Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this one of Alaska’s best places to view brown/grizzly bear?
Southeast Alaska still has the abundant wild salmon and wilderness that bears need to thrive. In a handful of places, bears have become accustomed to human visitors over the years, providing an opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat. Pack Creek has been managed as a bear sanctuary since the 1930’s, and its boundaries were expanded in the 1980’s, under strict federal management to create optimal conditions for viewing bears. We also like Pack Creek because only low numbers of people are allowed each day (never more than 24 during July and August), and because people follow the same protocol and pathways every day, so that generations of bears have become accustomed to going about their lives without reacting to or running from people. Pack Creek is in the heart of Admiralty Island National Monument, which was protected by Congress in 1980 because of its stunning wilderness and wildlife values, and is part of the largest protected old growth forest in the nation. At Waterfall Creek on Chichagof Island, bears have also become accustomed to human presence. The waterfall concentrates the salmon fishing in a short part of the river, providing outstanding opportunities for bear viewing.
When is the best time to view bears?
We have a 95% success rate in seeing bears every day from mid-May through early September. But every day and time of summer is different, and bear sightings are never guaranteed. May is a special month at Pack Creek. Bears are descending from hibernation high on the mountainsides down to the beach and estuary to gorge on giant clams at low tide and to graze on nutritious grasses and sedges. May through early June is also mating season; this is when we can see the larger boars in pursuit of females, but also when sows with new cubs are at their most wary. By the middle of June bears head into the forest and mountain slopes for newly emerging vegetation, and although we often still can observe bears in mid-June, the chances of good viewing decrease such that we do not offer tours June 11-25. The chum salmon usually arrive into Pack Creek during the last week of June or first week of July, followed by huge numbers of pink salmon, and very quickly larger numbers of bears gather at the mouth and further upstream. Adult females and sows with cubs are very common, as are juvenile and sub-adults who have been raised at Pack Creek and are very comfortable with the low level of human presence. In mid-July and August we often see 6-12 bears in a day at both Waterfall Creek and Pack Creek. September can stay strong for viewing activity at Pack Creek, as bears can concentrate on the lower creek for one last attempt to gorge on the remaining salmon run before starting to head into the mountains to find berries at higher elevation and to metabolically prepare for hibernation.
What is included in the price?
The price includes flights, your professional guide, all permit fees, taxes, hearty snacks or lunch, and outfitting equipment—even binoculars or extra socks or jacket if needed. The only thing not included is the customary guide gratuity. Because the cost to operate the plane is the same for any age or size person (up to 250 pounds maximum), we are not able to offer a discount for children. Any 6-8 hour brown bear viewing tour in Alaska that involves a float plane flight will average around $700-800 – but few tours are as personalized as ours, or have as much time on the ground versus in the air. Most of the expense is for the charter cost of having our own private float plane and pilot, as well as having a professional naturalist-guide who accompanies your group of up to 5 people.
Is Pack Creek suitable for children?
We ask that children be at least 9 years of age and accompanied by a family member to join a regular trip. However, our experience is that some children and teenagers can get bored with the slow pace of wildlife viewing and time spent in one spot, even if they are seeing bears from somewhat close range. Their reaction is sometimes “Cool! Now what?” Other children can be completely captivated by the floatplane flight, wilderness, and fascination with bears, eagles and salmon. Parents should realistically assess whether their children will benefit from the experience.
Brown bears or Grizzlies?
Same thing, with differences. Common usage is to call the interior bears in Alaska “grizzlies” and their larger coastal cousins “brown bears” or sometimes “coastal grizzlies.” Coastal brown bears tend to be larger than interior grizzlies due to their rich diet. They are all part of the same species, Ursus arctos, and are distinct from the two other bear species found in Alaska, polar and black bears. The Kodiak bear is also a brown bear/grizzly, found on Kodiak island and currently considered its own subspecies. The bears of Admiralty Island are also distinct, and might be more closely genetically linked to polar bears than other brown bears. At one time biologists identified dozens of subspecies of brown bear in Alaska, but modern genetic studies has reduced that to just a few distinct subpopulations.
I have never flown in a small plane; what is it like?
We quickly convert even timid flyers to the joys of flying in your own private small float plane. The 25-minute, scenic flight is usually quite calm; we don’t fly in storms or strong winds, which are rare in summer. Taking off and landing on water is like sinking into a soft mattress; you can hardly feel the transition. Our planes have large windows and the views are spectacular. On each leg of the flight, somebody gets to ride up front with the pilot. We most commonly use the legendary DeHavilland Beaver and Cessna 206.
What do I need to bring?
We encourage you to dress for moderate to low activity in cool and potentially wet weather: Dress in warm layers with synthetics that repel water with a light rain jacket and rain pants. Layers are good for staying warm while sitting quietly and easily shed if we go for a moderate hike in the woods. We ask that you avoid cotton clothes, such as jeans. We have additional rubber rain gear if necessary. We can outfit you with rubber boots and recommend a pair of light hiking shoes that can get muddy. A day pack is useful for carrying a water bottle, an extra warm layer and rain gear. As we will be out in the wilderness for most of the day, please bring any necessary medications and discuss medical issues with your guide. Photographers are encouraged to bring their equipment, and even though we sometimes view bears at close range a powerful zoom is a good tool. If there are concerns about weight please give us a call.
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9am-7pm 7 Days a Week