In the best way possible, you’re outnumbered by the bears in this glamping-style experience deep in the Kenai Peninsula. Here on the homestead of a local bear whisperer, you can see, with an intimate group, dozens of bears living the dream in the blissful setting.
Behind the Velvet Rope
Offered by the folks who own and operate the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge—an upscale, all-inclusive retreat at the confluence of the Moose and Kenai rivers—this bear-viewing adventure comes in one and two night all-inclusive packages. (Guests at the lodge generally include this in their lodge stay, along with rafting, kayaking, glacier hikes, whale watching and world-class fishing). The camp can hold just 14 people—so compared to bear-viewing trips that can accommodate hundreds of people at a time, this feels like a VIP, front-row experience.
The trip begins with a 50-minute flight from Soldotna to the bear camp, located on private land that neighbors Lake Clark National Park. The flight alone has good viewing ops of two glacier-crowned volcanoes. The camp’s setting, next to a stream, is dramatic on its own: a coastal plain, on the oceanfront, surrounded by mountains. The land, actually, is part of the homestead site lived on for decades by a fisherman, trapper and “bear whisperer.” You can still check out the late homesteader’s home, now cared for by the tour operators.
Bears, Bears, Bears
This little pocket of wilderness is so rich with bears that it was a base camp used for Disney’s 2014 documentary Bears. It’s home to about 50 Alaska brown bears (Ursos Arctos), who focus their daily attention on eating the local grasses during May and June,
and then, come July, on the generous supply of salmon and clams. Sometimes, you can see the bears from a mile away, and sometimes as closely as 50 feet away. The camp area is safely fenced in, but for even closer viewing, the camp also has an elevated, camouflaged platform, located right over the salmon stream.
Harmony with the Bears
Since the bear camp has been operating for 15 years—and the homesteader was here long before that—Laurence John says that the humans and bears have reached a nice understanding of mutual respect. Upon arrival, your hosts will give you a run-down on bear etiquette, so that everyone stays safe and the bears can go about their business. During the day, if the bears are having some nap downtime, you can take a hike in the National Park, or do activities customized for your group—the hosts, for instance, once arranged yoga classes for a women’s group—at the campsite.
The Glory of Glamping
It’s important to note that this isn’t quite camping—it’s nicely upscale "glamping." The tents are WeatherPorts—high-tech tents on raised decks, with carpeting, beds with linens, solar power for charging batteries and more. Eco showers and composting toilets plus porta potties in the tents make this a very comfortable to experience real bear country in comfort. Each day begins with a wash basin of steamy hot water, as well as hot coffee delivered to your tent’s door the the incredible staff will ensure your stay is amazing.