The Lake Clark Bear Viewing in Alaska is a unique experience. Why? Lake Clark, especially Chinitna Bay and Crescent Lake, offers world-class bear viewing. During this tour, you can admire brown bears and black bears in their natural habitat and take great wildlife photos. Plus, Lake Clark National Park is one of the least visited in the entire United States. Check out our review, tips, and pictures from the Lake Clark Bear Viewing Tour to get ready for your adventure!This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Lake Clark Bear Viewing – Introduction to Review
Our regular readers know we are passionate about photographing wildlife, especially brown bears, in their natural habitat. We’re also passionate about Alaska. It’s one of the best places in the world for bear viewing, as Alaska is home to about 70% of the entire North American brown bear population and the most significant number of grizzly bears (30,000). We’ve already made four long road trips through Alaska, and one of our favorite activities is bear-watching each time. We often opt for a guided tour of some fantastic and hard-to-reach places. We wrote more about this in the article Bear Viewing in Alaska and Visiting Katmai National Park.
In this article, we share our impressions of a one-day guided bear-watching tour to remote Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, which receives less than 20,000 visitors a year. We love this park, as it’s less crowded, less touristic, and with a less-developed infrastructure than the famous Brooks Camp at Katmai National Park, so you can feel pure wilderness here. There are no crowded viewing platforms and not many people around you, so you can focus on the bears watching. Coastal Lake Clark is a fabulous spot for wildlife photographers and brown bears fans. Check more details below.
Where is Lake Clark National Park?
Lake Clark National Park is located on the western shore of Cook Inlet, southwest Alaska, about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Anchorage. However, no roads lead into the park, which can be reached only by boat or small plane from Anchorage, Kenai, or Homer. The largest settlement in the park is Port Alsworth on Lake Clark. Port Alsworth is home to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve’s Field Headquarters and Visitor Center. However, Port Alsworth is not connected to a road system, and there are no grocery stores, so you have to be prepared for your adventure. The park has very few amenities and infrastructure as well, so a guided bear viewing tour is one of the best options for visiting this wild and remote region.
Lake Clark’s oceanfront location is the ultimate bear habitat. The creek that runs through the middle of the prairie is rich with silver salmon, attracting a population of brown bears to the area throughout the summer. Large populations of brown bears are attracted to feed on spawning salmon in the Kijik River and Silver Salmon Creek. The tall grass and backdrop of the volcanoes, Mount Redoubt, and Mount Iliamna make for the best photo opportunities. What’s more, Mount Redoubt is active, erupting in 1989 and 2009.
Lake Clark National Park Facts
- The Lake Clark area was initially protected as a National Monument in 1978 and upgraded to a National Park in 1980.
- There are two active volcanoes in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve: Mount Redoubt 10,197ft (3,108 m) and Mount Iliamna 10,016ft (3,052 m).
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve encompasses more than 4 million acres- about 2.6 million acres in the park and 1.4 million acres in the preserve.
- The earliest known human presence in the Lake Clark area was at Bristol Bay. People have used this area for at least 10,000 years. The northern Athabaskan Dena’ina live in this area today.
- Cook Inlet was surveyed in 1778 by British Captain James Cook
- In 1930, the first floatplane landed on Lake Clark.
- In 1942, the first air taxi service was provided to Lake Clark, run by Leon “Babe” Alsworth Sr. to Port Alsworth.
- Lake Clark is an important center for research on sockeye salmon, and as it’s a lot of salmon here, it is also a favorite spot for brown bears.
How to get to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve?
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve aren’t on the Alaska road system. It’s a challenge to get to this national park because you can’t drive there by car. Access to Lake Clark is mainly by small aircraft (usually floatplane) or by boats. That’s why the best way to observe brown bears in Lake Clark is to take a guided airplane tour. Thanks to this you will have a 100% chance of encountering bears in their natural habitat.
Guided Lake Clark bear-viewing tours from Kenai or Seward
Depending on how you plan your Alaska itinerary, you can choose a tour from Seward or a tour from Kenai. The only difference is that if you’re in the Kenai area, you start the tour directly from the small Kenai airport to Lake Clark National Park. And if you’re staying in Seward, you get a shuttle from Seward to the airport (the drive from Seward to Kenai is about 2.5 hours). We were in Homer and drove to Kenai for our bush flight. Those tours are operated by Kenai Backcountry Adventures, which is one of the authorized tour operators, recommended by the NPS.
It’s not a cheap tour, but it’s worth the price for an amazing nature experience and the chance to see bears in their natural habitat.
We’ve been to several of Alaska’s hard-to-reach national parks, such as Gates of the Arctic National Park, Katmai National Park, and Wrangell St Elias National Park. Bear-watching at Lake Clark is definitely at the top of our guided tour list.
This bear viewing tour is unique because it allows you to observe brown bears searching for food on the beach, walking along the coast, or in the grass, playing or fighting. Thanks to an experienced guide who knows the habits of bears, you will learn a lot about this species.
How many bears are in Lake Clark?
According to the official NPS website, park biologists have counted as many as 219 brown bears in a 54-square-mile area (34560 acres) on the coast in recent years. There are few other places in the world where so many bears live in such a small area. During our guided tour, we saw several brown bears. And they were terrific. We could observe how they look for food, how they eat, and how they chill on the beach.
Brown Bears or Grizzly Bears in Lake Clark National Park?
Brown bear and grizzly bear are common names for the same species. The difference between the two is geographic location, which affects diet, size, and behavior. Those that live in coastal areas are called brown bears. Bears in inland areas that have limited or no access to marine food sources are called grizzly bears. Lake Clark National Park has both coastal and inland bears; park workers and tour guides generally refer to them as brown bears.
The coastal land of Lake Clark is also home to black bears, but seeing one in Lake Clark is rare, as its bigger brown brothers dominate this area. Biologists estimate 136 black bears per 1000 km2 on the coast, whereas the density is closer to 77 black bears/per 1000 km2 inland.
Where can you see bears in Lake Clark?
Lake Clark National Park offers three fabulous areas that provide excellent bear-viewing opportunities because the land is rich in protein-rich plants, clams, salmon, and berries. All bear delicacies in one place. Areas, where you can admire bears are:
- Chinitna Bay, where you can spot bears while they are eating clams and vegetation.
- Crescent Lake, where their primary food is salmon.
- Silver Salmon Creek, where their primary food is salmon, calms, and vegetation.
At Silver Salmon Creek on the Cook Inlet coast, you can see brown bears grazing on sedge meadows, fishing, or digging for shells on the beach. Watching giant bears (which often weigh more than 1,000 pounds) open delicate razor clams with their powerful paws is a breathtaking sight that will stay with you forever.
What is the best time for bear-watching in Lake Clark National Park?
If considering the Lake Clark National Park Bear Viewing Tour, plan your Alaska vacation trip during the summer months when bears are most active. June, July, and August are the best. Some bears surely you will also encounter at the beginning of September. But from our experience, we recommend going from the second half of June to mid-August. As it is the peak of the tourist season, which is very short in Alaska, it is worth booking bear-watching trips months in advance. We have been using this company for several years during our trips because they have a transparent policy for booking, cancellations, and refunds.
The confluence of air masses from the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska causes extremely variable weather around Lake Clark. Expect subarctic mountain weather. Summer average warm temperatures range from 50°F (10°C) to 65°F (18°C). However, it can be cooler and windy, especially in the mornings. It might also be humid and foggy. So make sure to wear warm, rainproof clothes.
What to wear for Lake Clark National Park Bear Viewing?
The weather in Alaska can be surprising and unpredictable. Therefore, be well prepared for your trip. Before going to Alaska, you can look at our Alaska Packing List, which we have compiled based on our experience from four expeditions.
Waterproof Boots with a good grip
The area of Lake Clark National Park is humid. You will move among the grasses, meadows, mudflats, beaches, and along the coast, which is also very muddy in places. Famous Alaskan rubber boots are perfect for this trip, thanks to which you will be able to wade on the coast of the lake and take great pictures of bears from the water perspective.
Summer in Alaska can be rainy, especially during July and August. During our last trip, it rained almost every day. Therefore, a sturdy raincoat or rain poncho that can go over your normal warm jacket is a must if you plan a bear-watching tour.
Water Repellent Gloves
If your goal isn’t only to observe bears but also to take photos of them, pack gloves. Yes, you’ll need them even in the middle of Alaskan summer. In Lake Clark National Park, it can be windy and chilly from the water, so your fingers will quickly go numb from taking photos. Be sure to bring warm, water-resistant gloves.
Whatever the weather forecast, wear layers. It is better to have more clothes on than to be cold or wet during such an expedition. Be prepared for rain, wind, and chill.
Lake Clark Bear Viewing or Katmai Bear Viewing? Which is better?
We’ve had the opportunity to observe bears in Lake Clark National Park and in Katmai National Park. Both experiences are unique, and both national parks are worth visiting, as the locations where bears are sighted are different.
In Katmai, the most famous place is Brooks Falls, where bears hunt for salmon, which is a great background for photos. We spent three days in Katmai. However, the park has a disadvantage if you want to make a day trip. Due to the relatively large number of tourists and the limited capacity of the viewing platforms, restrictions have been placed on how long you can stay on the main platform. Therefore, on a day trip, you might be a bit disappointed (especially if you’re a photographer). But there are other places in Katmai where you can watch the bears without time limits. Even with this regulation, it’s still worth visiting this park. We just want you to be aware of the high-season situation.
Lake Clark has no such infrastructure and no observation platforms. The guides know the habits of bears and the places where you can observe them calmly and safely. This makes the park wilder and less touristic. There are no marked trails in the park.
Both parks are on the list of least visited national parks in the United States. Lake Clark was in fifth place, and Katmai on the sixth position. But In 2021, Lake Clark had 18,278 recreation visits, while Katmai had 24,764. Katmai also has more brown bears, about 2200. But as the Katmai has bear-viewing platforms, you get the impression that it is cramped and crowded. The most visited and most famous national parks in the US: Zion National Park had 5.03 million visitors in 2021, Yellowstone National Park had 4.86 million visits, and Grand Canyon National Park: had 4.53 million.
Other things to do in Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve offers also other activities. But in our opinion, Lake Clark is one of the best places in Alaska for bear viewing. So, we highly recommend the guided tour. However, if you plan a trip on your own, you should know, that Lake Clark National Park does not have many facilities for tourists. To spend the night there or wander around this wild area on your own, you should be experienced in the wilderness and well-prepared for the trip.
Before you go, make sure you have a plan with your air taxi, including pickup time, location, and communication in the event your scheduled flight is delayed due to high water crossings or bad weather. Check the official park website to prepare for a trip.
Camping, Backpacking, and Hiking
You can camp and hike in the park and don’t need a permit, but you must be prepared for encounters with bears. There are no marked trails. There are only two maintained trail systems in the park, which are located in the Port Alsworth area. No amenities in the park. Campers need to be extra vigilant with food storage and make a plan for safe camping in bear country. Electric bear-proof fencing is also required to enclose tents and keep bears away from your camp. Make sure you’ve enough batteries and test the system before you leave on your trip. For more rules, visit the park’s website. Reservations are required for staying at the two rustic Public Use Cabins in the park.
The area is full of birds as well. The most common in Lake Clark National Park are shorebirds, dabbling ducks, diving ducks, sea ducks, seabirds, raptors, and songbirds.
Sport Fishing and Clam Digging
The area is full of Coho (silver) salmon and humpback (pink) salmon that run up the creek in the late summer, which makes the park an excellent adventure for anglers. The waters of Lake Clark are also rich with a razor, little neck, and butter clams. If you dream about sport fishing or calm digging in Lake Clare, check and follow State of Alaska fishing regulations.
According to the park’s website, there are thirty-seven species of terrestrial mammals and five different marine mammal species that use spawning or foraging areas along the shoreline in the Clark Lake region. Dall sheep roam the Chigmit Mountains. Caribou may be seen in the Bonanza Hills and around Lakes Turquoise, Twin, and Snipe. Moose are found in swampy and wet areas. Wolves live in the mountainous areas of the park.
Boating, Rafting, or Kayaking in Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve contains three National Wild Rivers famous for float trips, rafting, kayaking, or paddling. Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake are popular spots for kayaking as well. If you are planning this adventure, check out all the guidelines and regulations on the official park website.
Alone in the Wilderness – Lake Clark in the movie
Before your bear-viewing tour to this remote park, watch the documentary Alone in the Wilderness. It’s a history of Richard Proenneke, who built the cabin at Upper Twin Lake. He made the cabin himself with self-made tools, and the movie is about his solitary life at Lake Clark. And if you’re interested in other movie stories that happened in Alaska, read our article about the famous Magic Bus 142 from Into the Wild.