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Explore Pack Creek and Photograph Alaskan Brown Bears

Hoonah-Angoon, Alaska


Added by Sarah Eichstedt

This is a beautiful and quiet place to get up close with Alaskan Brown Bears in their natural habitat. It makes an excellent day trip from Juneau!

The island is home to 1500 brown bears who wander freely (don't worry, it's safe)! It's a short plane ride from Juneau (~30 min) and only 24 people are allowed to visit per day, so you can be sure your day will be quiet and serene unlike some other viewing areas where you have to wait in line for a glimpse.

You can visit Pack Creek with a tour company (here are some recommended companies) who will sort out the plane and all the details for you, or you can easily arrange it yourself and have an equally great time. Despite what the tour companies might say, you do not need a personal guide on the island since there are already 2 rangers who work at the location. They will tell you everything you need to know to safely enjoy the day!

Here are some instructions if you're going to arrange the trip yourself:

Make sure to secure a permit online here for the day you want to visit. During the summer months 24 permits are available (1 permit per person); 12 are for guided tours and the other half are for individual visitors. Since this location is less known, it is relatively easy to secure a permit. On the day I went, there were only 6 other people all day! Make sure to print your permit and bring it with you when you go. It's good for visiting the island from 9am-9pm.

Next you'll want to secure your transportation to the island. If you're feeling very adventurous you may want to kayak camp on a nearby island (no reservation required) and then boat in on the day of your visit. No camping is allowed on Admiralty Island/Pack Creek. Alternatively you can arrive by air (a 30 minute flight from Juneau), which is what most people do. You can check out some recommended companies here. I used Ward Air (located near the Juneau airport) and was very satisfied. You can contact them through their website, or call to make a reservation (907-789-9150). They will charge on a per-person basis and this will be the most expensive part of your day, but well worth it! You will need to tell whatever company you fly with when they should drop you off and pick you up. I recommend leaving most of the day for you to explore the island and observe the bears. (The longer you are there, the more bears you are likely to see!) We arranged to leave at 8:30am and be picked up at 6:30pm. The location is open from 9am-9pm, so plan accordingly. Also note that there may be a delay in leaving in the morning due to heavy fog in the area (apparently this is common and it happened to us).

Now that your permit and travel arrangements are secured, you'll want to read more about the history of the island and brown bear population. You can do such reading here and here (the websites you used to secure your permit).

On the day of your visit:

Make sure to check the weather and plan accordingly. It can be quite cold and wet and you won't want to be stuck outside all day without the appropriate attire. That being said, we had a gorgeous sunny day when we visited, so in our case sunblock was important!

Also be sure to bring enough food, water, and snacks for the amount of time you'll be on the island since there is nowhere to buy food/drink once you land. There are also no restrooms on the island. (You will be directed to go behind a specific rock on the beach if you need to use the bathroom).

When your plane lands you'll need to wade through water (1-2 feet deep) to get to the beach. You can bring rubber boots with you, or just take off your shoes and socks (which is what I did). Make sure you bring something to dry your feet off with or you can just air dry in the sun if it's a warm day. When you arrive at the beach you'll be greeted by a ranger who will tell you all about Pack Creek and the basic rules. You will be told exactly where you can walk, use the bathroom (there is no toilet), eat, and stow your gear. The reason the bears don't mind humans in their territory is that for many years visitors to the area have followed a very predictable pattern of behavior (they walk only in specific areas, etc). Therefore the bears know what to predict and they will go about their regular lives, allowing us humans a great up-close look. There has never been a bear attack at Pack Creek because of these rules. Be sure to follow them!

After you get the basic lowdown, you will be instructed to head to one of 2 viewing areas. One is close to the beach (called "the spit") and the other is a raised platform over a salmon stream in the forest ("the tower"). You will probably go to the spit first, where you will be greeted by another ranger. Hang out at this location for a while and you will likely see some of the bears fishing in the stream or out by the beach. They might even wander right by you to head back into the forest. This ranger will have a pair of binoculars/scope for you to see even closer. You may want to head back to the beach to eat a snack or lunch before heading to the tower. (The rangers will tell you exactly where you can eat.)

Next head to my favorite viewing area: the tower, which is a raised platform over a salmon stream. You will follow a path through the forest for about a mile before you reach the platform. Be on the lookout, as you may cross paths with one of the bears along the way! Make noise around the corners as you hike and stick with your group. Don't be dismayed if there are no bears at the stream when you arrive. Just wait it out for a little while and I'm sure they will appear! The streams are chock-full of salmon! It's so fun to watch the bears fishing and wandering through the waters. Notice how much more efficient the older bears are at catching fish, while the younger ones will run through the stream, scaring all the fish away!

Enjoy both viewing areas throughout the day and make sure to ask the rangers any questions you might have. They know so much about the bears and the area! I recommend bringing a lunch and some snacks to eat on the beach throughout the day. I lucked out with a great sunny day and loved cooking up dinner while basking in the Alaskan sun on the beach!

When it's time for your departure, head back to the beach to watch your plane fly in and land on the water. Wade back through the water and enjoy the short plane ride back to Juneau while reminiscing about the unique adventure you just experienced!

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