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Everything You Need To Know About Brown Bear Watching In Alaska

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Everything You Need To Know About Brown Bear Watching In Alaska

A sow brown bear with her two cubs.

There are many reasons to visit the beautiful state of Alaska: halibut fishing, salmon fishing, photographing the scenic glaciers and waterfalls, and so much more. One of our favorite things to do while visiting the state is brown bear watching. And when it comes to seeing brown bears, there is no better place than Admiralty Island!

ADMIRALTY ISLAND

An birds-eye-view of Admiralty Island.

Spanning an impressive 1,000,000 acres of federally protected old growth rainforest, Admiralty Island is home to a shocking amount of wildlife. In fact, the island is perhaps most famous for its massive brown bear population. 

A map of Admiralty Island.

Admiralty is home to around 1,600 brown bears meaning that there are more brown bears on Admiralty than in all of the lower 48 states combined! With that staggering number of bears, the island has the highest density of brown bears in all of North America. While Admiralty does have a lot of wildlife like bald eagles and sitka black-tailed deer, the island doesn’t have many people. That means that for every person on the island there are nearly three brown bears!

The impressive bear to human ratio is a fact that the indigenous Tlingit people certainly know. Locally the island is known by its native Tlingit name, Kootznoowoo, which translates in English to “Fortress of the Bears”.

A fun illustration of a brown bear.

 

BROWN BEAR INFORMATION

A single brown bear walking in a tidal flat.

Brown bears have a wide spectrum of colorations that can range anywhere from black to light blonde coloring. So if you spot a black bear when visiting Admiralty Island, don’t get confused, it’s actually a brown bear with black fur! Brown bears are the only species of bear that live on the island.

 Averaging between 300-1200 pounds brown bears can be anywhere between about four and a half to nine feet tall when standing on their back legs! Part of what accounts for this huge range in size is that during.

A brown bear in its den.

Speaking of hibernation, brown bears don’t actually sleep for the entirety of the winter like most people think. The bears are still awake; they just don’t do things like hunt, eat, or use the bathroom. 

So what exactly do they do all winter long? Well, hibernation can actually be a very busy time for the pregnant mamma bears. Brown bear cubs are typically born around a few weeks into hibernation and they stay in their dens for around six months while they nurse, learn to walk, and prepare for life outside of the den. The females manage to nurse their cubs for months all without eating anything for themselves, an accomplishment that is truly unique in the animal kingdom.

BROWN BEARS ON ADMIRALTY ISLAND

Three brown bears fishing in a river.

Many people are surprised to learn that there are multiple different types, or subspecies, of brown bears. One subspecies that you’ve probably heard of is the grizzly bear. Admiralty Island is home to its own unique subspecies called the sitka brown bear that can only be found in Southeast Alaska’s ABC islands (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chicagof) in southeast Alaska. 

A map of the ABC Islands

 

Sitka brown bears are actually several hundred pounds larger than grizzlies on average, partially due to their robust diet, and partially due to their unique genetics. Unlike other species of brown bear, sitka brown bears evolved directly from polar bears, the largest type of bear on earth! Scientists theorize that after the last ice age (roughly 20,000 years ago) a population of polar bears got stranded on the ABC Islands and eventually began mating with local brown bears. Over the years the two species eventually became one giving us the modern sitka brown bear.

If you’re a wildlife lover you’ll definitely want to plan a trip to Admiralty Island to see this unique species of bear in its natural habitat!

BEST TIME TO SEE BROWN BEARS

The best brown bear watching typically begins around May and continues on into the early fall. Within that time frame the bears can be seen doing different things depending on what point in the summer it is. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska with the hopes of seeing a brown bear in the wild, you might have something specific in mind like wanting to see a bear catch a salmon or maybe to see an adorable brown bear cub. That being said, brown bear watching isn’t always the same everywhere. Due to the thick rainforest and limited exposure to human beings, bear encounters aren’t as likely at a place like Pybus Bay as they are in other areas. If seeing a bear is an absolute must for your dream vacation, we recommend visiting Pack Creek on northern Admiralty Island!

 

A chart showing the best months for brown bear watching (April-September).

To help you decide when the best time to book your bear watching trip to Alaska is, we’ve put together this little timeline of a brown bear’s summer!

April

A single brown bear in a river.

When the weather begins to warm and snow begins to melt, brown bears begin to make their way out of their dens. Typically the bears will begin to mosey out into the great outdoors sometime in mid april. That being said, the bears aren’t quite out of hibernation yet. You can think of April like a long lazy Sunday morning where the bears mostly just lounge around while they fully wake back up. Because of this, April isn’t actually a great time for bear watching.

May

Two brown bear cubs fishing in a river.

This is when the bears start to get busy. Even though they just woke up it’s already time to prepare for the next winter, which means lots and lots of eating. Throughout the summer and fall months brown bears can double their weight in fat–something that’s especially true of bears native to Alaska. Throughout the summer, Alaskan brown bears can eat between 80 and 90 pounds of food per day!

For the female bears with newborn cubs, this time of year is especially crucial. The cubs typically weigh under 10 pounds and they’re going to need plenty of food if they’re going to survive the winter. 

June

A single brown bear fishing in a river.

By the time June rolls around, brown bears are in the height of mating season. Any mature male or female that didn’t give birth over the winter will be searching for mates. Unlike some other animals, brown bears will mate with multiple partners throughout the year.

Aside from mating, the bears are typically spending their time looking for things like berries or hunting deer–their main source of protein before the salmon run up river. Because of this, the bears are typically found more inland and spend less time near the coast.

July

A sow brown bear teaching her cubs to fish.

This is when the bear watching gets really good. At this point in time, mating season begins to slow down and the salmon run picks up. Towards the end of the month, the pink salmon make their way up the river bringing the bears out of the woods and closer to shore. This is when bears become much easier to spot from the safety of a boat or kayak.

For all of the cub-less bears, July is all about eating as much fish as possible. For the mothers, this is when they teach their cubs crucial life lessons. By the time a bear cub turns two years old it’s usually expected to survive on its own which leaves only two summers worth of training in hunting and fishing. By late July, these cubs can be seen getting their first fishing lessons from their mothers, a skill that will come in handy very soon. 

August

A single brown bear in a river.

Just like July, August is an ideal time for hopeful bear watchers. The salmon run is in full force and the bears are quite active. By the late summer the cubs have put on some serious weight. An average brown bear cub weighs around 80 pounds by their first birthday at this point in time they’re already about 8 months old. If you’re hoping to see a massive brown bear, this is your chance! This is when the male bears can start to weigh around 1,000 pounds–all that fishing really pays off!

September

The first few weeks of September are your last good chance to see brown bears. The bears are still active and the salmon are still running, but the weather can start to take a turn for the worse. In Alaska the seasons seemingly change overnight and by the middle of September, the heavy rain and fog begins. If you want to visit Admiralty island in September, make sure to book your trip at the beginning of the month. 

BROWN BEAR WATCHING

A close up shot of a brown bear's face.

Brown bear watching on Admiralty Island can be a life changing experience. Though we never guarantee that you’ll get to see a bear, the chances of seeing them cab be pretty high! You might catch a glimpse of a sow and her cubs fishing in a river or spot a big boar roaming the shore line. 

Pro-tip: For the best and safest chance to spot a brown bear while staying at Pybus, we recommend that you check out one of our jet skiffs or kayak—all of which is free for you to use during your stay at our all inclusive resort. Brown bears are most active in the early mornings and evenings which works out perfectly for a day at Pybus Point Lodge. You can spend the day out fishing or exploring with one of our guides and still check out a skiff or kayak for bear watching after dinner! 

There are also opportunities during your stay with us to hike deep in the heart of the Tongass National Forest where you might encounter a wild bear. Whether out on one of our local hikes or out fly fishing a nearby river, the chances to see a wild brown bear are nearly endless! 

SAFETY

Two brown bears fishing in a river.

Even though you’ll never be alone in the wilderness during your stay–you’ll always be accompanied by one of our well experienced guides–you will need to understand and follow some basic bear safety protocol to ensure that your bear encounter is both fun and safe.

First things first, it’s important to remember that bear attacks are extremely rare. While it is important to be alert and cautious when traveling through bear territory, there’s no need to be scared; brown bear encounters can be perfectly safe and exciting. Brown bears typically want to be left alone and have very little interest in human beings, and their solitary nature makes it pretty easy to prevent a negative encounter. 

To prevent a bear attack all you really need to do is travel in large groups and make plenty of noise. Most bear attacks happen when a quiet hiker or hunter accidentally startles a brown bear. If you and your fellow outdoorsmen let the bears in the area know you’re there, your chances of a bear attack are dramatically reduced.

If you do come across a bear there’s a few things that you should know. Bears generally don’t want to attack humans. For the most part, humans are safely off of the brown bear menu unless food is very scarce. Brown bears typically eat things like fish, deer, and plants, and on Admiralty Island the brown bears have plenty to eat already. 

If the bear doesn’t run away immediately, the bear is most likely just trying to figure out what you are and scare you away. Bears have pretty bad eyesight and mainly rely on their nose and ears to help them understand what’s going on around them. Because of this brown bears might stand on their hind legs to check you out. While trying to figure out what you are, the bear might do some things that seem scary like growl or snap its jaw. It’s important to remember that these actions aren’t necessarily a sign of an attack, they’re just signs of a startled bear.

When faced up against a brown bear it’s important that you stay calm and don’t run. You just need to help the bear know that you’re a human and not a prey animal. To help the bear figure out what you are, talk to the bear in a conversational voice and slowly wave your arms. Remember, brown bears don’t typically want to attack humans, they just want to be left alone. Running and screaming might be your natural impulse, but these actions will only scare the bear and might accidentally provoke an attack. 

If an attack does occur, leave your backpack secured to your back, lie face down, cover your neck with your hands, and play dead until the bear leaves the area. Remember that bear attacks are extremely rare and you’ll always be accompanied by an experienced and armed guide that should be able to diffuse any attack long before it happens. Brown bears are surprisingly skittish and want very little to do with human beings. 

Book Your Vacation At The Fortress Of The Bear

A gorgeous view of Pybus Point Lodge in Cannery Cove

When it comes to bear watching, there’s no place better than Admiralty Island. Home to 1,600 wild sitka brown bears, this is the perfect place for photographers, sightseers, or anyone who’s interested in having the chance to encounter a brown bear in its natural habitat. 

Brown bears are beautiful animals, and any opportunity you get to see them in the wild will surely be a spectacular experience. While it’s important to exercise caution when out in bear territory, actual bear attacks are extremely rare. During your all inclusive stay at Pybus Point Lodge you’ll have the opportunity to go on a number of free excursions into bear country with our experienced wildlife guides who are trained in bear de-escalation tactics. 

If you have any questions about our local brown bears or if you’d like to book your all inclusive Alaskan vacation at Pybus Point Lodge, we’re just a call or click away!

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REVIEWS

65% OF OUR GUESTS ARE RETURN CUSTOMERS

Discover why people like you can’t stop talking about Pybus Point Lodge. More than 30 years ago, the lodge opened as a simple fishing camp, drawing a devoted following in spite of basic accommodations. With new owners and experienced captains and crew, our corner of Alaska has become an unbeatable fishing and eco-tourism resort.

Andrea Tate

Incredible Experience!

Pybus Point Lodge has some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. I mean absolutely breathtaking! In addition to the amazing fishing, I hiked to a beautiful secluded lake, soaked in some hot pots, saw several waterfalls, went whale watching, saw bears and all kinds of wildlife and marine life. As a photographer, photographing a wedding under a waterfall will remain a highlight of my life.

Shirley Johnson

Pybus Point Lodge - WOW!

We had the best time! This was our first visit to Pybus, but it definitely will not be our last. The stunning scenery, amazing fishing experience, and the joy of meeting new friends – all outstanding! We did not want to leave!!! If you are thinking about this trip – don’t think any more, just book it. You will not regret it!!!

Sharon Hedding

Trip of a Lifetime!

We had such an amazing time the staff was so wonderful and the lodge was fantastic! capt Joe was so helpful and always doing what ever he could do to make each day special. a special thank you to both Scott and Jody for taking the time to make us feel like family. can't wait to go back next year

Jason Nielsen

Wonderful and Magical Place

We had an amazing business retreat to Pybus Point Lodge.  Everything was top notch... the fishing, the staff, the boat captains, the food, the accommodations, and especially the scenery. I really liked that Pybus took care of everything from start to finish. Chef John is an amazing cook. We had delicious hot meals the entire trip.  The cabins were amazing and very comfortable.  The fishing was awesome and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t fish that much.

Brandon Foote

We brought home 100lbs of fish!

My wife and I spent a week at Pybus Point this Summer. We had a beautiful, private room overlooking the bay and our own new, ensuite, private bathroom. What an amazing place for couples to get away together. We set our own breakfast time, met our boat captain after, fished the day along, and returned to clean up and enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant. Next time Alaska is on the trip list, Sherrie and I will go together, and it will be to Pybus Point!

Kent Danjanovich

Fun in Alaska

This was my first trip to Pybus Point. I stayed in one of their new cabins. The accommodations were incredible, the view onto the bay in the mornings was stunning. I loved the staff and the food was really very good. All of this and they have new boats to take you out onto fairly calm waters to fish. The fishing guides were great. Overall a great experience. Definitely going back.

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