonal variations of grizzly bear activity.
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