Photo: Bear with fish

A brown bear runs across beach in summer carrying a salmon on the Alaskan Peninsula.

Photograph by Alaska Stock/National Geographic

By Robert Earle Howells

It’s thrilling to see big browns with no fence or barrier between you and them. At the Great Alaska International Adventure Vacations Bear Camp, you can quietly watch a dozen or more brown bears from a spruce-fringed meadow that lies between Mount Iliamna in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve and Cook Inlet. Or try out the camp’s viewing platform elevated 15 feet (4.5 meters) above the grassy plain, where hungry brown bears congregate in late spring and summer to fatten up on the supple shoots. (In case you were wondering, it’s black bears that climb trees; browns prefer to push the tree over. Listen to your guide and stick to protocol, and you’ll be safe.)

In June and July the bears stick to the meadow. By mid-August the action shifts to a nearby stream, where the bears glut on spawning salmon and teach their cubs how to fish. It’s precisely this abundance of food that accounts for Alaska coastal brown bears’ prodigious size (650 to 700 pounds, or 295 to 318 kilograms, is typical)—they are somewhat larger than their interior grizzly cousins. It also explains the remarkable numbers of their congregations. It’s not unusual to see 20 at a time from your chosen Bear Camp perspective.

Camp is a cluster of eight heated, portable huts arrayed along the beach where long days permit plenty of time between viewing sessions to gather for meals or a campfire and trade bear lore and lies. Shellfish are abundant, so there’s a good chance you too will do some glutting on fresh local bounty.

Need to Know: Great Alaska Bear Camp (www.greatalaska.com) offers one- to three-day camps that include the flight across Cook Inlet from Soldotna, from $1,095.


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