Alaska Seaplanes offers a number of tours both directly and through our partners in the communities we serve.
Little-known Chichagof Island is the fifth largest in the entire United States, with dozens of salmon streams that help maintain over 1,500 Alaskan brown bear. Starting on July 15, when the salmon run should be in full swing, we schedule tours to catch the bear activity at a coastal spawning stream we call Waterfall Creek. As with Pack Creek, trips are limited to 5 people plus a guide, although at Waterfall Creek we are more easily able to accommodate requests for larger groups.
Pack Creek has been managed as a bear sanctuary since the 1930s, and its boundaries were expanded in the 1980’s, under strict federal management control. Since then Pack Creek has become a model worldwide for managing people in a Wilderness setting, for the benefit of the 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 habituated to doing what bears need to do, without reacting to or running from people. Also, Pack Creek is in the heart of Admiralty 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.
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, before the Ranger program is in place and we are free to arrive early or stay late. 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 and early June are also mating season; this is when we can see the larger boars in pursuit of females, and when sows with new cubs are at their most wary. By the middle of June bears begin dispersing off the beach into the forest and mountain slopes for newly emerging vegetation, and although we often still can observe 2-4 bears in mid-June, the chances of good viewing decrease such that we will not be offering tours in 2016 between June 12-21. 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. September can stay strong for viewing activity, as bears can concentrate on the lower creek for one last attempt to gorge on the remaining salmon run (biologists call it hyperphagia) before starting to head into the mountains to find berries at higher elevation and to metabolically prepare for hibernation.
Everything! 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 just our group of up to 5 people. At Pack Creek Bear Tours we also include every extra cost in our price: all permit fees, taxes, hearty lunch and snacks, and outfitting equipment—even binoculars or extra socks or jacket if needed. Those who takes our very personalized, custom tour agrees that the value is superb; just click our on Trip Advisor link. And whereas bear viewing places in other regions of Alaska, like Brooks Lodge or the Katmai coast, can have over a dozen float planes on the beach at one time, or dozens of people walking the board walks to see bears in a single day, at Pack Creek you will never see more than 18 other people outside our group, and most often much fewer than that. Because the cost to charter 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. However we sometimes can discount a family of 4-5 people, so please ask about that.
We ask that children be at least 9 years of age to join a regular trip, but if a family or group fills a trip with all 5 spaces, we can take children as young as you like. However, our experience is that some children, including young teenagers, can get bored with the slow pace of the trip 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.
Why do you call them “brown bears;” aren’t they really grizzlies? Common usage is to call the interior bears in Alaska “grizzlies” and their larger coastal cousins “brown bears” or sometimes “coastal grizzlies.” 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 closely genetically linked to polar 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. Brown/grizzly and polar bear genetics is a rapidly evolving area of research.
We quickly convert even timid flyers to the joys of flying in your own private small float plane. The 25-minute flight to Pack Creek is usually quite calm; we don’t fly in storms or strong winds, which are extremely 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. The aircraft we most commonly use is the legendary DeHavilland Beaver. Check out it’s features and history at www.bush-planes.com.