This is the best alternative for those of you on a tight budget for time and money. All the tours (3, 5 and 7-day options) go to the same places, notably the world renown grizzly bear hot spots in Katmai or Lake Clark Nat’l Parks, the Kenai Peninsula, the helicopter aerials over Resurrection Bay, and the dogsledding excursions on a remote glacier. So you have the chance to get fantastic, bucket-list, life affirming photos at these primo locations.
The chronological order listed below may change due to weather and other logistics, but these are the activities and time frames you can expect. You will be sent a more concrete schedule about 30-60 days before the tour begins (unless you book within that time). This gives us the most flexibility within this period to take advantage of prime photographic opportunities and maximize your experiences at each location.
Advantages & Disadvantages with each tour
The 3-day tours can save you money, but because of the tighter time frame, you will be more vulnerable to weather and/or other unforeseen travel issues partially or totally preventing one or more activities. This is especially true for the grizzly bear spots and the helicopter aerials over the fjords. The 5 and 7-day tours give you extra days with the bears, touring the Kenai Peninsula (more wildlife spots) and/or in Homer, Seward, and other areas with recreational options (see below).
An extra day or two can sometimes be the difference between getting the shots you came for, or having to settle for shooting in lousy weather when the next day might be gorgeous. Sometimes it may mean not making it to bear camp on the one day scheduled, or not doing any helicopter aerials. It comes down to how much time and money you are wiling to devote to uncertainty, to give you a buffer and be able to relax a bit with the normal unpredictable nature (pun intended) of travel and weather.
Extra days in Alaska are excellent insurance when you’re planning a (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-blue-moon trip like this. The cost per tour day goes down with the longer tours, so you get a better value for your experiences. Plus you have a much greater probability of getting great shots of great animals in great light. More time is your greatest ally in wildlife photography.
Especially on the short tours, we cannot guarantee whether you can make it to the bear camp or do any aerials. But if air or boat transport is prevented by weather or other logistics, don’t fret yet! We have been here a long time and have several workarounds and choices for you.
You can reschedule another day outside of your scheduled 3-day tour for the bear camp, and use the previously scheduled bear day to take advantage of other options such as:
1) a wildlife float trip down the upper Kenai river
2) a whitewater raft trip down a class IV-V river
3) a whale and wildlife boat cruise in Resurrection Bay in Seward. This is also a world renown option, as you can photograph sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, possibly several types of marine mammals including humpbacks, orcas, minke, dall’s porpoise, possibly dall sheep, mountain goats, bears, and other assorted animals
4) zip-lining amongst the old growth forests in Chugach National Forest. This is an option that can also be combined with the boat cruises, whitewater rafting or Kenai river float trips
5) other options we can customize for you depending on your particular requests. There will be additional charges for these activities since you would be adding a 4th day to your tour, but we can facilitate any changes seamlessly for you.
Generic 3-day Itinerary
DAY -1: Independent arrival in Anchorage
You should plan on arriving at least a day or two before your tour date begins. This way you can get acclimated, enjoy Anchorage on your own for a day or so, and leave some room for weather delays before or after you arrive. You can decompress a bit in your hotel or around town. Then you can contact us and we can update you on arrival times for your transportation to the Kenai Peninsula.
DAY 1: Courtesy transport and wildlife/sightseeing on the Kenai Peninsula
Generally in late morning, you will be picked up by passenger van with other tour participants for your ~3 hour land tour to and around the Kenai Peninsula. We will be stopping at famous wildlife spots along the way, most notably the Potter Marsh bird sanctuary a mile south of Anchorage, and possibly, time permitting, a drive up the hillside area for great views of Anchorage and to look for huge bull moose (protected in certain areas). Keep an eye out for dall sheep in the first 10 miles south of Anchorage, bald eagles along the way, bison at the Wildlife Center near Portage, moose when you drop down onto the Kenai Peninsula, and Trumpeter Swans at any of the larger lakes.
Bring snacks and your water bottle for the drive south. We will stop at the top of Turnagain Pass (elevation 1015′), and perhaps a rest stop somewhere in Cooper Landing along the Kenai River. Lunch or dinner will be at your lodge/hotel in Sterling, Soldotna or Kenai.
DAY 2: Flight and Day trip to Bear Viewing Camp
After breakfast, we take a quick shuttle to the Kenai airport where we load onto a floatplane or helicopter for our 45 minute flight to the bears! We have 3 different bear camps that we reserve our tours with, as a redundancy for you in case one is full, or weather delays or other issues deter us from using one or another. Some have electrified fences around the cabins or quonset huts, while others are full-size permanent lodges and rooms. Lunch will be at the bear camp.
We’ll immediately look for bears, accompanied by one or two highly trained guides looking out for your safety. We may use ATVs to transport us from one location to the next, depending on which camp we fly to. The bears will be fishing in saltwater and sometimes in the small streams feeding into them. Earlier in the summer, there will be cubs playing (see our Tips on Photographing Bears page for more info on timing and other helpful info).
You will have the opportunity to photograph the bears by the water catching salmon, playing, interacting, nursing, etc. hopefully amidst glorious light and colorful backgrounds. You’ll fly back in late afternoon or evening to the Kenai Peninsula, where you’ll arrive in time for dinner at the lodge.
DAY 3 : Helicopter aerials over fjords; Dogsledding on a glacier, return to Anchorage
Today we will work our way over to Seward for your unforgettable helicopter-dogsled adventures. Depending on the weather and the pilot’s decisions, doors off may be allowed for BOTH the dogsled flight to the glacier, and the GORGEOUS flightsee over Resurrection Bay and fjords. You may even see whales and other animals in the water below. Nothing compares to these spectacular helicopter flights over some of the most beautiful glaciers and fords in the world!
Then you’ll will get a 30-40 minute dogsled ride in the middle of a glacial bowl in the Harding Icefield. It is truly an Alaskan experience to let these experienced canines take you around just like the true pioneers of the north used to do in our not-too-distant past! You’ll have plenty of time to photograph yourself and/or your friends from the sled behind the dogs and from outside the team watching them trot off around the mountains.
After the dogsled ride, you’ll fly back to Seward and we will either have dinner in town before we hop in the van for the leisurely 2 hour ride back to Anchorage, or drive to Anchorage first and have dinner in a select restaurant along the way or in Anchorage. We’ll reminisce a bit about your experiences, share some life-thrilling photos, and wish you our very best until perhaps another visit!
(Note: If one or more participants want to stay longer on the Peninsula, we can make arrangements for additional lodging stays at your existing lodge in Kenai or Seward, or give you suggestions for other locations or activities. You are not obligated to return to Anchorage with the rest of the group.)