Located a short flight from Juneau along the west side of Seymour Canal, Pack Creek is one of Alaska’s premier brown bear–viewing areas. The creek fills with spawning humpback and chum salmon during July and August, and they attract the bears, which in turn attract the people.
Most visitors arrive on day trips from Juneau on the local air taxis. Others come aboard kayaks and boats, or with commercially guided groups.
Pack Creek is jointly managed and staffed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Special regulations apply to travel and camping in the area, and it’s only open for visits 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
The number of bears varies greatly through the summer, but most visitors see at least one bear, and often several. Plan to spend a full day—or longer—to increase your odds and to soak in the beauty of the area. Binoculars or a spotting scope are helpful, and photographers should be sure to bring extra digital storage cards and long lenses.
Rubber boots and rain gear are strongly recommended for anyone visiting Pack Creek. Food and drinks must be stowed in a special bear-resistant box, and neither is allowed in the viewing areas.
There are two primary bear-viewing areas along Pack Creek. The most accessible is a sandy spit of land right at the mouth of the creek and a short beach hike from where floatplanes land and boats tie up. A bit more challenging is a beautiful one-mile trail that leads through an old-growth rain forest to a viewing tower. The tower has room for eight people and is an excellent place to watch bears as they pass directly below you.
Forest Service or Fish and Game rangers at Pack Creek will be happy to answer your questions, so it isn’t necessary to come with a guide (unless you can’t otherwise get in). They will not, however, accompany you to the observation tower.
Rules and Regulations
If you travel independently, you will need to obtain a permit and set up a charter with a local air taxi. Guided visitors are provided with transportation and permits, but the fee is much higher. Because of its popularity with both bears and people—and the potential for conflicts between the two—Pack Creek has stringent and rather confusing rules. Permits are required June 1–September 10, and only 24 people per day are allowed during the peak of the bear-viewing season (July 5–Aug. 25).
Reservations cost $50 adults, $25 seniors and children and can be postmarked as early as February 20 for the following summer. Apply early to be sure of getting a permit for the peak season. Of the 24 permits, 4 are held for late arrivals and are available 3 days in advance of your visit. These are in high demand, however, and are chosen by lottery from the applicants who show up.
An unlimited number of shoulder-season permits (June 1–July 4 and Aug. 26–Sept. 10, $20 adults, $10 seniors and children) are available, but bear activity is lower. Get additional details from the Forest Service in Juneau (907/586-8800, www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass).
Getting to Pack Creek
Most visitors to Pack Creek arrive by floatplane on day trips from Juneau, landing next to the south sand spit. The following companies fly to Pack Creek: Alaska Fly ’n’ Fish Charters (907/790-2120, www.alaskabyair.com), Alaska Seaplane Service (907/789-3331 or 800/478-3360, www.flyalaskaseaplanes.com), and Ward Air (907/789-9150, www.wardair.com).
The costs vary depending on how many people are on the flight, but with four in a group the price drops to $210 per person round-trip (but you’ll need to get your own permit).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition