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Travel Stories

The Coastal Grizzlies of Katmai: An Alaska Photo Journal

By Candice Gaukel Andrews

Brown bear in Alaska.
In Katmai National Park, Alaska, there’s a meadow with lots of big brown bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Recently, I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures on its “Alaska’s Coastal Grizzlies: Kodiak to Katmai Photo Tour.” I can now say that having the opportunity to spend time with Alaska’s big brown bears is one of the most authentic wildlife experiences any nature traveler can have. Leading my small group of only eight people was Nat Hab Expedition Leader Brad Josephs. Brad, thank you for guiding me through the places you love and for the generous use of your camera when mine broke. This one’s for you.

Brad and the bears

There’s a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, with lots of bears. But Brad says I can’t tell you where it is. 

Alaska brown bear.
When there is competition for food or space, bears adopt a more nocturnal lifestyle; however, they are naturally diurnal. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

There’s a black boat named Ursus that takes you to that meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park where there are lots of bears. But be careful what you drink on the black boat because Brad says bears and booze don’t mix.

Ursus boat in Alaska.
A strong, black boat named Ursus will transport you to a place filled with bears. ©Drew Hamilton 

When you go out with your camp stool to sit in the meadow above a bay with lots of bears, Brad tells you his names for some of them. I suspect he knows the names of others. But Brad keeps those to himself.

Alaska brown bear.
The natural beauty and power of Katmai National Park is most visually embodied in its awe-inspiring brown bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The bears in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, where you go out with your camp stool to sit, come so close to you that you can hear the sounds of grasses being pulled out of the soil and the bears’ mouths as they munch them. I look nervously back at Brad.

But Brad just nods and smiles.


Alaska brown bear.
Both the brown bear’s hump and claws are traits associated with an exceptional digging ability. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

In a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, where you go out with your camp stool to sit and the bears come so close, a bear mom is trying to bring up three little cubs. Brad hopes all three will make it through the year. But Brad can’t promise that will happen.

Alaska brown bear and cub.
A typical litter size is two to three cubs. More than 25 percent of the cubs die before they leave their mothers. Cannibalism by adult males is one of the major causes of death. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

I tell Brad I’ll never be able to make anyone else believe I sat next to wild grizzlies in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. But I think Brad is really just a bear in a human disguise.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy 

Alaska brown bear in the rain.
It will be hard to make anyone else believe I sat next to wild brown bears in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Mossy trees in Alaska
Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. It is mountainous and heavily forested in the north and east. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Seagull in Alaska.
More than 240 species of birds have been identified in the Kodiak Island Archipelago. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Puffin in Alaska.
Because of their bright colors, early sailors called horned puffins “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea.” ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Alaska brown bear in the rain.
Adult brown bear males on the coast of Katmai National Park and the Alaska Peninsula are among the largest on the planet, competing in size with the famous Kodiak brown bears, considered to be the largest in the world. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Red fox in Alaska.
Besides brown bears, Katmai National Park provides a protected home to coastal wolves, martens, minks, moose, snowshoe hares, wolverines and red foxes, such as this one. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Brown bears in Alaska sparring.
Although generally solitary, coastal brown bears often congregate in fertile feeding areas. Because of this, they have developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and avoid fights. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Bald eagle in Alaska nest.
If you look closely, you’ll spot a chick behind this bald eagle, which almost imperceptibly blends in with the rocks in the background. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Alaska's coastal brown bears often search for clams on the tidal flats.
Alaska's coastal brown bears often search for clams on the tidal flats. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Harbor seals are curious but elusive. They often surface near a boat, but they will disappear if they attract too much attention.
Harbor seals are curious but elusive. They often surface near a boat, but they will disappear if they attract too much attention. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Brown bear in Alaska on the coast of Katmai.
A rich diet of fish contributes to the large size of the brown bears along the coast of Katmai National Park, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Approximately one fourth (4.6 million acres) of Alaska's glaciers occur within national parks, such as this one in Katmai National Park.
Approximately one fourth (4.6 million acres) of Alaska's glaciers occur within national parks, such as this one in Katmai National Park. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Header Credit: Brad Josephs 
See Alaska's Coastal Grizzlies on These Adventures
Repeater Layout : vertical-2up
Grizzlies of Katmai: A Photo Pro Expedition
New Trip!

Grizzlies of Katmai: A Photo Pro Expedition

This immersive expedition in the Alaskan wilderness includes seven nights aboard our small ship to maximize your opportunities for coastal grizzly photography at close range.
10 Days / Jun & Sep / From $13995 (+air)
Limited to 8 Travelers
New Trip!
Wild Alaska Grizzly Encounter

Wild Alaska Grizzly Encounter

An exclusive small-ship adventure to view the world's largest coastal grizzlies up close! Walk the shores as enormous brown bears dig for clams, forage for grasses and pursue salmon in tidal pools.

  Photo departures available
8 or 10 Days / Jun–Sep / From $9495 (+air)
Limited to 8 Travelers
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