May 30, 2011

Going for Brown: Incredible Bear Viewing Vacations in Alaska

One fishing technique

Asia may have its jungles and stone age tribes, but Alaska boasts some of the wildest summer vacations on earth–dense spruce forests, pristine whitewater steams brimming with salmon, the morning air crisp with the cawing of terns and eagles.

Big, beautiful, blond–and fast

Then, there’s back-straightening tension of knowing that bears are about, specifically Alaska Brown Bears, larger and more ferocious cousin to the Grizzley. They lurk in the river grass and nap hidden by the Manzanita briars. In summer, they spend much of their time splashing through the steam, some of the funniest, most ungainly fishermen I’ve ever seen.

Sow and three cubs fishing Alaska’s Alagnak RIver

Watching from a distance as they play out their family dramas–cubs wrestling each other, mama bears teaching them to fish, and sometimes clacking their displeasure–it’s easy to forget that these animals, the world’s largest land-base predators, are fierce–and fast. A bear can run maybe 30 miles per hour, a human adult of average fitness maybe 10–20 if he’s really fit and really scared.

Hey, Ma, look at me!












Everyone’s talking bears this year, reminding me of two wild and unforgettable bear viewing vacations Jack and enjoyed on Alaska’s Alagnak River.National Geographic named bear viewing on Alaska’s Kodiak Island one of its “Twenty best trips for 2011.” And last Sunday’s New York Times opened the travel section with Ted O’Callaghan’s irresistible story, “Where the Wild Things Are,” also about bear viewing on Kodiak.

Alaska’s Alagnak River

That story features Kodiak Treks, led by veteran hunting and fishing guide Harry Dodge, whom Jack knows well. The Times describes a real boots in the mud experience, fording creeks, bushwhacking through alders, tent camping and using a Coleman burner to boil water for freeze-dried backpacker dinners.  The pictures by Kim Hubbard are precious.

Our two Alaska vacations combined bear viewing with salmon fishing on the Alagnak River on the mainland. We had spartan but cozy digs in the Alaska Trophy Adventures camp near Katmai Park, run by Charlie Summerville (who’s now in this 24th year guiding in Alaska). In addition to our cabin and  hot meals at the lodge, we had our own guide and gunmetal rowboat with Yamaha jet drive motor. Those provided us the audacious freedom to roam the river, fishing, birding and scouting for bear at our leisure. In  July–prime month for bear viewing and fishing for sockeye salmon–there wasn’t much scouting needed. The bears were everywhere, tumbling, splashing, even climbing trees.

Note to nose!


Sow and two or her cub. The third had fallen in the water

Our two favorite “families” were a 600 pound sow with three cubs about maybe a year and a half old, and two tiny cubs that looked almost like merkats when they emerged spouting and shaking from what was surely one of their first dive-fishing experiences.




Anne’s big one

At vacation’s end, in addition to the memories, we had seventy pounds of mouth-watering salmon, frozen in camp and flown home on Alaska Airlines.IF you want to indulge your wild side, there’s no better place than Alaska. For more information:

ALASKA TROPHY ADVENTURES. Charlie and Helen Summerville

Phone Toll Free: 877-801-2289   Office: 252-923-9939   Cell: 252-944-1155

After June 10, inquires by email to:


KODIAK TREKS:  Harry & Brigid Dodge

11754 S. Russian Cr. Rd. Kodiak, Alaska 99615

Phone: (907) 487-2122  Email:

Story by Anne Sigmon. Photos by Anne Sigmon and Jack Martin

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