Bear Viewing

Brown bears and black bears inhabit the areas around our remote Alaska wilderness lodges

The two kinds of bears we see in Southcentral Alaska are Brown Bears and Black Bears. Your chances are good to see bears at either of our lodges. At Winterlake Lodge and Tutka Bay Lodge, black bears often meander through the yards.

Brown bears are frequently seen while fishing via helicopter in the Winterlake area. Many of our float trips offer opportunity to see bears as well.

We offer several day excursions from Tutka Bay Lodge into the famed Katmai area for bear viewing.

This excursion provides an amazing opportunity to explore the most populated wild habitat of Alaskan brown bears. The day starts with an early rise at Tutka Bay Lodge and a water taxi over to Homer where you meet your pilot and guide. At the hanger you will be provided with waders for the day and then take off for a one-hour scenic flight.

The destination flight takes you over glaciers, volcanoes, and the rugged coastlines of Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park to land on a remote beach. You will walk alongside bears in their natural habitat and depending on the time of year, you can see bears grazing on sedge grass, digging up clams, playing together, courting, resting, and/or fishing. Stream crossings and some light hiking (2-6 miles) can be expected alongside highly knowledgeable and helpful guides.

Brown Bears (Ursus arctos)

Found along coastal Alaska, where salmon is the primary source of food, are typically designated as “Brown Bears.” The same species of bears found inland have a different diet and are often called “grizzlies.”

The brown bear differs from a black bear by usually having a more prominent shoulder hump, less prominent ears, and longer, straighter claws. These bears are also typically larger than black bears. Color is not a reliable key in differentiating these bears because both species have many color phases.

Brown bears have an especially good sense of smell and under the right conditions may be able to detect odors more than a mile away. Contrary to popular belief, their hearing is excellent and eyesight is comparable to our own. Brown bears have been known to live into their 20’s and 30’s.

Black Bears (Ursus americanus)

Are the most abundant and widely distributed of North American bears. Black bears are the smallest of the North American bears. An average adult male in spring weighs about 180-200 pounds (81.8 to 90.9 kg). Black bears are most easily distinguished from brown bears by their straight facial profile and their claws that are sharply curved. They don’t exhibit the shoulder hump of Alaska Brown bears.


All bears should be treated with respect and can be safely observed only from a distance of at least 100 yards. This is especially true for family groups of a female and her offspring as mother bears are very protective towards their young. Bears protecting a food source, such as the buried carcass of a moose or caribou, should also be treated with special caution.
In Alaska, wildlife is all around us but not always so easy to watch.

Tips for Bear Viewing
  • Our bears are best seen early morning and late at night.
  • Use binoculars or a spotting scope. These tools will open a new world of wildlife viewing. For instance, with a 20-power spotting scope mounted on a tripod, it is possible to watch the activity of a bear standing 1.5 miles away. If you don’t have your own binoculars, ask your guide to borrow a lodge set.
  • Utilize our field guides. Many good field guides are available at the lodge to help identify mammals, birds, fish, and other fauna and flora. We’ve also created our own. Knowing what you’re looking at greatly enhances your viewing pleasure.
Viewing Ethics

Give wildlife plenty of space. Binoculars and spotting scopes allow you to view wildlife without getting too close. Approach wildlife slowly, quietly, and indirectly. Always give animals an avenue for retreat.

Try to view animals without changing their behavior. Avoid using calls or devices that attract wildlife. Resist the temptation to throw rocks to see a bear react. Remember harassing wildlife is illegal.

The expression “Don’t Feed the Bears” certainly sounds trite but it is important not to offer our bears any foods. We don’t want to encourage them to be too comfortable around humans.

Trust and listen to your guide. He or she has been trained to live near and around Alaska bears. If your guide recommends moving back, or being quiet please listen to them.