July 18, 2016
We took the afternoon trip to Redoubt Lodge in July with Rusts Flying Service. During the short flight to the bear viewing spot, we saw 3 moose, 20 beluga whales, 3 pairs of swans and over a dozen seals sunning on a sand bar. What a great start for the day!
After landing at the Redoubt Lodge dock on Crescent Lake, we had a light lunch at the lodge, then transferred to a boat to move closer to where the salmon were congregating to swim upstream – and thus where the bears would look for food.
It was a delight to watch the juvenile eagles jostling for territory overhead. Some people were fishing from other boats, and the salmon were prolific in the area. Although a bit disappointed the bears weren’t present when we arrived, we soaked up the energy of the raw wilderness. However, in the last hour of the trip, a black bear showed up to fish. Then a young grizzly arrived at the fishing hole while the black bear waited in a nearby tree branch. For the finale a sow and 3 cubs played and fished together until we reluctantly departed.
What to take. Layered clothing, rain gear, camera/video, bug spray, bottle water, binoculars, sun screen, non-fragrant snack (power bar is great). I used an Ospry dry bag to protect my electronics.
When and where to go. Refer to the chart on Rusts website for the most strategic locations for bear viewing, from May through September. These are generally predictable because they are based on the salmon runs.
You may want to plan this activity early in your trip because they may have to reschedule the day of the flight or return due to weather – and you won’t want to miss the experience.
Getting there. Rusts offers a courtesy van if you need transportation to/from the Anchorage airport or most Anchorage hotels. Otherwise, they are easy to locate near the airport.
Expectations. Please keep in mind that you are not going to a zoo and it’s possible you won’t see bears. Even if that happens, you will most likely see other wildlife, have an incredible flight, and experience bush Alaska. You can increase the odds by taking a full day trip vs. half day.
Why it’s worth the price. I recommend Rusts Flying Service for bear viewing. Let me explain why it’s worth the price:
- Planes are super expensive to maintain, and you want a safe aircraft.
- You also want an experienced bush and float plane pilot, right?
- The company is respectful of environmental and wildlife preservation.
Can things still go wrong? Of course, but it’s important to control as much as possible and then accept the risk for what you can’t control.
Have more time? If you want to stay longer, an option (albeit spendy) is to book at the Redoubt Lodge, where you can enjoy a few nights at a luxury remote lodge and incorporate fishing and bear viewing activities. This can also increase your chances of seeing the bears as you can pop over to the viewing area several times a day. The lodge has a partnership with Rusts to fly in their guests. Note: I didn’t stay at the lodge, but it looked charming and well-maintained.
Photos by Julia Hunter and Emma Kristensson