Pack creek


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Back in 2018, we made our first trip to Alaska (check out the post here). We were enthralled by the breathtaking beauties of south-central and interior Alaska. The last frontier offers so many opportunities to adventure-seekers, I knew I had to return! Alaska is an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts, and we encountered a lot of them on the 2018 trip. While chalking up the plan for the summer adventure to southeast Alaska, bear viewing on the Admiralty island did sound like an excellent spot to test my newest telephoto lens in action!

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Admiralty is a part of ABC island (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof). Located in the northern part of the Alexander archipelago, this series of islands is famous for its wilderness. The ABC islands are part of Tongass national forest, the largest national forest in the United States. This piece of land was proclaimed as a national forest back in 1907 by then-president Theodore Roosevelt. In 2019, the Trump administration opened half of the forest land to logging and other forms of development. Thankfully, the current administration is planning to restore the environmental protection of this area!

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Admiralty Island is the nearest one from Juneau, the Alaskan capital. The majority of the island was designated as a National Monument in 1978 and protected as a wilderness area in 1980. This 96-mile-long island is home to one of the densest populations of brown bears on Earth, with an estimated 1600 brown bears, more than all the lower 48 states combined. Admiralty has been the home to the traditional Tlingit people for more than 10,000 years. Around 600 people from the Tlingit community are the only settlement on the island. They refer to Admiralty as “Kootznoowoo”- “the Fortress of Bears.” Admiralty island’s main attraction is Pack Creek, one of Southeast Alaska’s premier bear-viewing sites.

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Pack Creek is located about 40 miles from Juneau. A 30-minute floatplane ride from Juneau, it is located in the northeast corner of Admiralty Island. It is popular with locals and visitors alike. In addition to brown bears, this area has one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles and Sitka black-tail deers. Marten, mink, and otter are common along the shores. Harbor seals, porpoises, sea lions, humpback whales, and Pacific salmon are frequently seen in its waters. One will also encounter countless varieties of birds.

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Bears are drawn to Pack Creek because of salmon. A typical year begins in the spring when bears come out of hibernation. Adult males leave their den as early as March. Females with cubs spend a longer time hibernating until May. Bear viewing starts in the middle of May. The first week of July is the peak season as the salmons return to Pack Creek.


While the Juneau area has only black bears, Admiralty Island is inhabited exclusively by brown bears, distinguished by a large hump over their shoulders. Southeast Alaska presents plenty of impediments to wandering, and bear populations tend to be separated by fjords, icefields, glaciers, and bays. In this case, Stephens Passage, located between the Admiralty Island and mainland Juneau is too long of a trek for them.

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Quick FYIs on the Pack Creek Bear viewing area-


• There are no amenities on-site, including no toilet, shelters, and cell phone service.

• Access to the bear viewing area requires walking on shallow muddy water. Rubber boots are a must.

• Rain gear and extra layers are highly recommended as the weather can turn cold and rainy at any time of the year.

• Access to Pack Creek is by permit only. This area is actively managed by the national forest service rangers. Visitors must strictly obey the rules outlined by the rangers. This ensures a safe and stress-free environment for the bears that make their home at Pack Creek.

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Admiralty Island National Monument is accessible only by water or air. If you are not a local, the easiest way to access the island is via a local adventure tour company. We booked our trip with “above and beyond Alaska” (ABAK), and I highly recommend using them. ABAK’s office is located in the Mendenhall Valley. Since we were staying at the valley only, we decided to walk roughly a mile from the best western we were staying at.

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We were greeted by a crew of three, who geared us up with waterproof shoes, pants, and a jacket. We quickly packed all the dry bags, got snacks and lunches, and were off to the Juneau airport. A small 6-seater floatplane from Ward Air was waiting for us. A 20-minute scenic flight over the rugged coastline, remote old-growth rainforest, towering mountains, and alpine tundra with permanent icefields took us to the Windfall island. From the Windfall, we kayaked to the pack creek area, which is roughly 2 miles. When we arrived at Pack Creek south pit, two rangers were waiting to greet us. They reviewed the rules to be followed during the day. No food in any area other than the south pit. When traveling, stay together as a group, follow designated travel routes only, never leave gear or personal belongings unattended, and follow any other directions provided by the rangers. Meanwhile, our guide dumped the food in a bear locker and parked the kayak away from the shore so that bears cannot access them.

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The viewing area is roughly a mile hike from the south pit. When we entered, there was a total of four bears on the creek - a female with two cubs and a male dozing on the log. After an hour, we found another bear crossing the stream. Rangers identified him as the sibling of the napping one. It was such a fascinating experience watching these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Rangers told us that these bears are accustomed to seeing humans, and they do not feel threatened. Also, since no one carries food there, they do not take any particular interest in humans. If you are curious, forest rangers are fully equipped though with bear spray and such. But overall, it was uneventful, except bear viewing! We spent a few hours until noon and headed back to the south pit to grab a quick lunch.

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After lunch, we went back to the viewing area again. The siblings were gone by that time. That female and her cubs were still roaming around. A couple of new ones descended from the forest after a while. Around 4 P.M., we decided to call it a day and prepared to head back to the loading area. A ranger suddenly radioed us that there was a bear on our return path. We paused for a few moments to let him cross, hiked back to the pit, and kayaked to the windfall island. After 15 minutes, our floatplane arrived to take us back to the mainland. Thank you, ABAK, for such an experience of a lifetime!

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