Bears of Katmai Immersion Experience
KATMAI NATIONAL PARK, U.S.A.
In 2023, bears will once again be the main focus of our expeditions. On these trips a charted float plane may be used to bring you to or from the Island C, which will spend most of the summer on location on the Katmai coast. When GMX uses float plane transport to/from the Island C, charter fare is included in the trip price.
If you don't see the dates you're looking for, please contact us with your travel requirements or consider a custom charter. Custom charter availability is limited.
A Sample Itinerary
Your GMX experience typically begins with a spectacular flight seeing trip ending in rendezvous with our ship (named Island C) in Katmai National Park. With help from our airfare providers, we will see to your needs from the moment you arrive in Kodiak to the moment you leave the island. You'll take shuttle service from the airport or hotel (we do recommend arriving a day early) to the float plane terminal, where you’ll fly in a DeHavilland Beaver (pictured) to the Island C’s location. On this flight you will cross over the northernmost part of Kodiak's archipelago offering views of Kodiak in its full radiance. Sometimes we reverse this schedule and fly guests OUT of Katmai National Park after the trip, capping off a spectacular week of up-close experiences with a bird's eye view of the magnificent landscape. Occasionally, charter flights will transport you at the beginning and the end of the trip.
We will email you the details of how you'll get to the Island C at least a month in advance. All chartered flights are included in our rates, and all Katmai Immersion Experiences are intended to maximize field time on the "Bear Coast" whether we get there by air or by sea.
In addition to stunning landscapes, you will likely see the first whales of your trip on this flight. As you begin across Shelikof Strait, your pilot will turn toward the distant ice fields of the Alaska Peninsula. Here you take in your first views of the Katmai coast. Your plane will touch down in Geographic Harbor, Hallo Bay, or Kukak Bay depending on a number of factors. Travel dates, weather, timing of the salmon runs, and distribution of bears all affect where the Island C meets the float plane. After arriving, we'll provide an orientation, show you to your stateroom, and get you out into the field on the very first day.
Bears are the main emphasis of this trip and we normally move to a new location every 2-3 days. Sometimes we stay longer in one place because the activity is too spectacular to leave behind, or because weather conditions keep us from relocating. In a week’s time you can experience the full breadth of the wild Katmai Coast and watch marine and terrestrial species act out dramatic scenes in an unforgettable landscape.
The best way to understand the Katmai Coast is to try to take in the entire coastal ecosystem, which includes more than the bears -- marine mammals and dozens of species of birds. All of these either share a food source with the bears, or are themselves a source of the bear's diverse diet.
The Island C's purpose-built skiff brings us from the vessel to shore, as there are no docks or piers along this coast. The first few steps at the beginning and end of each outing are in knee deep water. We will provide Simm's chest waders and wading boots to keep you dry, and a steadying hand where needed. The chest waders and wading boots are yours to wear for the duration of the trip. They allow us to cross river braids as we move up or down river deltas, and move through inter tidal sedge flats.
Each guest is also issued a well -fitting life jacket (also yours for the week) and 5-gallon bucket (20-litre pail) with a screw-top lid. This pail serves two purposes -- it can hold a spare jacket, camera gear, or water bottle, and serves as a convenient stool during close-quarters bear viewing. Our group, seated shoulder to shoulder on these seats, can sit comfortably for hours if needed and remain unobtrusive to the wildlife.
A typical day in Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park begins with our chef serving breakfast. Then, you'll step into your gear for a ride on the skiff to the tidal flat near the river mouth. You will disembark from the drop-bow of the skiff and continue to shore.
Prior to going ashore we will discuss the social behavior of bears and fine-tune our own strategy to minimize the group’s impact as we choose a spot to observe. The spot we choose depends on the state of the tide and the number, maturity level, gender of the bears, and the distribution of their food. Often, it is within mere meters of the bears. As we take our seats, you slowly realize that we’ve removed ourselves from the equation and are spectators to one of nature’s most iconic predator-prey interactions. Hours may pass before we realize our hunger and restlessness is getting the better of us. We will return to the Island C for a much-anticipated lunch. As usual, the Island C's outstanding chefs don't disappoint.
Over lunch, we discuss options for the afternoon. Bear viewing ashore is a daily activity, and sometimes choosing the option of a second trip ashore after lunch makes perfect sense. Each afternoon we offer a choice of bear viewing or a location-specific marine activity such as kayaking, small boat excursions, and exploring the incredible diversity of the inter-tidal coast. Though the forbidding terrain limits the types of activities we can do ashore, each new location clicks “refresh” on all our activities, as each bay reveals unique terrain features, species, and experiences.
Each night our chef delivers a top-notch cuisine, and we pride ourselves in customizing meals to individual desires and dietary needs. We will collect dietary restriction information when we share your detailed trip itinerary. Several dinners per week feature locally caught seafood. Beer and wine are allowed onboard (please bring your own) and you're welcome to pair these to the evening's meal.
If we're traveling to a new place, it usually takes place in the evening, with the goal of arriving at our new anchorage before bed time. On this ship, however, the hum of engines and gentle rocking of the boat can bring on a yawn sooner than expected. All transits are yet another wonder-filled opportunity for wildlife and coastal views so you will probably resist the call of sleep!
Though it’s hard to take your eyes off the main event, in any of these bays wolves may make a cameo appearance. They sometimes fish the mouths of the rivers as boldly as any boar. If our bear bucket is full, we’ll take time to putter around the inner part of the bay in kayaks or dinghies. We see the occasional bruin who opted out of the river, but also white beaches of volcanic ash, towering basalt columns, harbor seals, numerous species of loons, and of course the endlessly entertaining sea otter.
Based on the intelligence we’ve gathered the night before about the recent travel patterns of the bears between bays, we may start the day in Hallo Bay about 30 miles to the northwest, or Kukak Bay, comfortably nested in between. In Hallow Bay, the bears fish, dig for clams, and even stalk sea otters on Little Ninagiak Island (a poorly understood and only recently discovered behavior). Devil’s Desk and Hallo Glacier loom in the background, with peaks rising abruptly from sea level to more than a mile high. Each of these bays are reasonably well-protected and provide excellent kayaking. All are renowned for their salmon runs and the bears who seek them.
After breakfast on your final morning onboard we usually have time for a final trip to shore. Following our morning's excursion, safely back in the Island C's main salon, we spend our hour listening for your plane while reviewing the best photos, contemplating the bittersweet return to cell phone service, and eagerly sharing addresses and data with the crew. Our goal in bringing you here is to show you the best of the Katmai Coast. We hope it captivates you and brings you back time and time again, as it has done for us.
As a capstone to the trip you get an aerial view to try and take it all in again as you make your way back to Kodiak. Once again, everything is taken care of and transport will be waiting to get you to the Kodiak Airport or your hotel.