highlights from Homer
We loved all of our time in Homer… but the the highlight was (by far) our bear viewing excursion.
Like most things, we had done very little to no research on this (been kind distracted buying a boat), but somehow happened into the office of Alaska Bear Adventures almost as soon as we entered town. We knew we wanted to go on a bear tour but generally dislike tours to begin with and had read about the sheer numbers of people and how they usually seemed to end up being a hoard of tourists crammed onto a single platform to stare at bears before being forced to move on for the next group. It simply didn't sound like our cup of tea. We’ve somehow had great success historically with the very few tours we’ve booked, and our baseline is now almost unfairly high.
ABA however brought something new to the table. Sure, they would take us to the falls and allow us to stand on the platform with everyone else if we wanted, but they also had another option. A new direction and a game changer in the industry. The owner of the company (who also happened to be our float plane pilot, and father to our guide), had apparently flown for years to the area noting how the bears always hung out in the flats where it was impossible to get to them.
The tides here can change by as much as 30’ in 6hours, so while it seems easy enough to land on a beach and walk out to encounter/watch the bears, it would almost certainly result in people being stuck at sea as tides rose around them. This alone limits the tours to the beaches and the streams on either side, and to hoping for a chance to run into bears on their way to or from the flats.
Apparently the idea finally occurred to him to buy an airboat and solve the access problem in the same way that tour operators in the florida everglade have for years. Their creativity was our gain. We hopped on a float plane (an awesome bonus of the tour as we got a stellar view of the surrounding bay, mountains and volcanoes from above) and then landed on the beach and loaded our small group of 4 onto the airboat. As we looked across the bay I assumed we were in for a 20-30 minute ride around the bay until we got to (hopefully) see some bears clamming and fishing on the other side.
We slowly came to a stop a safe distance away and as our eyes darted around the flats there were 5 maybe 6 bears all in easy viewing distance of us. Beyond those, but still visible to the naked eye were at least another 6-8. It was spectacular. We watched the bear walk by, some digging for clams, other standing in knee deep water and staring…waiting for a salmon to show itself before pouncing. It was too good to be true, but after 10-15 minutes of watching we would move on to another spot and another group of bears, continuing the experience. They barely seemed to know or care that we were even there. Curious of us, yes, but in no way scared off or impacted by our visit at all.
Our third stop was in front of a glacier, for that apparently coveted “bear in front of a glacier” shot. As always, we are traveling with nothing but our iPhone and a couple moment lenses…so the shot didn’t exactly pan out for us as well as the guide or professional photographer sitting behind us in the boat with their gigantic zoom lenses, but as we sat and watched a mom and her cubs came out from the grasslands in the distance, marched across the flats, had a mini standoff with a much larger bear and then as if on cue, proceeded to walk in a circle all the way around our boat.
When they passed the stern of the boat they couldn’t have been more than 8-10’ away… almost as if mama bear had intentionally brought her cubs over for a closer look before returning back to the grasses they came from originally. Our guide explained that in fact, mama bear found us less threatening than the other bear, which is why she turned in our direction.
It was crazy! Getting that close of a look at these bears with nothing in between us and them. Words cant really describe, but suffice to say it made us feel very small, and humbled by their presence and extremely lucky that we got to have the experience.
If you find yourself in Homer and looking to take a bear watching tour- I would highly recommend at least checking in with Alaska Bear Adventures. The team was awesome, we always feel good giving money to a family run business, and the experience couldn’t have been any better (or at least i don’t know how it could have been).
After taking in our fill of the bears the float plane returns and took us back to Homer, with a few wildlife sightings along the way (including a raft of otter and a small island teeming seal lions). Back at camp we toasted an awesome day, and sat around the fire reminiscing about our day with the bears.