Coastal grizzly brown bear standing by the water at hallo flats alaska
Coastal grizzly bear walking along the water in Alaska with the Ursus small ship in the background.
Bald eagle perched on a tree limb with blue Alaska water behind.
Grizzly bear cub laying in the green grass and playing with a tree limb in it's mouth.
Coastal grizzly bear with her three cubs close by along the river in Alaska.
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North America Alaska Cruise

The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter

Many travelers come to Alaska expecting to see Alaska’s enormous brown bears lumbering over tidal flats, feasting on salmon and tending to their frisky cubs. But the fact is, very few will. This 8- or 10-day Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter is aptly named because small groups of only 8 passengers journey by floatplane and aboard the small ship Ursus into the truly bear-rich wilderness of Katmai National Park.

First, a quick Alaska bear primer: grizzly bears and brown bears are the same species (Ursus arctos), but brown bears are generally considered as those who have access to coastal food resources like salmon, while grizzly bears live farther inland and typically do not have access to such marine-derived cuisine.

The brown bears—or coastal grizzlies as they’re often called—encountered on this Alaska cruise are the largest in the world, living in the remote reaches of Katmai National Park, far from any cruise ship or tour bus route. And these are the months they will be feeding on summer’s bounty of spawning salmon. This is as up close and personal as you’ll ever safely get with wild bears! Knowledgeable guides and an extremely small group size allow guests to approach the bears without disturbing them.

Home base is the converted fishing and research ship Ursus, ideal for exploring the scenic wilderness waterways of Katmai National Park. At only 8 guests, she’s one of our favorites for private Alaska yacht charters. By sleeping aboard a small ship each night, the route can be flexible, following the bears from bay to bay. Go truly remote: you can’t get here by road or traditional cruise ship!

Read on for details about this trip, or learn more about AdventureSmith’s Alaska cruises.



Itinerary

The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter Itinerary

The 8-day cruise begins and ends in Kodiak, with an included pre- and post-cruise hotel night, day boat tour of Kodiak Island, and then a scenic floatplane flight to and from the Ursus.

The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter route map from Kodiak to Katmai National Park.
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Day 1
Arrive Kodiak, Alaska

On arrival in Kodiak, be transferred to the hotel by a local guide who points out sights along the way. Depending on arrival time, you may have free time to explore some of Kodiak’s Russian and Native heritage this afternoon. Options include the Baranov Museum, Alutiiq Museum, Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. All are centrally located in the compact town of Kodiak that surrounds St. Paul’s Harbor. Your grizzly adventure officially begins this evening with an informal welcome dinner and orientation hosted by the local guide.

Accommodations

Kodiak Inn

Meals

dinner

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Day 2
Kodiak Island Wildlife Day Cruise

While Katmai’s grizzlies will be the main focus, Kodiak Island is an impressive wildlife destination in its own right. Today, explore a sampler of its coastal waters on a day-long private boat trip. A cruise among Kodiak’s secluded bays and rocky shorelines, past tidal pools and kittiwake rookeries, may reveal sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, sea lions and sometimes humpback and fin whales. Kodiak is remote, not often visited by travelers to Alaska, and the sense of an intimate encounter with nature is palpable as the boat glides through rockbound coves and islands. Spend time touring historic Kodiak, with a mix of activities that may include a walk through the coastal rain forest at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, a fisheries research center with aquarium and touch tank, or a drive up Pillar Mountain for sweeping views over the town and sea, when weather permits.

Accommodations

Kodiak Inn

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Day 3
Floatplane to Katmai & Embark

The day has arrived to see the bears! Using a classically Alaskan means of transport: a floatplane journey from Kodiak to Katmai to meet the privately chartered ship, Ursus. The plan is to fly out late morning, but timing is flexible in the event of weather delays, in which case stay and explore a bit more of Kodiak until the clouds lift. Once on board the plane, fly west over Kodiak’s steep green mountains and across Shelikof Strait to the Katmai Peninsula. The pilot is in radio contact with the Ursus, and soon the plane is taxiing along the water to pull up alongside. Exit the plane and embark the vessel that will be your floating home for the next several days.

The 73-foot Ursus was built as a deep-sea fishing boat called Time Bandit, which navigated the stormy Bering Sea in pursuit of the lucrative king crab catch. Its successor, the second Time Bandit, gained fame in the Discovery Channel TV series “Deadliest Catch.” The original boat was later transitioned for research use by the National Park Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since retrofitted for custom tourism charters, this sturdy veteran of wild Alaskan waters now offers comfortable accommodations in this remote marine wilderness. The Ursus (which means “bear” in Latin) cruises slowly along the coast, where coastal grizzlies, or brown bears, are often foraging for food. Begin mobile means cruising to wherever the bears are, following them from bay to bay depending on weather and sea conditions. Along the way, the friendly captain and staff of the Ursus ensure guests feel welcomed, safe and attended to.

Accommodations

Ursus

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Days 4 - 6
Grizzly Bear Viewing in Katmai National Park

Footage in nature documentaries of Alaskan brown bears in the wild cannot adequately prepare you for the drama of an actual encounter with these magnificent beasts, often just yards away. They are North America’s largest land predators, and an adult male can weigh 900 pounds. While cruising just off the coast, look for bears dotting the shoreline. Go ashore by skiff for an even closer view and traverse the beaches on foot. It’s not uncommon to find several massive grizzlies at once. And far from dozing lethargically, these bears may put on quite a show in their efforts to fill up on enough protein-rich food to prepare them for a long winter in hibernation.

Bear activity varies according to the season, weather conditions, and timing of the salmon runs, but there’s always something riveting to watch. Perhaps see bears fighting to capture salmon in their jaws, trying to seize spawning fish that make their way up the streams flowing over the intertidal area. As omnivores, bears also dig for clams and mussels in the sand and browse on protein-rich sedges. Depending on the time of year, bears may be mating or cubs gallivanting on the shore. Other Alaska trips watch grizzlies from viewing platforms or vehicles. Not here. In coastal Katmai you are on foot, carefully wandering the area in small group under the cautious guidance of a professional expedition leader, who offers thorough coaching in safe bear-country etiquette. Sometimes wolves join the scene and have interesting interactions with the bears. While occasionally there may be another boat in the region, usually the Ursus is alone in the wilderness, offering a profound sense of solitude, peace and raw beauty.

Accommodations

Ursus

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Day 7
Grizzly Bear Viewing & Fly to Kodiak

One last morning is set aside for time with the bears before the planned afternoon flight back to Kodiak. Traveling in an open skiff, head once more toward shore, looking for a glimpse of the glaciers that crown the tall mountains behind Katmai’s lonely coastline. Typically, these peaks are cloaked in clouds while evocative mists weave in and out of the bays, providing the moisture that keeps Katmai so lush and verdant. Deep ash covered the region after the massive 1912 eruption of Mount Katmai and adjacent Novarupta, and revegetation in the century since has come mostly as a thick blanket of willow and alder bushes, though some stands of spruce thrive as well. Keep an eye out for bald eagles in the treetops and seabirds like kittiwakes, terns, mergansers, pigeon guillemots and black oystercatchers. On shore, walk across the tidal flats and gravel bars, possibly fording a few streams to find the best vantage point for a last sojourn with the bears.

Inevitably, it’s going to be hard to leave. Most travelers never get such an immersion in genuine wilderness, let alone the chance to sit in solitude with some of the world’s most magnificent carnivores. Most come away awed by the access the bears grant into their world and inspired to protect them from the very real threats of mining, climate change and other forces that may impact the ecosystem that sustains them—especially the salmon runs on which they rely. In mid-afternoon, fly by floatplane to Kodiak, though the exact timing will vary according to weather, marine conditions and other logistical factors. Back in Kodiak, be met by the local guide once more and transfer to the hotel. A farewell dinner is planned at a local restaurant. Fresh seafood is always on the menu, along with other varied choices.

Accommodations

Kodiak Inn

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Day 8
Depart Kodiak, Alaska

This Alaska bear adventure comes to a close today as you depart from Kodiak. An afternoon flight is recommended in case inclement weather prevents the floatplane from flying back to Kodiak on day 7 as scheduled. Occasionally, weather delays may require a morning flight on day 8 from the Ursus back to Kodiak. Several morning activity options are available in town, and your Kodiak guide can offer great suggestions. Options may include a drive to the top of Pillar Mountain for views over the harbor and neighboring islands (hardy travelers may choose to hike to the summit or back down); a stop at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center featuring regional species on display; or a visit to Fort Abercrombie, to walk trails through dense rainforest to a wild beach, snack on salmon berries in season, and encounter relics from a World War II coastal defense installation.

Accommodations

n/a

Meals

breakfast

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Details
Inclusions, Terms & Notes

Included

Accommodations; services of professional expedition leader(s), boat crew and local staff; all meals from dinner on day 1 through breakfast on final day; beer and wine on board the Ursus; some gratuities; airport transfers on day 1 and final day; gear including chest waders for shore excursions (if you require an especially large or small size, please let us know prior to departure); all activities and entrance fees, all taxes, permits and service fees.

Exclusions

Travel to and from the start and end point of your trip; some alcoholic beverages; some gratuities; passport and visa fees (if any); optional activities; items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry and internet, etc.); airline baggage fees, airport and departure taxes (if any); required medical evacuation insurance; optional travel protection insurance; insurance of any kind; cost of internal air, which includes all floatplane flights within the itinerary ($695 in 2020 & 2021, to be added to your invoice).

Payment & Cancellation

In order to confirm this trip, a nonrefundable deposit of $1,000 is required per person at time of booking. The balance of the trip price is due 120 days before the departure date. Special holiday payment and cancellation terms apply. Guests who must cancel their trip for any reason must do so in writing. Standard cancellations are subject to the following per-person penalties, based on number of days prior to departure:
Up to 121 days – 100% of deposit plus $100 cancellation fee
120 to 61 days – 50% of total trip cost
60 to 0 days – 100% of total trip cost

Terms & Conditions

This trip is subject to AdventureSmith Explorations Terms and Conditions. Please read this information carefully and call us if you have any questions. A Traveler Information Form, which includes a release of liability, must be completed and signed by all travelers. Your Adventure Specialist will send you a unique link to complete this form along with a packing list and extensive pre-departure and travel insurance information upon booking confirmation.

Arrival & Departure

The 8-day Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter begins and ends in Kodiak, Alaska (ADQ). Plan to arrive in Kodiak in time for a 7:00pm welcome dinner and orientation on day 1. Plan to depart Kodiak anytime on day 8, though we strongly recommend booking an afternoon flight for the unlikely event that poor weather prevents the scheduled return time by floatplane on day 7 of the itinerary.

Airport transfers are included on day 1 and on the final day of the trip. Exact times of the floatplane flights between Kodiak and the ship Ursus vary according to weather and other logistical factors beyond our control. Should travelers be required to remain in Kodiak longer than anticipated due to inclement weather, either before, after or during the trip, they will be responsible for their own expenses.

Internal Flights

Most floatplane flights will depart Kodiak to meet the Ursus in late morning and return to Kodiak mid-afternoon. The exact times will vary according to weather and other logistical factors. There is a strict luggage limit of 50 lbs of baggage per person (including carry-ons and camera equipment) on floatplane flights. Hard shell luggage is not recommended. We recommend bringing a small duffel bag to pack for the few days on the boat. Any excess luggage can be stored at the Kodiak Inn or Land’s End Resort and retrieved upon return to Kodiak.

Activities

A moderate level of physical fitness is required for this small ship-based Alaska adventure, as it involves watching grizzlies on foot in open areas. At times, travelers must walk at least two miles to reach the daily bear-viewing location, in varied conditions including rough, uneven terrain, shallow water, and through mud while wearing chest waders (which can feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable). Transfers between the Ursus and the floatplane to the Zodiacs used to access the shore require the ability to make a large step up or down onto an unstable surface. For safety reasons, it is not possible to divide the group or for individuals to stay in one place while the rest of the group moves. Once at the bear-viewing site, physical activity is quite limited; you may spend several hours in essentially one spot with little movement. It is generally not possible to view bears from the Ursus. In order to maximize bear-viewing opportunities, be prepared to spend long days ashore, returning late to the ship for dinner. Travelers must be of sound health and able to maintain a positive attitude in a wild and remote setting.

Room Configuration

Single travelers wishing to book a double-occupancy cabin may do so at a 50% supplement of the per-person listed rate in select cabins upon availability. If requested, we will plan to match all travelers on land as well as on the ship. If we are unable to find a roommate match for you, you will not be charged the single supplement.

Families & Children

Due the expedition nature and isolated location of this program, children must be 16 years old at time of departure.

Travel Insurance

Emergency medical evacuation insurance is mandatory for this trip, with a minimum recommended coverage of $250,000 per person. If you decline the operator’s insurance, then you must provide proof of third party insurance. Trip cancellation insurance is optional but highly recommended. Protect your travel investment with insurance. Our partners at Travelex Insurance offer a variety of plans and policies to fit every trip and budget. You must purchase your travel insurance policy within 15 or 21 days of booking (depending on plan) for it to cover pre-existing medical conditions; refer to plan details. Learn more about travel insurance or get a free quote.

Itinerary Notes

This trip involves watching grizzlies on foot in unprotected open areas. While bears are unpredictable and sighting them can never be guaranteed, groups on this tour have never missed seeing them. The unpredictability of bears can also lead to dangerous situations. They are wild animals, and all travelers must heed the rules set by staff and understand that this trip can potentially present harmful situations. All travelers must take their own safety into consideration before and when joining this adventure. Use the itinerary as a guide only. Itineraries may be altered due to weather, wildlife, national park regulation or at the captain’s and guides’ discretion. The ability to be flexible makes this type of small ship cruising unique.

A Note on Seasons

In June, the world’s largest coastal grizzlies converge to socialize, mate and feast from the sea. Long, warm days supercharge the rich marine habitat, with seawater flooding into glacial river valleys to create intertidal meadows where bears congregate. These are some of the world’s most active brown bear mating grounds, with the season peaking in mid-to-late June. Play among sows, cubs and sub-adults is at its most rambunctious.

July is a month of transition. The bears continue grazing, while some sows come into estrus, offering potential opportunities to witness complex and fascinating mating rituals. While salmon runs are unpredictable, the fish often begin congregating at river mouths by late July. As mating season winds down, many large nomadic males disperse while females and their cubs loll in the rich habitat. July encounters typically include intimate time watching infants nurse and families play and graze on sweet wildflower meadows.

For coastal grizzlies, August is spent gorging on plentiful pink salmon. At Geographic Harbor and Kinak Bay, bears converge at shallow tidal estuaries to feast on fat-rich salmon. Huge, solitary males, and females with as many as three cubs, prowl the banks and plunge into cold streams, poised to pounce on unsuspecting fish.

September brings dramatic change, an optimal time for photographers hoping to capture images of fishing bears exhibiting their most fierce physical appearance in beautiful seasonal light. There is some berry grazing, but mostly the bears are fishing. By now they are largely satiated and healthy, with thick coats ready for winter. Fall foliage is red, orange and gold, and rain is more frequent.

Rates & Dates

Cruise Rates & Dates

This ship is an AdventureSmith favorite for private charter. Contact us for charter pricing and details.

Jun 13 - Jun 22, 2021
Ursus • 10 days
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From $11995USD
Per Person
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Jun 19 - Jun 28, 2021
Ursus • 10 days
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From $11995USD
Per Person
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Jun 25 - Jul 02, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jun 29 - Jul 06, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jul 03 - Jul 10, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jul 07 - Jul 14, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jul 11 - Jul 18, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jul 15 - Jul 22, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Jul 19 - Jul 26, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 02 - Aug 09, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 06 - Aug 13, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 10 - Aug 17, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 14 - Aug 21, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 18 - Aug 25, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 22 - Aug 29, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 26 - Sep 02, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Aug 30 - Sep 06, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Sep 03 - Sep 10, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Sep 07 - Sep 14, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
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From $9495USD
Per Person
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Sep 11 - Sep 18, 2021
Ursus • 8 days
From $9495USD
Per Person
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Accommodation

Learn About the Small Ship on Your Itinerary 

Yacht
Ursus

This privately chartered 8-guest ship is designed for shallow water navigation, allowing her guests to cruise close to shore in search of Alaskan brown bears. She is AdventureSmith's only partner sleep-aboard vessel sailing in the remote reaches of Katmai National Park.

Expert Review

Reviews from Our Experts So You Know What to Expect

Andrew Browning • November 12th, 2018
Expert Review: The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter

An AdventureSmith Specialist is 1 of only 8 passengers on this Katmai bear viewing cruise in Alaska. See his incredible grizzly bear photography and read stories of the bears in this detailed trip review.

Book with the confidence that comes from experience.

100+ combined years of experience, 7 continents explored, decades of expedition cruising around the world & here to help you find & book your dream trip.

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The Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter

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