Part of the Alaskan experience
Come Share the Experience
World famous bears and scenery
The Kodiak Brown Bear Center offers a true Alaskan bear viewing experience, without boardwalks or large groups of tourists.
There are many places around the world to go bear viewing. You can even enjoy some of those places from the comfort of your own home by watching remote web-cams. We believe the Kodiak Brown Bear Center offers a very unique and one-of-a-kind bear experience for three reasons:
Exclusivity – The entire northern half of Karluk Lake and all of the lands adjacent to the Karluk River representing approximately 112,000 acres (45,000 ha) are owned and managed by the Kodiak-area Regional Native corporation Koniag, Incorporated, the parent company of the KBBC. There are no roads or private cabins on these lands. No jet skis or water skiers. When you are our guest, you have exclusive and proprietary access to those lands so you can enjoy the bears in their natural setting with minimal human interference. The KBBC campus is located on a remote island on the remote island of Kodiak. Koniag’s lands are surrounded by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and our only neighbors are Refuge managers and researchers who occasionally fly in to their administrative cabins adjacent to our campus. We have purposely limited our guest size to 6 persons at a time so we can provide you with a personal, high quality bear viewing experience like no other. Your high quality private cabin offers all the amenities and comforts of home. You can choose to stay in communication with the outside world or insulate yourself from it altogether during your stay.
Knowledge – Everyone on our staff at the KBBC campus was either born or raised on Kodiak, or has decades of experience on the Kodiak archipelago. All of us have an intimate knowledge of the island, its plants, animals, history and its unique Native Alutiiq culture. We have a strong desire and passion to share that knowledge with you and show you the things we find exciting and wonderful every day. This knowledge assures your visit with us will be safe, fulfilling and memorable by providing you with a rare and unique opportunity to glimpse the world as the legendary Kodiak Brown Bear sees it.
Respect – The Karluk basin is the ancestral home of the native Alutiiq people and the place where direct relatives of many of our staff lived and gathered from the land for the past 7,000 years. It is also a place where the Kodiak bears can continue living in an untarnished environment as they have for millennia. We feel this place is sacred and deserves our utmost respect and care. Koniag, Incorporated’s core values require that we be good stewards of this important resource. Consequently, we do everything we can to minimize adverse impacts on the land and on the animals. When we are in the field we strive to follow the same trails and stay quiet and in groups so that we do not startle bears. We will not “push” bears just for a better look or photo. We will leave an area just as quietly as we entered it. An old Alutiiq saying teaches us that “if you respect the bear, the bear will respect you”.
Bear Viewing Locations
From the Kodiak Brown Bear Center on Camp Island, you will embark on a short boat ride to one of our bear viewing locations.
Each bear viewing location offers you a unique glimpse into the life of these bears and highlights the grandeur of Kodiak Island.
With our highly trained and experienced guides, you will be immersed into the bear’s environment to observe, study, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for these legendary bears.
We take no more than six clients at a time to one of our bear viewing locations. This ensures our clients will have the best possible bear viewing experience while minimizing the impact and disturbance to the bears.
The access point for the Thumb River viewing area is a mere five minute boat ride from our facilities on Camp Island. The two viewing areas are a short walk away – 200 yards (180 m) to the first, and 300 yards (275 m) to the second. Our trail is an unimproved winding game trail that is uneven at times, but maintains a relatively constant level grade. The viewing area in the Thumb River is among our favorites for bear viewing.
Our two viewing locations at the Thumb River are strategically placed on elevated bluffs overlooking the river that affords the best vantage point for bear viewers, while remaining a respectful distance from the bears fishing and foraging below.
The O’Malley River area is at the southern tip of Karluk Lake, about a 30 minute journey by boat from Camp Island. O’Malley River is a short shallow river between two major salmon spawning lakes, and provides excellent feeding prospects for bears. At its peak in the 1990s, biologists counted over a hundred bears using the area once. In the past several years bear numbers have been much lower due to a variety of factors, but during the past couple years viewing opportunities have been improving.
The O’Malley River bear feeding area is the only part of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge that is closed to public use during the summer. In 2011, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge awarded the Kodiak Brown Bear Center the only special use permit for O’Malley, which granted us the exclusive right to bring our clients into this closed area to share with them the beauty and significance of this river that is so important to bears from across the southern part of Kodiak. O’Malley is one of our most challenging bear viewing sites to visit due to rugged, brushy and uneven trails. We only go into the area when we know we can do so without disturbing the bears and when we have clients who have back-country hiking experience and are comfortable with moderate/difficult access conditions.
A journey to our viewing location at the headwaters of the Karluk River is a trip back in time. Located ¾ of a mile (1.4 km) from the outlet of Karluk Lake, our bear viewing area at the Outlet is located on a high bluff directly overlooking a series of ancient stone fish weirs constructed by our Alutiiq forefathers hundreds of years ago.
These stone weirs still attract large schools of salmon migrating up the Karluk River. Though humans no longer use them, the bears quickly learned the utility of these weirs for trapping fish and have become proficient in their use to harvest fish.
The abundance of thousands of salmon in easily-accessible waters entices bears from across southwest Kodiak Island to make the journey to the rich headwaters of the Karluk River. Our viewing area is located adjacent to one of the bears’ major access points to the river. As with our other viewing locations, the Outlet viewing area is placed a respectful distance away from areas with high bear activity to minimize our impact upon them, while still affording magnificent viewing and photographic opportunities for our clients.
Bears use the shoreline of Karluk Lake as both a travel corridor and a place to catch salmon working their way into streams or spawning in the lake itself. Although they have an uncanny ability to disappear into thick grass or shrubs when they are not on the shore, it is possible to watch them from the lake. Our usual way doing is from the comfort of our catamaran. Every couple days or so we will slowly cruise around the entire lake and find bears either on the shore or on the hillsides. This is also a good time to see birds, deer, and otters, and to learn more about the history of the lake and the people who have used it for millennia. Plan on having a good telephoto lens to capture images of bears during these trips, and you are guaranteed to be warm and dry and have plenty of good coffee during your trip.
Our bear viewing locations each have a different level of difficulty to access.
Based upon your physical condition and abilities, you will be ushered to one of our bear viewing sites.