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3 Reasons Why Bear Viewing Should Be on Your Bucket List

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Much of our lives gets eaten up with the day-to-day routine.  For most of us, that day to day routine isn’t anything too exciting because you’ve made your home in it and it’s been tamed. Bucket lists are for those frontiers that you haven’t yet met. Those items on your list (whether you actually wrote it down or have a conscious list filed away somewhere in your head) are your personal beyond-the-ordinary dreams. It’s your chance to be in the company of magnificence—the great things that make us feel remarkably small. Flying in a sea plane into the wilderness of Katmai National Park and Preserve to watch the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear is a one-of-a-kind adventure that belongs at the top of your bucket list. Here are three reasons why:

Photo Credit: Ken Day

1. Seeing the Legendary Brown Bear

Brown bears have been legends in North America for as long as mankind’s memory. They’ve represented the powerful frontier since Lewis and Clark published their journals, and their story of meeting a brown bear captured the imagination of their readers. The Coastal Brown Bear, larger than his interior cousin, can only thrive where he has the resources needed to support his massive bulk. He is an indicator species, meaning that when the Coastal Brown Bear is thriving, his land is thriving too. In the words of John McPhee, “He implied a world. He was an affirmation to the rest of the earth that his kind of place was extant.” When you get to see many of these amazing creatures grazing off of sedge flats along the coast or chasing salmon in creeks further inland, you are seeing an untouched, old, and still-thriving world.

Photo Credit: Ken Day

2. Being Where the Brown Bears Thrive

Alaska is home to the greatest number of brown bears in North America. In stark environments, such as Alaska’s North Slope, studies have shown bear density to be as low as one bear per 300 square miles. But on the Alaska Peninsula, with its abundance (especially that of salmon), bear density can be as high as one bear per square mile. It is due to the natural bounty of the Alaska Peninsula that bear viewing exists as an industry. In Katmai National Park and Preserve, we get a special, rare world where the bears are thriving and they have slight, but positive familiarity with people. Many are used to small, respectful groups watching them and have not been spoiled by the discovery of people’s food (unlike Yellow Stone National Park’s troubles with food-conditioned bears). Because of this carefully-foraged, good relationship with the bears, you have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to watch them and experience being in that wild country. 

Turbine De Havilland Otter Float Plane in Katmai National Park and Preserve
Photo Credit: Janet Lawton

3. The Adventure of Getting There

Katmai National Park is accessible primarily, though not exclusively, by air. And we don't mean the commercial airliners you may be used to flying on. The aircraft suited to Katmai carry anywhere from 3–10 people and have to be able to land either on the beaches or on the water (there are no airstrips or airfields to land at). Float planes (also known as sea planes) are particularly equipped to land on bodies of water found throughout the Katmai National Park, anywhere from one of its 9,000 lakes to its coastal waters. As you fly through Katmai, you will likely catch sight of some of its 14 active volcanoes, miles upon miles of breath-taking shoreline, and towering mountains. And whatever path you fly over the 6,395 square miles (16,564 square kilometers) of Katmai National Park and Preserve, you fly over wilderness.

Photo Credit: Ken Day

The best bucket list experiences are ones that change you or help inform who you are. Flying in a float plane to go bear viewing in Katmai National Park and Preserve is an adventure. And the thing about adventures is that you are never exactly the same person after having one. We at Emerald Air Service do what we do because we think this adventure adds to who we are and how we treat the world around us. We hope our guests’ bucket list experience encourages them to love and safeguard this amazing land and the creatures to whom it is home.

This article is written by Joey and Melissa Karrigan.
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