Where to Spot Bears in Alaska
Feb 14, 2018
Lucy Marcus, Expedition Guide, Wilderness Discoverer
We paddled our kayaks from the round, forested bay up to the 40 foot wide mouth of Pavlof River and looked up stream.
A few hundred feet up the river, near the white cascading waterfall, five brown bears patiently stood in the stream, waiting to scoop up one of the numerous ten pound salmon.
While we sat in our kayaks, we watched in awe as the mother sow chased salmon through pools in the stream while her two large cubs stood eagerly watching from the shore. A pair of sturdy adult brown bears stood in the stream higher up, watching the water for a fish within reach, and one of the bears sat down in the water, not seeming to mind getting wet in the icy stream.
A couple of skiffs with guests from the Wilderness Discoverer floated in the mouth of the river near our kayaks, everyone watching quietly and all of us staying far enough away as to not change the bears behavior in any way.
Earlier in the season, when the salmon were not yet running up the river to spawn, our expedition teams took guests hiking and bushwhacking in the forests around Pavlof River, because the bears were not in the area yet. However at this time of year, when the bears come in to feed on the abundant salmon, the only excursions we do in this bay are water based, including kayaking, skiff tours, and snorkeling.
The other place that we visit in the fall where we often find bears is Hidden Falls Hatchery. Numerous bears come to feed on the salmon returning to spawn.
During some excursions, guests tour the hatchery and get to watch bears in the creeks around a large pool outside of the hatchery buildings. Other times when we visit Hidden Falls, groups do water based activities including kayaking, skiff tours or snorkeling.
Once this summer, I guided a group to the hatchery where the resident staff showed guests the circular outdoor tanks full of tiny salmon fry, and the conveyor belts and chutes where adult salmon were processed to collect eggs to grow the next season’s tiny fry. The highlight of this tour was the bear-watching across the ¼ mile wide pool where bears stood on the other side scooping salmon from flowing creeks and cascades.
Large juvenile sibling bears fought with each other in what looked like ferocious behavior rearing up with open mouths. A mother bear caught fish and her smaller cubs ambled quickly over to try and get their share of the meal.
During the earliest cruises of the season, bears are frequently seen in the grassy meadows just above the beaches on the forest edges, where they graze on fresh new grasses. Bears are known to eat up to 80 percent of their diet as plant matter.
Other times of the summer, bears can be seen walking on beaches and shorelines where they flip over rocks in the intertidal zones at low tide and eat crabs, fish and octopus.
You can see bears all season long in Alaska, you just need to know where to look.