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Bear Viewing in Alaska

Staying in a remote Alaska lodge for multiple days for bear viewing would be ideal but may not be affordable for many visitors to Alaska this summer.  If you are looking for a great value, and an affordable day trip to see Alaska bears the Redoubt Bay Lodge Bear Viewing [1] trip offered by Rust’s Flying Service while staying in Anchorage [2] is a great alternative to an overnight at a remote lodge. Your adventure begins in Anchorage at Lake Hood with Rust’s Flying Service.  I have taken other trips with Rusts and I am always impressed with their quick check in process and friendly staff.  They also offer pick up services for anyone staying in an Anchorage hotel [3].

For many visitors, a flightseeing trip to see bears is their first trip in a “bush” plane.  A “bush” plane is what Alaskans refer to as a small plane carrying 2-9 passengers that are able to access Alaskan’s many small communities by landing on remote airstrips or lakes. When I went bear-viewing with Rust’s we flew on a Dehavilland Beaver on floats.

Rust’s pilots always assist passengers in getting aboard and provide headphones for the flight. Regardless of where you are seated you have a good view through a window.  After a safety-briefing given by the pilot, the plane is pushed off the docks by the deck hands at Rusts.  Then its time to “taxi” across the lake and wait for approval for take off.  The ride over to Redoubt Bay Lodge [4] is about 70 miles and less than an hour flight.  Along the way the Alaska bush pilot points out interesting sites and any wildlife that may be seen below.

The float plane lands on Big River Lakes which is a chain of lakes whose waters lead to the Big River and on to Cook Inlet. The plane docks near Redoubt Bay Lodge which is the base for the bear-viewing adventure.  Redoubt Bay lodge staff always greets each planes arrival.  Redoubt Bay lodge is the only lodge located on the lake so that in itself makes this an adventure like no other.  Redoubt Bay Lodge is beautifully set on a small knoll over looking Big River Lake and below the mountain pass which is the entrance to Lake Clark National Park [5].  Included in the trip is a nice hearty meal in the lodge, either prior to bear-viewing or afterwards depending on your arrival time.

On the most recent trip I took to Redoubt Bay, we arrived in the afternoon so we enjoyed lunch at the lodge prior to heading down to the dock where you will board a pontoon with your guide.   Even though this is a bear viewing trip the guides also explain quite extensively about the flora and fauna of the area.  On the trip I took, I couldn’t help notice all of the salmon just fighting their way to the stream ahead as we were making our way to the prime bear viewing area.  There were hundreds of salmon and everywhere you looked you could see them jumping in the water.  Once we got to the mouth of the stream we anchored the pontoon boat.  There were a few fishermen as well who had flown in for the day among the boats.  It was the best of both worlds with the anglers getting their salmon but also staying clear enough to get good views of the bears feeding on the salmon.  On our trip, we saw two to three black bears that were feeding on the salmon at the mouth of the stream but also could see some black bears along the outer edges of the cove where we were anchored.

We had plenty of opportunity to take close up photos from a safe distance.  We saw about 5-6 black bears but didn’t see any grizzly bears.  According to our guide they did see a grizzly bear earlier that day.  He also mentioned that bear viewing is unpredictable so either morning or afternoon trips can be good bear viewing times.  After spending quite some time viewing the bears we all decided to stroll along the lake and view some of the waterfalls and other outlying areas around the lodge.  We ended up back at the lodge and waited for our plane back to Anchorage.  My relatives were overwhelmed with the encounter and said this was the best experience they will remember from their Alaska vacation.  I would recommend this trip for families with only older children since it requires lengthy periods of being silent while on the water without a restroom for a few hours.  If you are looking for an experience to see bears close up and in their natural habitat this is one you may want to consider.  Be sure to bring your camera as you’ll want to take lots of photos to bring back home!