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Lake Clark Bear Viewing Tours: The Best Place to Photograph Bears

In News Article by Matt Shetzer

Memories from a bear guide – Belle Joeckel

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve at Silver Salmon Creek

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Belle at her office

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is an astounding 4 million acres of vast, untouched wilderness. It’s what makes Lake Clark bear viewing tours so special.

Located on the Alaska Peninsula southwest of Anchorage, the park was founded to protect and preserve the many lakes and rivers vital to the Bristol Bay red salmon fisheries.

Most of the park’s land is designated to native operations and wilderness.

There is something for everyone at Lake Clark National Park and Silver Salmon Creek.
Whether it is photographing wildlife, or the remote experience, it will keep you longing to come back for more.Belle Joeckel - Alaskan Bear Guide
With that, Lake Clark National Park has become one of the world’s premier spots for bear watching and is a spectacluar location for Bear Photo Tours!

The Silver Salmon Creek area of the park is located on the Cook Inlet, at the base of the Iliamna volcano.

This area gets its name from the silver salmon or coho salmon that makes its way to the lake every summer up the creek, providing action for the Bear Photo Tours!

History of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve at Silver Salmon Creek

In the 1950’s settlers in Alaska were offered homesteads of 160 acres in remote areas. The only requirement was for them to work the land, for example, trapping, farming, hunting, etc. The first resident of the Silver Salmon Creek area was a man named Joe Munger.

He first came to Silver Salmon creek in the early 1950’s with his brother. They were dropped off by a plane with just a tent and a few other necessities in their packs. Joe Munger lived out of his tent for a few years before he built his cabin. Joe Munger homesteaded 160 acres in 1960 where he worked the land around him by primarily trapping in the winter and fishing in the summer. He trapped hundreds of beavers for their pelts. Beaver wasn’t the only animal he trapped, he also trapped marten, fox, wolverine, and lynx.

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Spending the days with the beautiful bears

Joe eventually married a woman named Sally Crouse. He brought her out to his homestead and expanded on his cabin to make it more comfortable for her. Joe and Sally had fishing cabins along the coast of the Cook Inlet, including Chisik Island just a few miles north of Silver Salmon Creek.

Their fishing operation consisted of them using set nets to catch the silver and red salmon swimming along the shore. Set nets are long nets that are pulled out into the water perpendicular to the beach. In order to get the nets out into the water a pully system is used. One end is tied to the hitch of a car and the other is anchored to a wooden post. The car drives up the beach allowing for the net to go into the water. Today ATV’s are used to pull the nets out into the water. However, you can still find the old cars abandoned in the area.

During this time in the 1960’s there was another man who was known as the flying doctor and nick named “Doc.” Doc Isaak was a licensed doctor in the southcentral region of Alaska. What made him different was that he would not use a car to do house calls, but he would fly his bush plane to reach people in remote areas. Doc met Joe Munger by doing a house call in the Silver Salmon Creek area. A friendship was started between the two of them which led to Joe selling a portion of his land to Doc.

Other portions of Joe’s land were eventually divided up and sold. When Lake Clark became a park in 1980 these parcels of land were grandfathered in, the land is still privately owned by the residents which allows for them to build and create businesses on the land if they desire.

The Alaska Homestead Lodge – Lake Clark National Park and Preserve at Silver Salmon Creek

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The lodge with large gardens out back. The original homestead is the small part of the lodge below the balcony in the center of the image.

One lodge was created around the original homestead created by Joe Munger. The Alaska Homestead Lodge has the original structure and interior of the homestead but has been updated. The lodge has built new structures to house guests, settings for group presentations and meetings, a common area, and more.

To this day, Silver Salmon Creek is off the electrical grid. The lodge’s primary power source is solar energy.

The owners and staff of the lodge still live off the land. During the salmon runs you will find them setting nets out on the beach to catch fresh salmon for meals.

There is a greenhouse on the property that produces fresh vegetables and herbs. You will also find a lush garden filled with seasonal treats that the chef will pick from hours before serving. During the right time of the season, foraging for different wild berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and salmon berries, is ripe.

The lodge owners still fly to the nearest town once a week and pick up other supplies and food not easily acquired off the land.

An Exceptional Bear Photo Tour opportunity!

The lodge was created to provide remote Alaskan experiences for visiting tourists, researchers, and adventurers. The main activities provided by the lodge are fishing, clamming, hiking, and the most popular, bear watching.

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Guiding the bear photo tours with ATV support.

What makes Silver Salmon Creek a unique bear photo tour opportunity are thanks to 3 unique features:

  • The habituated behavior of the bears. Since the park’s inception, all hunting was stopped in the park. Bears slowly started making their way out in the open because the threat of hunters had subsided. Bears slowly learned that people were not going to be a threat.
  • While viewing bears in this area, the guides make sure that we are a neutral presence to the bears, not impacting them in any way. Since the bears do not see people as a threat it allows for us to stay near to them and watch them in their natural habitat doing natural behaviors!
  • The bears are able to stay in this 10 miles stretch of land because they don’t have to go far through out the season to find the foods they need to survive.
  • Another big factor in the exceptional bear watching at Silver Salmon Creek is the great amount of food sources available. When the bears emerge from the den in the early spring they come down to the sedge flats that surround the area. This is one of their primary food sources in the early summer. The sedge grasses sustain the bears when the tide is not right for clamming. Once the tide is low, the bears can smell the mud on the flats being exposed and start to make their way out to the beach. The bears dig up clams and repeat this process every day until the wild berries ripen in the forest.
  • Toward the end of summer, the sedge grasses that were once a main staple in their diet start to dry up. During this time, the bears start making their way over to the Silver Salmon Creek in search of coho salmon. Once the salmon start running the bears spend most of their day around the creek, they lose interest in the clams and the grass and focus on the salmon.

Memories from a Bear Photo Tour Guide

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Belle enjoying the long summer days

I have spent four incredible summers working in the Silver Salmon Creek area as a professional guide, for Bear photo tours and bear viewing. Just when I think I have seen it all, I see something new! One of my favorite moments to witness is when the new spring cubs show up in the summer. They are so nervous and unsure of their surroundings. It is a wonderful time to see them standing up on their tiny hind legs.
Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek is an extremely special place that touches every person. Belle Joeckel

One of my most memorable times, I witnessed a mother cooling off in the creek and one of her cubs decided to climb up on top of her and stand up on all four legs on her head! What a sight!

If you visit Silver Salmon Creek you can expect to see more than just coastal brown bears, there are eagles, foxes, black bears, and if you are lucky, wolves.

I have witnessed guests watching a bright orange sunrise and cry because it is so beautiful. I have had guests who have saved money for years to have the opportunity to witness a bear in its natural habitat playing with and nursing her cubs.


Ready for the best wildlife photography trip?

At Shetzer’s Photography, we offer world class experiences on our inspirational Bear Photo Tours. Stay at the historic Alaska Homestead Lodge, eating the freshest foods nature has to offer, and safely immersing in the beautiful backcountry.

Choosing the peak moments in the season, we run two special photography workshops each year. Teaming up with top professionals in local knowledge and accommodations, you enjoy an amazing trip to take those phenomenal nature images and create some lasting memories of your own.

See the wilderness at its wildest! Register for our Bear Photo Tour today!

Lake Clark Bear Viewing Tours: The Best Place to Photograph Bears was last modified: March 26th, 2024 by Matt Shetzer