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Brown-bears

Best American Adventures: Camp With Brown Bears

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By Robert Earle Howells; Photograph by Alaska Stock/National Geographic

It’s thrilling to see big browns with no fence or
barrier between you and them. At the Great Alaska International
Adventure Vacations Bear Camp, you can quietly watch a dozen or more
brown bears from a spruce-fringed meadow that lies between Mount
Iliamna in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve and Cook Inlet. Or
try out the camp’s viewing platform elevated 15 feet (4.5 meters) above
the grassy plain, where hungry brown bears congregate in late spring
and summer to fatten up on the supple shoots. (In case you were
wondering, it’s black bears that climb trees; browns prefer to push the
tree over. Listen to your guide and stick to protocol, and you’ll be
safe.)

In June and July the bears stick to the meadow. By
mid-August the action shifts to a nearby stream, where the bears glut
on spawning salmon and teach their cubs how to fish. It’s precisely
this abundance of food that accounts for Alaska coastal brown bears’
prodigious size (650 to 700 pounds, or 295 to 318 kilograms, is
typical)—they are somewhat larger than their interior grizzly cousins.
It also explains the remarkable numbers of their congregations. It’s
not unusual to see 20 at a time from your chosen Bear Camp perspective.

Camp
is a cluster of eight heated, portable huts arrayed along the beach
where long days permit plenty of time between viewing sessions to
gather for meals or a campfire and trade bear lore and lies. Shellfish
are abundant, so there’s a good chance you too will do some glutting on
fresh local bounty.

Need to Know: Great Alaska Bear Camp (www.greatalaska.com) offers one- to three-day camps that include the flight across Cook Inlet from Soldotna, from $1,095.