Home to several thousand Alaskan brown bears, Katmai National Park offers perhaps the world's best bear viewing, and certainly the wildest. This experience will impress even the most seasoned wilderness traveler, adventurer, and photographer. Gary and Jeannie Porter of Bald Mountain Air have a lifetime of experience in Alaska and the knowledge to guarantee-or you'll get your money back-that you'll see, observe, and photograph numerous grizzlies in their undisturbed natural habitat. In the spring you may see groupings of breeding bears, and in the summer and fall you may witness the frenzy of salmon fishing. The Porters can predictably access the key areas that will afford the best viewing opportunities.
Bald Mountain Air tours leave Homer's Beluga Lake every day at around 9am for a spectacular flight across Cook Inlet. Your knowledgeable pilot will give you a thorough orientation on what you'll see and where you're heading. You'll fly past Cape Douglas, a group of volcanic mountains that protrude into the mouth of Cook Inlet; on these peaks sit glaciers that extend all the way to the beach, as well as beautiful blue-green lakes filled with giant icebergs. Don't forget to save some film for the ride home. Most of the time, you can see whales if the water is calm.
Trips start June 1 and head to Katmai's outer coast, landing at the mouth of the Swikshak River. After lunch on the beach and a quick and easy walk (depending on the tide), you'll arrive at the bear-viewing spot, where you may spot tundra swans, nesting ducks-even a nearby den of red fox. In early summer, bears come to this area to breed and to feed-sometimes as many as 35 to 40 bears at one time. It's also a great place to take photos, with the 7,000 –foot, snow-covered volcanic mountains as a backdrop.
Around the first of July, depending on the timing of the Bristol Bay salmon run, you'll go to the world-renowned Brooks River Falls. This is the place you've probably seen on the Discovery Channel, with bears lined up to catch fish as they're jumping up the falls. As you stand on a Brooks Falls viewing platform-which has multiple levels for optimal observation, with room for 35-40 visitors-the bears feed right beneath you. Not to worry, it's very safe. In 54 years, there's never been a human hurt by these animals.
Most every year close to the end of July, trips head toward the northern boundary of the park, to Moraine Creek. By late July, bright red schools of salmon flood into this part of the country and along with their arrival comes the bears. These snow-fed rivers are shallow, swift, and clear, and the bears start feeding with a frenzy. It's not unusual to see 15 or 20 different bears throughout the course of the day and literally tens of thousands of spawning red salmon.
Bald Mountain Air trips around the first of August head to the southern coast of Katmai National Park to Geographic Harbor. It's not uncommon to see 10 or 15 bears right in front of you, fishing for pink and chum salmon or digging for clams.
Bald Mountain Air will try to stay on the coast as long as the bears stick around and the weather allows, but sometime in the middle of September they'll head back to the park's interior to the red salmon streams. About this time of year, bears power-feed as much fish as they can before true winter sets in.