Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What kind of clothing should we bring?

It is best to plan on having layers of clothing. The temperature typically ranges from 30 to 50 F (0-10 C) in the spring and fall, and 40 to 70 F (5-20 C) in the summer (July and August) with dynamic weather changes being the norm year round. You can expect it be windy and wet for at least part of your stay. You should plan for times when you are doing some mild hiking as well as long periods of standing or sitting while watching bears. An outer layer of breathable, waterproof pants, jacket, and hat is ideal.  Light gloves are great for keeping the bugs at bay and in the fall, thicker gloves kill the chill.  Long sleeve shirts and pants are necessary – regardless of how warm it may get, shorts are never appropriate in this environment.  It is also important to have comfortable waterproof walking boots. While you are back at camp, plan on wearing casual, comfortable clothes and shoes.

Do I need to bring rain gear and rubber boots?

We urge you to bring your own raingear that is comfortable and appropriate for Kodiak’s maritime climate.  Knee-high rubber boots that fit well and allow for comfortable walking on uneven terrain are also recommended.  We also have a limited supply of raingear and boots at the KBBC that you are welcome to use during your stay.

What kind of food is served?

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served family style in the lodge.  Our lead cook is famous for her Alaskan fare which highlights locally caught salmon and halibut with fresh vegetables as well as her creative and decadent desserts.  Most entrees are traditional American foods that usually include beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, potatoes or rice, and bread.  We strive to accommodate any dietary restrictions you may have, but please be aware and remember that we have only have one cook and we are a long, long way from the nearest grocery store!

IMPORTANT:  If you have dietary restrictions required by a medical condition or concern, please let us know well in advance of your arrival so that we can do our best to plan & prepare accordingly. We will do our best to accommodate all other dietary restrictions based upon personal choice.

Are the bugs bad?

Throughout the summer and fall while in the field bear viewing you can expect plentiful whitesock biting flies and biting gnats (no-see-ums). There are some mosquitoes but not nearly in the numbers as the whitesocks and no-see-ums. Their tenacity and abundance vary with wind and other weather conditions. The more wind we have the less bugs we have.  Insect pests are much less numerous around the Kodiak Brown Bear Center (KBBC) campus. We have insect repellent (DEET) and bug head-nets you are welcome to use, but we recommended you bring your own favorite insect repellant and/or nets.

Are there any dangerous plants?

The Karluk Lake area has some plants that you should beware of.  Our staff will point them out to you while you are in the field.

  • Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum), locally known as Pushki”, is the most troublesome plant. It grows throughout the area to be over 8’ (2.5m) tall and has broad compound leaves.  Its juice, especially on sunny days, causes skin irritation, the severity of which depends on the person.  Some folks have no reaction while others develop blistering rashes.
  • Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) are abundant along river banks, and as their name implies, you really do not want to brush against them.  The pain they inflict if you disturb their stem or leaves is similar to a mild bee sting.
  • Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) fruits are wonderfully delicious to both people and bears and Nootka Roses (Rosa nutkana) have beautiful pink flowers and nutritious rose hips, but the stems of both of these plants are armored with spines.  While not as irritable as nettles, they can still be a pain.
  • Baneberry (Actaea argute), also known as “doll’s eyes”, is an herbaceous plant that is common around Karluk Lake.  Its white or red berries grow off from the central stalk in the late summer.  Those berries are beautiful but deadly, so take pictures, and do not touch.
  • Monkshood (Aconitum delphiniifolium) has beautiful purple flowers that are also great to photograph, but like the baneberries they can be dangerous if you touch them.  This plant was used by ancient Alutiiq people to paralyze and capture whales.

What medical facilities are available? 

Each of our field staff is trained in advanced first aid, and we have a comprehensive medical kit at camp and in the boat, including AEDs. We also carry basic first aid equipment in the field as well as a satellite phone, EPRIB and VHF radio.  The nearest hospital is in Kodiak city, a 45 minute flight away. For most medical situations that require treatment we would call a floatplane for transport.  For medical emergencies the US Coast Guard has med-evac helicopters on-call 24/7 at their Kodiak base and they are familiar with our location and helipad.

IMPORTANT:  If you have any medical or physical restrictions or special requirements, please let us know well in advance of your arrival so that we can plan accordingly.  Make sure to bring all medications you may need, including some extra in case you are weathered-in for a couple extra days.  If you use insulin or other injectable drugs, let us know so that we can provide you with a Sharps container in your cabin.

What if we have some disabilities and can’t walk very much?

The KBBC campus is on a fairly level grade with groomed walkways, but it is not built to ADA accessibility standards. Our lodge and cabins are not handicap accessible.  We provide a variety of bear viewing opportunities and our programs are designed to accommodate guests with varying degrees of physical conditioning and capabilities.  If you cannot walk to the bear viewing areas, you can watch bears from our boat or relax at the KBBC campus and look for them with our spotting scope.

Do cell phones work at the KBBC?

There is no cellular service at the KBBC campus on Karluk Lake.  We do have internet service at the camp, so you can receive email and text messages on your cell through our Wi-Fi network. We also have regular phone service available at the lodge. That service is free for our guests for calls within the US.

Do you have Internet services available for guests? 

Free wireless internet can be accessed throughout the KBBC campus, including the guest cabins.

Are there any additional costs that may be incurred while at the KBBC? 

Our prices are all inclusive except for staff gratuities.  There are no hidden or additional costs, unless you book an “add-on” trip to bear view in another location.

Are alcoholic beverages allowed at the KBBC?

The KBBC does not provide alcoholic beverages, but guests are welcome to bring their own. Your van driver will take you to a liquor store in Kodiak city prior to departure, if you would like.

How many guests do you have at one time?

We purposely limit our guest size to 6 persons at a time so we can provide you with a safe, high quality and personalized “bear viewing experience like no other” and, to have as minimal impact upon the bears, their natural behavior and environment as possible to show respect for the bears and be accepted in their presence.

Can we bring our kids to the KBBC?

Our guided bear viewing program has been specifically designed for adults.  We do not have recreational facilities for children on the KBBC campus.  We have noted at other bear viewing operations that many children are not comfortable staying still and quiet while bear viewing for hours and have observed instances where children have disrupted the experiences of other guests.  Consequently, we restrict our clientele to adults only.  If you have a strong desire to bring your children we may be able to accommodate your request upon approval by the General Manager and your party books all 6 slots for the given time period.

Is there safe drinking water?

Yes. The KBBC has a state-of-the-art fresh water processing facility capable of producing 10,000 gal/day. The purity and taste of our water is renowned by our guests. We also provide purified, unchlorinated drinking water in a cooler in the lodge. Our fresh water system is periodically tested and consistently exceeds the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation requirements for human consumption. Without question, we have some of the purist and best tasting water on the planet!

 Are there laundry facilities?

Yes. We have commercial washers and dryers for staff use. If you need to wash and/or dry any clothing items please let us know and we’ll be glad to take care of it for you or let you use the facilities, whichever you prefer.

Are there things to do other than bear viewing?

The opportunity to see a Kodiak bear is often what draws guests to the KBBC initially, but once they get here they realize there are many other ways to spend their time.  First and foremost, you are on holiday and it is time to relax.  You always have the option of staying in your cabin or relaxing around the lodge – there is no pressure to do anything while you are our guest.

Other Activities Include:

  • Bird watching and photography, both on the campus and in the field.
  • Observing and photographing other animals (fox, otter, deer) and plants.
  • Learning more about the Alutiiq culture and native archeological sites.
  • Kayaking on Karluk Lake near Camp Island – Guide Required
  • Sport fishing from the dock or around Karluk Lake (all fishing is catch-and-release).
  • Hiking around Camp Island – Guide Required
  • Taking a banya which is traditional native Alutiiq sauna/steam bath.
  • Swimming in the lake (only for those who are tough and/or crazy enough – it’s a COLD lake!)
  • Hanging out with old and new friends and swapping stories over good food, drink and a campfire.

 

What is your reservation and cancellation policy?

Our reservation and cancellation policy can be found under the “Reservations” tab on our website.

Travel Questions

How do I get to the KBBC?

The KBBC can only be accessed by float plane from Kodiak city.  The price of the round trip flight from Kodiak to the KBBC is included in our published rates. When you arrive in Kodiak you will be met by a representative of one of our air taxi services for the scenic 45 minute flight to the Karluk Lake.

Are the float planes safe and comfortable? 

The planes we use to access the KBBC are two of the most reliable and venerable workhorses in Alaska aviation – the Dehavilland Beaver and the Cessna 206.  Our bush pilots are identical twin brothers who were born and raised in the Kodiak aviation community. They are very experienced and seasoned pilots with an intimate knowledge of Kodiak’s constantly changing weather patterns.  The interiors of the planes are similar in size to an 8-passenger van, so it’s probably smaller than what you are used to, but the views are spectacular.  You have to climb a small ladder about 4’ (1m) to get into the plane from its float. Both planes are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and carry survival, floatation and emergency survival gear.

Is there a weight and luggage limit when flying in the float plane? 

Guests are limited to 50 lbs. (22 kg) per person on the floatplane.  If you have more luggage beyond the limit, the air taxi service provides a secure place for you to store it in Kodiak city.

What happens if we are weathered-in?

Safety is our primary consideration, so if weather conditions are not flyable your travel may be delayed.

If weather prevents you from getting into Kodiak or the KBBC, our Kodiak staff will assist you in finding lodging. The KBBC does not cover expenses due to weather delays.

If you are not able to leave KBBC due to weather delays, you will be our guest and not be charged anything extra for your extended stay.

Should I buy travel insurance? 

We highly encourage and recommend guests purchase separate trip insurance in case of weather delays, flight connections and other conditions that may arise. Weather delays are not uncommon due to Kodiak’s maritime climate.

What can I expect when I get to Kodiak and the KBBC?

 Arrival:

On the day you arrive in Kodiak city, a representative from our air taxi service will meet your flight at the airport and assist you with your luggage (look for someone in a black hat – they are the good guys).  We will provide ground transportation to the float plane base, about 4 miles (6 km) from the main airport.  If you want, they can make a stop at a local store to pick up forgotten items or alcoholic beverages.

After a 45 minute flight you will be greeted by our staff at the KBBC Campus.  We’ll give you a quick briefing, get you situated in your private cabin and have lunch set up for you in the lodge.  We will then try to get you out for some quick bear viewing during your first afternoon.

Your private guest cabin will have 24 hour electricity, full bathroom facilities with hot/cold running water, an oil heater, towels & toiletries, a queen bed and a twin bed, wireless internet access, and a deck overlooking the Karluk Lake.  If you need access to a refrigerator or a hair dryer, let us know and we will assist you.

Your daily schedule will vary, depending on bear activities and weather.  A typical day will consist of two outings, morning and afternoon.  During these outings, you will receive a briefing from your guide, and then you will board our catamaran which will take you to one of our bear viewing locations.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided each day of your stay.  Coffee, tea, water and hot chocolate are always available in the galley.  Please remember to inform us before you arrive of any medical and/or dietary restrictions they you have so we can accommodate your needs to the best of our abilities.

Departure:

On the last morning of your stay, we will ask that you prepare for departure in the morning.  After breakfast, we will collect your bags and put them into our ready-room before going out for one last field trip and returning to the KBBC for lunch. Our float plane arrives shortly after lunch for your flight back to Kodiak.

When you arrive back in Kodiak ground transportation is provided to the airport for your connecting flight or hotel or B&B if you are extending your stay in Kodiak.

Bear Viewing Questions

When is the best time to see bears near the KBBC? 

Bears live in the immediate vicinity of the KBBC year round.  The best time to see them is when they are attracted to the shores of Karluk Lake to pursue the red (sockeye) salmon that spawn in the tributaries and along the shore.  This is typically from mid-August to mid-October.

How many bears can I expect to see?

The Karluk basin, where the KBBC is located, has one of the highest concentration of bears on Kodiak Island. It also has a lot of places for the bears to hide.  The number of bears you will see during your trip is dependent on a variety of factors including the time of year, the strength of the salmon run, and the size of the berry crop. During the peak season (mid-August to mid-October) you may see up to dozens of bears, some of which may come very close.  During other times of the year the number of bear observations will be lower.

Can you guarantee that I will see bears?

Wildlife viewing in a natural setting like the KBBC is never a guaranteed endeavor.  Because we are located on Camp Island in the middle of Karluk Lake (36 mi2; 9300 ha), and we have exclusive and proprietary access to over 112,000 acres (45,000 ha) that are privately owned and historically known to contain the highest concentrations of bears on the island, your chances of seeing bears are excellent. We also have experienced staff that have intimate knowledge of the bears’ habits who will guide you into the best locations to see bears.  Since our inception 5 years ago, every KBBC guest has seen bears during their stay.

How do you view bears?

Our primary ways of getting to where we can watch bears are by our 30’ catamaran boat and short hikes.  All trips are guided and there are 4 levels of activity that we offer:

Level 1 – Little to no walking.  Bears can sometimes be watched by spotting scope from the deck of your cabin or the lodge or they may be walking around the campus itself.  The usual way of viewing at this level is from the comfort of our catamaran.  Every few days or so we will slowly cruise the shore of the lake and find bears either on the shore or on the hillsides.  Plan on having a good telephoto lens to capture images of bears during these trips, but you can be guaranteed to be warm and dry and have plenty of good coffee during your trip.

Level 2 – Short – ½ mile hike (~1 km) over open and level ground with uneven trails. Sitting or standing for several hours along bear feeding areas.  This is our most common technique as we take a short boat ride to Thumb River and walk to the edge of the river to watch bears catching salmon.  The best time for this is from mid-August through late September.  Bears are observed at both close and far distances.

Level 3 – Medium – 1½ mile hike (~2 km) over level but brushy and uneven trails and sitting or standing for several hours or more along bear feeding areas.  In the late fall bears congregate at the outlet of Karluk Lake and along upper Karluk River. To get there we take a 30 minute boat ride from the KBBC and spend the day hiking and watching.  We have a 12’x40’ pan abode cedar cabin nearby, so there is an opportunity to take a break to have lunch, warm up and rest if desired. Bears are observed at both close and far distances.

Level 4 – Long – Walking up to several miles over undeveloped bear trails in moderate terrain and observing bears and other wildlife opportunistically.  These may be trips to O’Malley River or up a ridgeline near camp.  Because these trips are more strenuous and require more oversight by the guides, we only offer them when specifically requested.

How safe is bear viewing?

While any excursion into wilderness Alaska has inherent risks, we have done our utmost to ensure your safety.  Our pilots are experienced locals and their aircraft are inspected regularly by the FAA.  Our boats and captains are USCG certified, comfortable, seaworthy and equipped with survival equipment.  Our facilities are designed and maintained with comfort and safety in mind.  When you are out in the field with our guides they carry communications, first aid equipment and they are armed with pepper spray and appropriate firearms.  The most important and effective weapon in the field is our guides’ knowledge of bears and their environment. By their nature, Kodiak bears are potentially dangerous but they are mostly docile creatures.  There has only been one person killed by a bear on Kodiak in the past 90 years.  There are people hurt by bears occasionally (about once every other year), but almost all of those involve hunters or bears being startled.  Actual attacks on groups of bear viewers are exceedingly rare. Our highly trained and experienced guides coupled with our bear viewing protocol and bear etiquette procedures have been specially designed to ensure your safety and provide a safe and memorable experience.

Are there other places we can go to watch bears?

We can arrange for you to go on a “day trip” to Katmai National Park to see bears in a different habitat.  A typical trip will begin with one of our air charter pilots picking you up mid-morning at the KBBC for a half hour flight over Shelikof Strait to the Pacific coast of Katmai.  During your trip you will see incredible scenery, glaciers, volcanoes and other marine and land wildlife.  You will land at a place where bears are feeding on clams, sedges or salmon.  Your guide will take you to areas where you can safely watch and photograph the bears.  After a few hours you will be taken to a new spot for a scenic picnic lunch before heading back to the KBBC in the late afternoon.

Another “add on” trip is a quick 10 minute flight to the Frazer Fish Pass. This is a fish ladder and research station for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  You will land on Frazer Lake and a guide will walk with you on a tractor trail about a half mile to the site where you’ll get a brief tour of the operation.  Bears congregate in front of the fish ladder/weir in hopes of making an easy catch, and there is a bear viewing pad nearby to watch and photograph them.  The amount of time you spend here is dependent on how active the bears are.

Each of these trips is an “add-on” at an additional cost to your reservation with KBBC and is dependent on the availability of aircraft, weather and the number of people who want to participate.

What do you mean by “A Bear Experience Like No Other”?

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 Koniag, Inc. the Kodiak-area Regional Native Corporation and 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 literally 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 into 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 luxurious 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 – All of our staff at the KBBC campus was either born or raised on Kodiak, or has decades of experience on the Kodiak archipelago. We 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 ensures your visit with us will be safe, fulfilling and memorable by providing you with a rare and unique opportunity to take a glimpse into 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 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, Inc.’s core values require that we be good stewards of this important resource.  Consequently, we do everything we can to minimize adverse impacts to the land and 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 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”.

 Where can I learn more about Kodiak bears?

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has comprehensive information on brown bears

(http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=brownbear.main), including those living on Kodiak

(http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=brownbear.trivia).

If you have specific questions, feel free to contact our science advisor, Dr. Larry Van Daele, at larry@kodiakbearcenter.com