Bears Along the Kulik River

The Kulik River in the Katmai National Park, Alaska

I’ve just returned from 5 days in Katmai National Park in Alaska.  My good friend, John Dubois, and I spent most of the time on the Kulik River shooting (with cameras, that is) Brown (Grizzly) Bears and the fall colors along the river.

Departing from Anchorage was a thrill all by itself, since the winds and rain that have been rampant in Alaska this summer made our twin-engine KatmaiAir Navajo departure late, and the climb-out a bit thrilling.  But once on the way, I was once again awestruck by the spectacle that is Alaska.

The Kulik Lodge was our home for 4 days.  Great, great setting, and even better hosts and staff.  Like most photographers, I know Brooks Lodge as the most popular go-to stop for bear photography.  But, I wanted to try something else. So, after some research, we decided on Kulik instead.  And, am I glad.

At this time of year, the Salmon are making their run, and the bears flood the river to fish and fatten up for the brutal, oncoming Alaskan winter and their struggle for survival.  So from a photographer’s viewpoint, there isn’t a much better opportunity to see and capture images of them close-up.

The weather didn’t cooperate fully, with rain and wind two of the days.  Nevertheless, we ventured out in the boats with our guide each day just before sunrise (8:00 a.m. there this time of year).  Turning out for the boat with waders and gear, even that late in the morning, is more difficult than back at home when the sun rises almost an hour earlier.  Each day’s full schedule and toting of all my equipment left my shoulders and back aching for the hot-tub, a good shower and a hot meal.

At promptly 6:30 each morning, our guide awakened us with a knock and left a full pot of hot coffee at the door.  A made-to-order breakfast followed before we donned the waders, boots and parkas. 

On the second morning, we packed and wrapped everything up against the rain, and it was a major challenge to keep wind-blown rain off the glass.  One thing that taught me is that regardless of how good the rain covers are, and even with today’s tight camera & lens bodies, drips from the lens barrel only fall vertically off the front away from the glass when there is no wind!

But, weather and the adventure of being in such a magnificent area among nature’s challenges is part of what makes Alaska the exciting and ever-changing place that it is.

I have mixed feelings about hyping the Kulik Lodge too much, primarily out of sheer selfishness to keep it a quite place to enjoy a wonderful setting, and of course, dozens of bears in their natural habitat.  But recommend it I must, especially since most of the visitors at Kulik are there for fishing, and shooting there is far from the “combat photography” style that you often hear about in other Alaska locations.

The Kulik Lodge (www.katmailand.com) is a wonderful camp, originally built in the 1950’s by Ray Peterson, a pioneer aviator who built some of the state’s first fly-in fishing camps and Lodges in Katmai.  The historical term “camp” is maintained out of tradition, but today’s facility there is hardly akin to camping.  Comprised of the main lodge and dining hall, a dozen guest cabins, office and store, hot-tub/sauna, and the usual compliment of service and maintenance buildings, most of the structures are original log construction (with several rounds of modernizing and retrofitting).  The cabins are all within a two acre compound

Each meal was a food orgy, aimed to satisfy the appetites of a dozen voracious fisherman and just us two photographers.  I didn’t keep track of my intake, but even with my best efforts at portion control, I am sure that I consumed at least three times a normal day’s intake back at home.

So, is anyone interested in joining me again next fall?

from the Kulik River trip.



  1. Wow – love these pictures SO much! I sure would like to go up there sometime to see all this in person! Really beautiful images!

  2. These shots almost make us want to go live back up north again to explore and see sights like your shots have shown us. We are totally amazed by your photography and look forward to hearing more about it all.

  3. We look at all youir shots of the grizzlies with awe and amazement! The shots of the camp and airplane really give us a good vision and sense as to your time and experience there. We find you quite amazing as well!

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