The Bears of Pack Creek

I cross the tidal mud flat that leads to Pack Creek in late afternoon, mid-way through a week-long excursion in the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska.

Our small group is alone, greatly outnumbered by the bears.

Brown (grizzly) bears line the undulating watercourse of the creek on Admiralty Island, seven or eight of these incredible creatures fishing for salmon near where the mouth of the stream flows through myriad channels into Seymour Canal. The remote island, some 90 miles long and 35 miles wide, is the seventh-largest island in the United States. While less than 700 people inhabit the island, it is home to something like 1600 brown bears, the densest concentration of these apex predators in North America—and perhaps the world. The Tlingit name for the island is Xootsnoowú, which loosely translates to Fortress of the Bear.

Photo by John D’Onofrio


A sow sprawls in the grass between me and the creek, nursing two cubs whose eyes soon grow glassy. They purr as they nurse—a sound I’ve never heard before, reminiscent of muted chainsaws. Before long, all fall asleep in a chaotic jumble of fur and claws.

Up close and personal: Bear watchers at Pack Creek. Photo by Alan Sanders

I’ve been fortunate to have visited Pack Creek a half dozen times in various seasons and observed the bears fishing for salmon, wrestling in the meadow, grazing on sedge grass, and procreating with unexpected tenderness.

More well-known bear-watching sites in Alaska, such as Katmai’s Brooks Falls, tend to be crowded, but here, our small group is alone, greatly outnumbered by the bears.

Visitation to the site, managed jointly by the USFS and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, is limited to only 24 people per day, affording an opportunity to sit quietly for hours at a time, humbled by the presence of these beautiful animals.

Learn more about Adventures Northwest Photo Workshops/Tours to Pack Creek, Glacier Bay, Ford’s Terror, and the San Juan Islands here. Sign up for our 2024 trip to Pack Creek at a Discount here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.