Going to Bear Camp in Alaska is one of the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the world. View the list and follow our mission to complete them.
If you are looking for one of the best places to view wild bears in Alaska, BearCamp in Lake Clark National Park should be at the top of that list.
As one of the least visited National Parks in the USA, Lake Clark National Park offers an exclusive and special experience. It’s a place where National Geographic photographers come to capture those amazing photos of brown bears that you see in magazines.
We spent 4 days and 3 nights at the Great Alaska Adventures BearCamp and can attest that it is one of the most incredible wildlife experiences on the planet.
If you’re on the fence or in the planning stages of a visit to Alaska, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know to plan an amazing experience in Lake Clark with the bears.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Alaska (Travel Guide)
Alaska Bear Camp in Lake Clark National Park
Table of Contents
Where is Bear Camp in Lake Clark National Park?
BearCamp is located on the remote shores of Chinitna Bay in Lake Clark National Park. Great Alaska Adventures owns and operates the world renowned bear viewing camp deep within the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula.
Only accessible by air or water, BearCamp is one of the world’s top 100 travel adventures. It has been named North America’s best bush camp by Outside Magazine and one of America’s best Adventures by National Geographic.
What is Bear Camp Exactly?
If you are someone who loves wildlife and photography, BearCamp is a must do when visiting Alaska. This remote property is built around the premise of viewing wild bears without impacting their habitat.
When viewing wild bears here you will not only experience bears in Alaska but you will connect with the bears of Lake Clark National Park. This is what makes this adventure in Alaska so great.
Wildlife aside, BearCamp is a luxury glamping camp set on the coast with mountains set as a backdrop. You’ll spend your days in viewing areas, hiking and enjoying nature. You’ll spend your nights in comfort.
Great Alaska Adventures offers a different mix of tour options ranging from 1 to 5 nights. We were lucky enough to experience this world-famous bear viewing camp in Alaska for 3 nights and it did not disappoint.
How to Get There
The only way to access the official BearCamp is by booking through Great Alaska Adventures. Their main lodge is located in Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Your adventure begins there before boarding a small van and making your way east to the Kenai airport. Here, you will be checked in and boarded onto a small prop plane for a 45-minute to 1-hour flight, weather permitting, across the Cook Inlet.
Be sure to keep your eyes out the window as you’ll get some incredibly special views of the remote Lake Clark National Park as you fly over dormant volcanoes and virgin wilderness enroute to camp.
When BearCamp finally comes into sight below, your pilot will begin preparations for landing right on the beach near the camp. You’ll want to keep your eyes out the windows as it’s a prime opportunity to see bears below searching for clams in the tidal area.
An Overview of the Facilities at BearCamp
The BearCamp is set up for 16 guests with “glamping” type accommodations. This permanent camp allows wild bears to become used to movements of humans while not disturbing their day-to-day activities.
The inside of the tents is decked out with large comfy beds, sitting chairs, wooden floors with rugs, solid doors, propane heaters, lights, a writing desk, clothing hooks, and ensuite bathroom facilities, in case you have to use the bathroom at night.
Around the outside of the campsite, there’s a powerful electric fence. At night they put us safely behind it, but you will find bears walking next to this fence at all times of the day.
Each tent offers prime wild bear viewing right off its own wood deck, where you will wake up to large bears walking on the beach and even small cubs digging for clams just feet away.
This is something you do not get to experience if you are on a day trip to view the wild bears at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve or anywhere else in Alaska, for that matter.
There’s a glamping porta-potty along with a community bath-house that has composting toilets, eco showers, sinks, towels, soaps, and anything else you could want.
That is nice for cleaning up after a full day viewing the wild bears in Alaska. Everything is run off solar power and this facility is nice and clean. Since it’s run off solar power, its best to enjoy a shower in the middle of the day. Keeping in mind, hot water is limited.
There’s a large dining tent where you will have all your briefs, meetings, and meals, where you will also enjoy fine dining in the middle of nowhere, Alaska.
This tent is set up with heaters, chairs, large dining room tables, lights, and even a bookcase with books about Alaskan wildlife. It’s quite comfortable and there’s lots of room for all the guests.
At the front of the tent, there is a large cooler where all guests can put items like food, toothpaste, deodorant, and makeup that may have made their way to bear camp. None of these items are allowed in the accommodation tents.
At the back of the tent, there is a solar unit where you can charge camera batteries or anything else that needs power during your visit. This is the only charging spot in BearCamp. There’s no Wi-Fi at and there’s limited to no cell service. They do have radios to talk to the mainland.
Meals At BearCamp
I’m not a foodie, however, I do love to eat! The food at BearCamp was great. Every meal is hand cooked by a 5-star chef who will give you a rundown of everything before being served.
The food will blow you away and you will be wondering how they cooked it in the middle of remote Alaska. Normal meals include fresh seafood, meats, pasta, mouth-watering desserts and even wine or champagne for those guests who would like to enjoy a drink.
They cater to all types of food preferences, including vegetarians, vegans, and guests with dietary needs. All meals are highlighted in your pre-meeting agenda. All meals are taken family-style allowing the guests to connect witheach other, guides, and park rangers.
This allows you to really feel what Lake Clark National Park is all about. The rangers will share stories about what it is like being stationed in one of the most remote parts of Alaska and the guides will share stories of past friends who have made BearCamp the magical place it is today.
Small Group Wild Bear Viewing In Alaska
One thing we loved about BearCamp was the small group of like-minded travelers who truly love wildlife. It’s in our hearts, we travel to a location to truly feel it, not to get that selfie or glamour shot for Instagram.
BearCamp offers a unique viewing of wild bears in their natural environment with no more than 16 people. Just imagine sitting in an exclusive viewing location with wild bears that out-number the people viewing them.
Other notable parks, like Katmai, accommodate hundreds of people at a time, all fighting over the best possible spot to photograph wild bears with small or limited learning available.
There you will be lucky to see a few wild bears. At BearCamp you will feel like a VIP in your small group, while you enjoy uncrowded viewing platforms, insane photographic opportunities, in-depth knowledge, and great camaraderie.
The Private Viewing Platforms
BearCamp uses a combination of public viewing areas located in Lake Clark National Park and their own private viewing platform.
Their private platform is located on their camp property in Lake Clark National Park and it’s only for people staying at BearCamp.
You would not believe the companies and the people jealous of this viewing platform. This two-story platform is built on a spot where the legendary Wayne Byers had his fishing buildings, overlooking the inlet.
Built up off the ground, it’s a bear viewing experience like no other. You can see far and wide and it’s not uncommon for bears to wander right underneath you while you’re on the platform.
The Crew is Amazing!
We’ve said it before and we’ll reiterate it here, guides can make or break even the most spectacular trip. Rest assured, the staff that run BearCamp are both incredible people and knowledgable guides with a passion for Alaska and the bears that call it home.
They ensured that we participated in practicing proper wildlife viewing and wildlife conversation. They took the time to educate us and raise awareness regarding the importance of protecting not only the bears of Lake Clark National Park but all of its wildlife.
When we weren’t learning about bears, we were introduced to the history of Alaska. We learned about Alaska’s Homestead Act and how it was one of the most influential pieces of legislation in the development of Alaska.
Brave people like Wayne Byers, the man who homesteaded the land where BearCamp now sits, came from all over to make Alaska their home. Fighting against Mother Nature and her elements in Alaska, they thrived.
It’s the stories that are so lovingly told by the crew that knew him personally that really bring the BearCamp experience to life.
When to Visit Lake Clark National Park for Bear Viewing
When is the best time to view bears in Alaska? This depends on what you want to see and where you want to view the bears. BearCamp in Lark Clark National Park opens up from June 1st to September 1st.
The most important thing is understanding how seasonal activities like breeding, feeding, and hibernation affect the behavior and movement of wildlife.
- June: Wild bears are out eating grass and clams. The salmon start to run but it is normal for bears to start feeding on them later in the month. This is when you will see some of the largest bears and you will have the best chances to view baby bears. It’s also the breeding season, so you will see a lot of bears chasing bears.
- July to August: This is when the salmon run is at its prime. If you are looking for that iconic photo of a large brown bear fishing for salmon, this is when to go. This time of the year clams is their second go-to for food.
- September: This is when the salmon are starting to end. Bears are nice and fat and are adjusting to eating wild berries.
We visited BearCamp in Lake Clark National Park the first week of June, right after they opened for the season. We saw hundreds of bears during our visit, including large boars, females and yearlings. There was also very busy mating activity happening, which made for good sightings.
Plan A Few Extra Days
This is a remote location in Alaska and the weather can turn quickly. Since this location is only accessible by plane, there are times you can’t get in or out due to fog and weather.
The weather can also be different on the mainland than it is at Lake Clark National Park. Some people have been delayed from 1– 4 days. We almost got stuck there for a day, however, the weather cleared up in the late afternoon and we were able to get out.
When you’re at BearCamp it’s not that bad to be stuck there because it means your just going to get more time viewing the wild bears. Yes, it may be foggy, windy and wet but the bears don’t care about the weather.
On the other hand, if you are trying to get to BearCamp it may mean you miss out on a few viewing days if your trip gets bumped back due to weather.
So plan in a few extra days in case you need to make adjustments. Make sure you do not book any flights on the same day you are returning to the mainland. If you do get delayed, you will not be able to change them since there’s no phone reception or Wi-Fi.
We strongly suggest purchasing trip cancellation/interruption insurance to protect your trip. Travel protection will help protect you if you get stuck or if your trip gets pushed back a day because of the weather.
If you are road tripping in Alaska or renting a car you must have: The Mile Post
The Disney Film, Bears
The Walt Disney Company teamed up with Great Alaska BearCamp as a base for the filming of their 2014 award-winning nature documentary, Bears. Filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey documented a full year in the lives of an Alaska brown bear.
They used the skills and knowledge of the guides at BearCamp to film the wild bears without impacting their day to day activates. This was a huge honor for them to showcase to the world an inside look at the life of a brown bear.
The saga starts as the wild bears emerge from hibernation after a hard long winter. As the little bears get bigger, their family must work together to find food and stay safe from other predators, especially other bears.
There are lots of twists and turns throughout this documentary that showcases the real-life of brown bears in Alaska. 90% of this documentary was filmed in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and 10% was filmed in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
It’s worth watching before you make your visit to BearCamp!
Bear Viewing Tips
- Keep movement to a minimum. While wildlife viewing, you should stay as still as possible. Wildlife does not like movement and if you do need to move, you should move as slowly as possible so as not to make any quick movements.
- If you are moving non-stop or moving quickly you will scare the wildlife away. Make sure you have everything together to take that photograph, if you have to reach for your phone sitting next to you, you will probably scare away that bear.
- Stay quiet no matter what. It is best to keep the noise at a minimum. At times this can be hard but the quieter you are the more likely you will encounter the wild. Even a camera’s shutter can scare away an 800-pound bear.
- Try your best to blend in with the environment. Keep the bright color clothing at home, its best to have simple earthy tones.
- Keep scented products and cologne to the minimum, if possible forgo them. Even the smallest scent of deodorant can scare away a bear.
Safety Tips To Ensure You Have Good Viewings
- Never take any type of food with you. Even the smallest candy can smell like a huge steak, and you would not like to be between a bear and a steak.
- Don’t use a flash. Ever.
- If walking, try to walk as lightly on your feet as possible. Pick up your feet and try not to step on sticks or anything that could make a loud noise. If walking in a group, stay as close as possible to the group in a single file line.
- Keep on all marked pathways and in viewing areas.
- When viewing wildlife, it is best to crouch down and not be standing. This makes you appear as a non-threat.
- Keep in mind, a wild animal may act like they don’t see you but they know you are there.
- Don’t be scared if a wild bear gets close, and I mean close, to you. Wildlife can sense if you are scared. It is best to keep your cool and your guides will make the right movements.
The Ethics Of Wildlife Encounters
One thing we learned while staying at BearCamp was that visitors can change wildlife behaviors and habitats for the worst. This may happen without visitors even knowing. Be mindful to adhere to all guidelines in order to prevent adverse consequences.
- Never feed the wildlife.
- Do not interfere with mating, predation or other natural behavior.
- Keep a respectful distance
- Preserve the habitat by following the ‘leave no trace’ principles.
How To Pack For Bear Viewing In Alaska
We have put together a shortlist of things you should pack while wild bear viewing in Alaska. If you are looking for the full list of items, check out our Ultimate Alaska Packing Guide.
Keep in mind you only can bring 25 pounds. This is the maximum traveling gear you can carry per person. It is also best to pack into a soft-sided bag for easy transport in the small prop plane.
We suggest packing your bag once, then take 10-15 % of unneeded items out then repack your bag until you get down to just the basics. You really do not need much while viewing wild bears in Alaska.
We spent 4 weeks exploring Alaska, and before heading off to BearCamp we packed into smaller day bags for this adventure. Great Alaska adventures allowed us to park our car at their main lodge in Soldotna where our larger luggage sat with everything we did not need.
BearCamp Packing Basics:
- Mud boots
- Hiking boots
- Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants
- Extra Socks and Underwear are important
- Light wool base layer
- Heavy Fleece
- Buff Headwear
- Insect Repellent
- Insect Head Net
- Lip balm
- Binoculars with Harness
- Water Bottle
- Day Pack
- Waterproof Small Bags
Note: Do not plan on washing anything while staying at BearCamp.
Do Not Bring:
Sorry don’t pack that dress or dress shirt! There’s no need for glamour shots here and you do not need to dress up for dinner. It’s 100% outdoor casual.
- Don’t bring makeup.
- Don’t bring colognes or perfumes.
- There’s no need for firearms or bear spray -your guides will have this.
- Drone, sorry this adventure is located in a National Park and drones are not permitted.
- Don’t bring Alcohol. BearCamp will have all of the Alcohol you will ever want.
- Don’t bring Camping equipment.
- There’s no need for matches or lighters.
Photography Tips For Getting Great Shots
Be ready for anything! We had bears come out of nowhere and try to walk right up the stairs of one of the tall platforms to having a wild bear approach one of the ground viewing areas.
- Don’t be fiddling with gear. Keeping the movement at a minimum. Have everything ready.
- It is best to carry different camera setups since everything is in the moment, you won’t have time to switch your lens.
- Using a monopod is a must. This will help you keep your camera stable for a nice crisp shot.
- When photographing wildlife, just don’t pay attention to one thing. You’re in nature, look around and you’ll be amazed at what you might discover.
- Don’t wait for that perfect shot. Most photographers take 1,000’s of shots to get just that one perfect photo.
- A simple movement may make a photo better, so you never know unless you snap it.
- In rain or snow, do not point your lens up. You will get water spots on your lens. The same goes for windy rain or sideways snow, watch the direction you point your lens.
- Cold weather drains batteries faster. In cold weather, make sure you keep your extra batteries warm.
- In cold weather, your warm breath can fog your viewfinder so you can’t see your subject.
- In humid weather make sure you allow for your camera to adjust to the temperature. This will prevent fogging up.
Photography Gear you Should Bring
If you’re going through the effort to visit a place as remote as this one and you want to get great photos, you’ll need to invest in a nice camera with a telephoto lens.
Lina spent most of her time shooting on a Canon 6D with a 100-400mm Canon L lens attached to a monopod. This allowed her to get crisp photos of the bears that we saw during our visit.
For wide-scale photos, she carried a Canon 24-105mm L lens. This was useful for photographing around camp and getting views of the beach and mountains.
You’ll want to bring your camera battery charger, plenty of extra batteries (we had 5 each) and camera rain covers to protect your gear from any moisture you encounter. This is the bare minimum.
If you’re looking for more advice on camera gear for wildlife and travel, check out the following:
- Ultimate Travel Photography Gear List
- Best Camera Accessories for Any Photographer
- Best Lenses for Wildlife Photography
- 5 Best Hiking Camera Backpacks for Travel
Other Great Bear Viewing Locations In Alaska
These locations are not as great as viewing wild bears in Lake Clark National Park but are still pretty amazing. Keep in mind you are viewing wildlife and we cannot guarantee that you will find bears here, but your odds are pretty good at the locations listed below.
The best places to view bears in Alaska:
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Margaret Creek
- Fish Creek
- Denali Park
- Frazer Lake
- Council Area
- Skookum Pass Pull-out
- Cape Horn
- Salmon Lake Campground
- Fortress of the Bear
- McNeil River Game Sanctuary
- Fox River Bridge
- O’Malley River & Karluk Lake
- Igloo Creek Campground
- Chena Hot Springs Road
- Kukak Bay
- Uyak Bay
- Redoubt Bay
- Admiralty Island
- Sable Pass
- Hallo Bay
- Hasselborg Lake
- Tuxedni Bay
- Chilkoot Lake State Park
- Chinitna Bay
- Toklat Branch Trail
- Anan Wildlife Observatory
- Humpy Creek
- Silver Salmon Creek
- Hidden Creek Bear Watching
- Gunnuk Creek
- Russian River Bridge
- Thorofare Pass
Are you planning a trip to Alaska? Don’t miss our Ultimate Alaska Travel Guide
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