The grizzly bears of Katmai are Alaska’s most famous brown bears. No trip is complete to Alaska without a trip out to Katamai.
Our First Bear Encounter
As our boat slowly backs up to the shore a park ranger emerges from the trees waving his arms telling us to pull away. Just then a slumbering grizzly bear sits up from his belly hole that he had been napping in. His color was nearly identical to the rocky shore and even to the eye that is accustomed to seeing grizzly bears it was not seen. He slowly sat up, got to his feet and lumbered his heavy down the shore.
As we stepped off our boat on to rocky shore another bear was slowly approaching from the opposite side. We were clearly in grizzly bear country. We were immediately taken to the ranger station about 30 yards from where we left our boat and given a very thorough course on “bear etiquette”.
Grizzly Bears of Katmai Etiquette
If you encounter a bear, first “DO NOT RUN”. I’m thinking ok, that seems easier said than done, but no don’t run. “Do Not Make Eye Contact”. Then there was “Do Look Down” & “Do Slowly Back Away”. “Finally DO NOT Get Between a Mother & Her Cub”. The rangers do nDo Not have guns……..what? Seriously, no guns? Yeah no guns. Believe it or not, there have been no serious bear encounters with humans in over 15 years.
We were given a map of trails and locations of platforms and sent on our way. Honestly I was so excited but feeling somewhat terrified at the same time. We headed down the path, heading toward the first viewing platform, passing cabins that could be rented. It was clearly notable that many of the building if not all had deep claw marks around doors and windows as bears scavenged for additional snacks……..I don’t mean snacks as in humans:}
This Is Bear Country
A few yards further and right in the middle of the path was a large, steaming pile of bear scat. It couldn’t have been there for but a minute or two. It was such a relief to see the platform sitting several feet above the Brooke’s River. A safe place to take in the spectacular views of the wildlife.
It was late August and the bears had been feasting on salmon for awhile putting on the extra fat needed to hold them through their long winter hybernation. Honestly the bears weren’t interested in the humans at all, just gorging themselves on salmon.
Three of us decided to venture beyond the safety of the first platform and head to the second, platform which was at least a half mile away. I won’t lie, my heart was pounding. I should have never read the book on grizzly bear encounters while on our Alaskan cruise. Even so, I was so glad that we (me) braved it. You know the image of the grizzly bear standing on a rock in the waterfall & the salmon jumping right into his mouth? That picture was taken there.
We made the return to the first platform and we never did encounter a single bear on the trail. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but not for us. So thankful.
It takes a little bit to get there. We booked a tour that flew us into a small salmon fishing town where we spent the night. The next morning we boarded a boat for about a one hour ride to Katmai. I still say Katmai is an absolute must do adventure and we highly recommend it. If you enjoy wildlife, just go.