pomkiwi

Alaska in August / September 2018

16 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

Inspired somewhat by @Swazicar's current trip report and some excellent BBC footage I am seriously considering a 7-10 day trip to Alsaka next year. I would like to spend time observing and photgraphing bears but would also like to take to opportunity to observe whales and orcas if possible.  There a number of operators availble from an internet search but would be grateful if anyone had any specific recommendations.

I have had a look at the trip reports forum and there are a couple of helpful reports there but with the exception of the report from @Spalding there is not too much that is recent.

Edited by pomkiwi

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@pomkiwi - August/September is late for photographing grizzlies as the salmon runs are over by then.   July is the time for that.

 

Besides @Spalding's excellent trip report, this thread has good info from @Atravelynn (see post #6):

 

http://safaritalk.net/topic/9625-alaska-question/

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Orcas - I would suggest going on a full day small boat trip to Kenai Fjords out of Seward.  I've been 2x and saw orca both times.  My screeen saver is a breaching orca from one of the trips.  The boat I used does not operate anymore, but there are lots of others.  Sorry to be no help with specifics, which is what you requested.  Another good place for orcas is Glacier Bay.  I went on the boat Spirit of Adventure (which is not small) and saw orcas one time out of two trips.

 

A great place for humpbacks, if you found yourself in Juneau, heading to Glacier Bay, is to take the regularly scheduled ferry between the two.  Very good and very close viewing.  The captains like to woo the passengers with some prime whale viewing.

 

One other orca comment:  This is not in Alaska, but if you wanted a trip that concentrated on orcas some day, consider the San Juan Islands in the state of Washington.  I just got back from a trip there and in 16 3-ish hour whale trips, we saw orcas on 12, humpbacks on 6. (#s could be off by 1).  Never an outing without a whale in mid-June.

 

Back to bears--July is the big salmon run for Brooks Falls.  But there is another in Sept (early Sept I think) and some photographers specifically book Brooks Falls (where the fish in the open mouth photo was shot) for the colors, less people, and interesting light in Sept.  I'd like to try Sept sometime.  Have only done July.  But August at Brooks is not prime bear time.  August along the Katmai coast  of Alaska is great because there are many sources of food for the bears there.

 

A few comments not mentioned in the other bear post:

 

BEAR CAMP LAKE CLARK

http://www.greatalaska.com/lcbl/pricelcbl.html


I spent three days there a couple  and had good bear viewing--up to 40 in a panoramic view with 5 sets of mother & 3 cub families.

Bear watching was done from two places: (1) A platform overlooking a sedge grass field, with small streams, surrounded by mountains. Breathtaking! (2) A spot on the ground overlooking a small river. Also lovely. You could walk between the two spots with a guide. With the exception of one curious bear, the bears were not as close as some of the other bear places I’ve visited.  But it could just be luck of the draw.

HALLO BAY

http://www.alaska.net/~kodiak/



The weather and flying conditions can be dicey here. It is possible to be weathered in or out of Hallo Bay. We had some day trippers suddenly become overnight guests. My week stay turned into 9 days. So some buffer time on either end of your Hallo Bay visit is a good idea.


Several red foxes were quite inquisitive and came within a foot or two. Eagle viewing was wonderful too.  All bear viewing is done on foot at a safe distance. At times the bears approached us within several yards as they meandered around. Also saw two wolves.
 

 

 

 

 

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@pomkiwiI'm no Alaska expert (only been once!), but just a couple of thoughts:

 

August and September generally are the rainiest months in Alaska, I believe.  (On the good side, the skeeters may be gone by September.)

 

For a small boat tour out of Seward, we used http://www.alaskasaltwaterlodge.com/alaska_whale_watching.htm .  We did see both orcas (four) and humpbacks (two); that likely is very hit-or-miss however.  I was more impressed by the glaciers in the fiords than I expected to be, so that is a good one-day trip, in my opinion.  However, even if you see whales, don't expect extended, great photo ops.  If you're in Katmai, for example, I don't know that I'd add on a trip to Seward simply for a one-day boat trip.  That said, if you're a hiker, there's lots of hiking on the Kenai Peninsula, so if you were adding on four or five days (after the bear thing), it would become more reasonable, in my opinion.

 

For bears, if budget is a concern, you might consider camping at Brooks Falls (You can reserve camp sites online here--but not for next year yet:  https://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=74210 ) If money isn't an issue, there are lots of people who gladly will relieve you of it and shove you in the direction of bears.  As others have mentioned, the iconic salmon runs will largely be over by then.  If your schedule is flexible, however, I actually think May/June (at least on the coast) is potentially more interesting for bears (bearing mind that I've never seen them in May/June!).

 

Happy planning!

 

-tom a.

 

 

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@offshorebirder, @Atravelynn, @Swazicar Thank-you so much for your prompt and detailed replies which have been very helpful. At the moment I think I am leaning more to Katmai for the chance to see bears.  Timing is not set and realistically I can go for 7 - 10 days sometime between early July and mid September. I'm not certain that trying to transport camping gear from the UK will work easily and I am aware that Brooks Falls gets very popular.

 

Current thoughts are to go to one of the lodges in Katmai for 4 nights (hopefully independently rather than on a photo tour which seems to double the price) and then to aim for a couple of days in Seward for a boat trip and a day hike as it looks like an easy drive from Anchorage.

 

There will be the need for a buffer night in Anchorage before and after Katmai in case of travel issues (and following a transatlantic flight) but I have been reassured by reports that there is some good hiking close by if I have time and energy!

 

Thanks again for your help and I will update when I have some clearer plans.

 

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Perfect!  Katmai and Seward fits the bill.  You are right about photo tours increasing costs.  It's not like you can't take photos if you don't go on the "photo" tour.

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Aren't there areas with later salmon runs? I'm also thinking of an August/September time frame trip to Alaska next year but just started looking into it.

 

I saw at least a dozen humpbacks from Carmel Beach this morning. Come to Monterey Bay for whales. In spring when gray whales pass along our shores on their northbound migration, orcas arrive to predate on calves. During that time, it's possible to see grays, orcas and humpbacks on the same day.

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I second the Seward and Katmai recommendation.  We did a float plane from Homer to Katmai for a day trip a couple years ago and it ranks with African safari in my memory.  We went very early July, the salmon were just starting (we saw a few bears fishing), but more activity was on shore with clamming, grazing grasses, etc.  Weather was lovely.  There were overnight trips too, but this trip gave us about six hours with the bears and I think that was plenty.  We saw about two dozen different individuals.  We opted not to go to Brooks Falls to avoid crowds.  This trip allowed us to walk amongst the bears in a wonderful tidal area with beautiful mountains in the background.   There are some bear pictures at the end of this page:

 

http://mwillia.users.sonic.net/Matts_Travel_Blog/Alaska/Entries/2014/7/6_Soldotna_to_Homer.html

 

Seward cruise was wonderful too, although we saw no orcas.  Saw many humpbacks, fin whales and many other animals and birds, and the scenery was spectacular.   Another passenger said they had been on the cruise before and has seen them, so hit and miss, I would say.  

 

Have a great trip.

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If you have a rental car you could go to Haines. There in the Chilkoot State Park you can see Grizzley directly out of your car, without paying anything.

http://www.alaska.org/detail/chilkoot-lake-state-park

 

Best time is middle to end of August.

 

 

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@Atravelynn, @Patty, @traveler318 @ReiseBeate  Thanks for your comments and advice.  I have managed to get 4 nights at the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in mid-July next year (there were very few nights available even now).  I have got flights booked using airmiles and will get a rental car which will allow some exploration from Anchorage and a couple of days in Seward.

I was briefly tempted by a trip to Hyder which would need to be accessed from Canada but in the end put off by reports of crowding in bear season.

So largely sorted with some detailed planning to sort in the autumn  :)

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@pomkiwi If you have time to go hiking around Anchorage, try the Eagle River Nature Center.  It's been 10 years since we were there but it was really pretty and we saw a few moose too which isn't very hard around Anchorage really.  http://www.ernc.org/trails/trails

 

Alan

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@Atdahl Thank-you for the recommendation - it looks interesting on the website. At the moment I'm not sure I will have that much time although I may have a few hours before I catch the plane home.

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Plans now firm (and I was surprised how limited choices already are in some places). I'm flying direct from London to Seattle with British Aiways on an air miles ticket. I will then need to book flights to Anchorage once Alaska open up reservations for July. One night in Anchorage and then drive to Seward the following day for 3 nights. I have a day's cruise booked and one day free in Seward (probably a day hiking up to a glacier). The next day an early drive up to Soldotna to meet a small plane flight at 9am going to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for 4 nights of mainly bears. Then an early flight back to the car and a leisurely drive back to Anchorage. Overnight there and an early pm flight to Seattle to meet my flight home to London.

Looking forward to it already!

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10 hours ago, pomkiwi said:

Plans now firm

Great that you locked in your preferences!

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Posted (edited)

I realize that your trip is now largely fixed, @pomkiwi , but since somebody else asked about late August/early September in Alaska I thought I should still add a response since I did visit at that time of year a while ago.

 

Mosquitos where a concern for me, and certainly their numbers were much reduced. Also a nice bonus is that the tundra starts to turn at that time of year, and Denali was very colourful.

 

We visited Brooks Falls, and there is indeed a late salmon run there. This was towards the end of our trip, and what we got was different from the photos one typically sees from this location. Salmon were no longer swimming up the streams, so no pictures of bears catching them as they leap up the falls, but there were plenty of salmon that had laid their eggs, and having achieved this, were slowly dying, so bears were very plentiful. After we'd gone through the safety talk on arrival and were standing outside our cabin, I had a look around and there were more than 10 bears visible just from that spot.

 

At the time the place wasn't really that busy, and it was always possible to enter either viewing platform at any time (I understand there are restrictions earlier in the year when it's really busy), but that was around 10 years ago and I don't know whether this is still true.

 

We had lovely sightings (including cubs of various ages), for example, a bear catching a trout and deciding she preferred the rotting salmon and spitting it out! (The Glaucous-winged Gulls were quite grateful for that.)

 

I can certainly recommend Alaska at that time of year. In terms of weather, we had two drizzly days with low cloud in Denali, and two days when a storm front came in and dumped significant amounts of rain, but other than that it was fine. I don't think that the weather was particularly worse than my previous trip earlier in the season.

 

I add a few pictures from this trip:

 

Denali from a flight-seeing excursion

Denali first thing

Colourful tundra with moose

From Brooks Falls

 

Andrea

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Edited by kitefarrago
trying to fix tag
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@kitefarrago Thank-you for your additional comments and the lovely photos. I am very much aware that my short visit is just scratching the surface and if it goes well I think I am likely to plan a return!

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