Ultimate Brown Bear Photo Tour


Aug 27-Sept 1, 2016; 6 days

Brown bears, walruses, marine wildlife, and spectacular alpine scenery are all part of our Ultimate Brown Bear Photo Tour! Compared to our competitors, we offer total flexibility. This is important because the weather and bear activity varies each day and we want to be where the salmon are running. We'll fly from Anchorage to Lake Iliamna where we'll stay for 5 nights at our lodge overlooking the lake. With 4 bush planes and many boats at our disposal, we'll head out each day to photograph the bears either at Katmai, Lake Clark, Brooks Falls, Bristol Bay, or anywhere in-between. Optional side trips to photograph walruses, try sport-fishing, or explore the Lake Clark backcountry can be done at no extra charge! There is so much more we'd like to tell you about this fabulous trip, so please reference the tabs below. Please Contact Us with any questions or concerns.

4 spots available.

  • The focus of this trip is to photograph brown bears as they catch salmon. The end of August is a great time for salmon runs on the Southern Alaska Coast.
  • This trip affords ultimate flexibility. Rather than being tied down to one area like the wilderness lodges, we are free to go wherever the bears are. With 4 planes and several boats at our beck and call, we can go wherever we like; whether it’s over to Lake Clark, Katmai, Brooks Falls, Bristol Bay, etc.
  • Daily bush flights are included in the trip. The lodge has been flying in this part of Alaska since 1978. They understand the needs of photographers and can accommodate our odd schedules.
  • Goretex waders and boots are provided since we’ll be walking in the water right next to the bears while they fish. By going as a group, we can observe the bears safely at close range.
  • The lodge is located on Lake Iliamna. It’s very cozy and affords splendid views of the lake and mountains. Gourmet meals will be prepared for us each day by the resident chef.
  • David Swindler will be your photographic guide and has extensive experience photographing bears along the Southern Alaskan Coast. He will ensure you get the best wildlife shots possible. The group size is capped at 4 clients to allow plenty of personalized attention.
  • The lodge has private cabins with 2 full beds and a private bath in each. There is no single supplement for this trip. However, if you are a single traveler, you must be willing to share a cabin with one other person.
  • There are many side trip possibilities we can do if the group is interested. For example, we can go see the walruses and marine wildlife in Bristol Bay, fly into a remote back-country destination in Lake Clark National Park, or even go out sport-fishing for an afternoon. It’s all included in the trip cost.
  • If the weather is bad in one area, we can always go to another spot. In the event the weather doesn’t allow us to fly out of Lake Iliamna, we can visit the nearby native villages of Newhalen and Nondalton, or venture out sport-fishing. In August, they average 2.5 days in the month where we can’t fly out.
  • We will fly out of Anchorage on the Iliamna Air Taxi, which uses a $4.8 million all-weather pressurized IFR aircraft. They always makes it to Iliamna on time during the summer.
  • Read more about the trip on the Itinerary Tab.
  • Since this is a Flexible Trip, this itinerary is meant as an example of what we may be doing. The exact destinations and timing will vary depending on weather, group interest, and bear/salmon activity.
  • Day 1: We’ll meet up early afternoon at the Anchorage Airport for our 1-hour flight to Lake Iliamna. The lodge will pick us up and we’ll get settled into our cabins. We’ll begin with an orientation and get everyone fitted with gear. A multi-course gourmet dinner will be served at 7PM.
  • Day 2: After enjoying a hearty breakfast we’ll board one of the lodge aircraft and the day’s adventure begins. One of the big things that sets our safari apart from others is that we have 4 aircraft and 14 boats all set aside for the exclusive use of our guests and there are never more than 10 guests at the lodge at one time. Today the group has decided to get images of grizzly bears fishing so we head to Katmai National Park and land on a small alpine lake. A short 15 min walk gets us to the confluence of 2 creeks. We spend the day photographing bears on the creek where the grizzlies are chasing fish in the shallow water. Upon arriving back at the lodge, you will smell the fresh smoked salmon that is part of the hors d’oeuvres platter. Now you have the tough choice to make: a hot shower or hit the hors d’oeuvres platters first. After the chef has served the meal the discussion of the next day’s activity takes place and plans are made. We will have the opportunity to let everyone show their 5 or 6 favorite images from the day. With the blinds down the images are displayed on the large screen TV in the great room. The lodge staff often gathers in the background to see the amazing show.
  • Day 3: Today the group may decide to fly to Brooks Falls to try to get shots of a bear catching a fish jumping the falls. Brooks falls is crowded and almost like a zoo setting but you are probably looking for one iconic image of a bear catching a fish on the top of falls, so that is where we have flown. By 10:30am you have the shots you want. We then fly 15 minutes to a place where there is no one else and it has a true wilderness feel. We land next to a tiny stream. A 12-year-old sow bear has raised her cubs here every year for the last 8 years. She is very tolerant of us and often walks with her cubs very close to us. We have the place to ourselves. On the way back to the lodge we fly over the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, then past Mount Katmai, then over the caldera (crater lake) and past Novarupta volcano with its still steaming vents, then home to the lodge. Hors d’oeuvres , hot showers, a gourmet dinner and the evening image show await us.
  • Day 4: We leave the lodge in time to arrive at the Katmai coast for the low tide. Today we are searching for bears digging clams and eating sedge grasses. It is common to also see a wolf at this secluded beach. Today takes more walking as the bears are more spread out on the tidal flats and in the sedge grasses. A hot lunch is cooked by the pilot, including fresh clams dug from the tidal flats and shrimp jambalaya cooked over an open fire on the beach, topped off with hot Dutch oven baked corn bread. The 35-minute flight back to the lodge takes a different route so we can fly low over the glaciers and ice fields on Mt Douglas. After dinner everyone has a chance to show their 6 favorite images from the day, followed by discussions on how to improve, and what to expect the next day.
  • Day 5: Today we decided to take advantage of good weather and head to the most remote and wildest part of Alaska. The Bering Sea beaches along the Alaska Peninsula are a place very few humans have ever seen. Landing on a remote Bering Sea beach near a bull walrus haul out, a short 20-min walk into the wind brings the the smell of walrus long before they are seen. These huge bull walrus are a sight to see. Once again cameras will be clicking furiously and memory cards filling up fast. With the walrus upwind, setting up tripods within 50 yards of the walrus will not disturb them. Eagles nest on the cliffs nearby and swans nest on the ponds next to the salt grass. One sand island commonly has 200-400 seals hauled out. Sea otters are commonly seen at the outlet of the streams. Caribou, moose, and bear are common to see along the way.
  • Day 6: The group will decide what we want to do on our last day. We can return to Katmai, go on a raft trip on the Copper River, fly into Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park to see and photograph Dick Proenneke’s cabin (Alone in the Wilderness) & the stunning landscape it is set in. We’ll return to the lodge in mid-afternoon for our evening flight back Anchorage.

The group size has been capped at 4 participants to ensure the best possible experience with adequate individual attention. Each passenger can bring up to 70 lbs of luggage/gear on the flight to Iliamna. For photo gear, a telephoto lens in the range of 100-400mm is a must. If you have a super-telephoto lens (400-600mm), you can bring that too along with your tripod and gimbal head. If you’re shooting with a long lens, we recommend bringing a second camera body where you can attach a shorter lens. There will be many times when the bears will be too close for a super-telephoto lens. A camera body with a fast burst rate and good auto-focus capability is desirable. Bring along a mid-range zoom lens for all the scenery we’ll shoot (anywhere in the 16-70mm range). Bring your laptop to download images at the end of the day. You’ll also want plenty of batteries and memory cards.

The weather in late August can be fickle. Sometimes it’s sunny and warm. Other times it can be cold and rainy. Make sure you bring some warm clothes, hat, gloves, and a rain jacket. Many times the bears are most active when it’s cold and rainy! Also, bring a plastic cover for your camera/lens and some micro-fiber cloths so we can keep shooting no matter what the weather does.

This trip is rated as Moderate since there will be some hiking to get to the bears. Some of the walking will be done in water. Daily mileage should not exceed 3 miles and will be done at a slow pace (essential to not spook the bears). Participants should be reasonable physical condition.

With bear viewing, there is definite safety in numbers. Bears have not attacked groups of 4 or more people. We will stay close together while near the bears and refrain from erratic movements or disturbing antics. The trip guides will have bear spray and other deterrents just in case.

  • All food and lodging during the trip while in Iliamna.
  • Daily bush flights and boat departures.
  • Photography guiding, critique, and assistance throughout the trip.
  • Personal flight to/from Anchorage.
  • Since we won’t be able to buy plane tickets to Iliamna until Feb, the round trip Anchorage to Iliamna fare has not been included in the price. It should be around $460/person and you will be invoiced separately for this.
  • Alcoholic Beverages.
  • Any additional souvenirs or snacks you wish to purchase.
  • $5600/person. There is no single supplement if booking as a solo traveler. However, you must be ok with sharing a cabin with another traveler. Each cabin has 2 beds and a private bathroom.
  • 25% deposit required to secure reservation.
  • Full payment is due no later than 30 days before departure.
  • Price includes all food, lodging, guiding, entrance fees, and daily bush flights and boat rides during the trip.
  • The flight from Anchorage to Iliamna has not been included in the trip cost since we cannot buy tickets until Feb. You will be invoiced for this separately and it should be around $460/person.
  • Please see our Cancellation Policy for more detailed information.