Bear photography in Alaska

Alaska is one of the best places in the world for photographing bears, purely because of the sheer numbers of them. Around 95 percent of the brown bears in the United States are found in the Alaskan wilderness, with a thriving population of them residing around Lake Clark, just over an hour south of Anchorage by air. Ample food supplies, and the fact they have never been hunted, makes the bears relatively relaxed around humans too, although you’ll find they remain stubbornly resistant to calls to ‘strike a pose’.

Brown bears are in fact grizzly bears that live close to the coast. In Lake Clark National Park they feed on everything from clams to edible plants and berries, to a healthy supply of salmon and even the occasional whale carcass washing up on the shore. Grizzlies are typically smaller and more solitary due to less-plentiful food sources that are further apart, yet they share the brown bear’s distinctive dish-shaped face, the large shoulder hump and of course the fearsome curved claws.
Lake Clark’s primeval landscape of steaming volcanoes, turquoise lakes and wild coast framed by mountains makes a stunning canvas for wildlife photography, and it’s about as remote as it gets. The only way to get here is by boat or small plane, there are no campgrounds and there’s only one maintained hiking trail. You will stay in a lodge where bears are frequently seen in the grounds – just pick up your camera and start shooting from wherever you’re sat – and travel around in a comfortable trailer. Trips are accompanied by a bear behavioural expert, essential not only to manage the risks where Yogi is concerned, but also to provide valuable insights into likely activity so you can be ready to capture the perfect image at just the right time.

Travel in the company of a specialist photographer, there to offer support and advice to help you develop your talents, as you approach brown bears in their natural habitat. It’s difficult to overstate the scope you have here for getting a fantastic image. On the beach, in the meadows, by the streams, you will get breathtakingly close to the bears as they forage, play and catch salmon in their powerful jaws.

Best time for bear photography vacations

Bears are active in Lake Clark National Park from early spring to fall, when they return to their dens. Small group trips operate between June and September, peak months for bear viewing. Handily, the summer months are also definitely the best in terms of weather, temperatures ranging from 10°C to 18°C. Coastal areas are typically more foggy and damp than the interior.
Travel Team
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Where to find bears

One of the most popular places in Lake Clark National Park for photographing bears is Silver Salmon Creek which, as the name suggests, is also fertile territory for hungry brown bears that are coastal dwellers and so typically have a diet of fish. A standard Lake Clark itinerary will last around five days, which can be bookended with time in Anchorage or other destinations around Alaska.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Forest Service Alaska Region] [Intro: Bob Gooday] [Best time for bear photography vacations : mark byzewski] [Where to find bears: Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA]