How you get there?
It’s a 30-minute floatplane flight from Juneau. Flights are sometimes cancelled due to weather, so bring snacks, extra layers and necessary medications. But this is pretty rare, so don’t let it dissuade you. Pack Creek is also accessible by boat, but this is considerably slower (3.5 hours minimum, one way!)
Pack Creek fills with salmon in July and August, and is a rich feeding area for brown bears. It’s been protected for 80 years, and has been a popular bear viewing area for even longer. City dwellers from Juneau have been taking bear viewing trips out here since the 1920’s. On a good day, 10-12 brown bears will be fishing the river, digging up shellfish at the estuary and grazing on beach grasses. Females with cubs, adolescents and even adult males can be spotted here. At times, 6-10 bears can be spotted in close proximity in the estuary.
Your floatplane will drop you in the shallow waters near the mouth of Pack Creek (bring rubber boots and raingear). You’ll be greeted by a U.S. Forest Service Ranger., who will give a brief orientation and collect permits. After that you are on your own, unless you come with a guided group. (The Rangers, who carry rifles, are a presence in the area, but do not escort groups.) There are two main bear observation areas, a 15-foot tall viewing tower or the sand spit at the estuary of Pack Creek. It’s a one-mile walk to the viewing tower, on a trail through the forest. The sand spot is a ¼ mile walk from where the plane drops you off. Pack Creek is a wilderness area, with no bathrooms, facilities or phone service.
July 5-August 25 is peak season, and the shoulder season is from June 1 to September 10. Bears are most scarce in June.
Permits and Guides
All visitors must have a permit. During the peak season, numbers are limited to 24 people per day. You can pick up a permit in Juneau, but they could all be taken. If you know you want to visit Pack Creek, apply for a permit ahead of time. Half of the 24 permits are issued to guiding companies, which means at least 50 percent of the visitors to Pack Creek are using a guiding/tour service. Going with a guiding company, like Pack Creek Bear Tours means you don’t have to worry about transportation or permit logistics, and you’ll be accompanied by a person comfortable in and knowledgeable about bear country.