Up Close & Personal in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Bear viewing in Cook Inlet and panoramic vistas in Lake Clark National Park—this is what experiencing the rugged Last Frontier is all about. If you do anything this summer, be sure to reward yourself with active volcanoes, brilliant coastal brown bears, snow-covered mountain peaks, and some of the most jaw-dropping aerial perspectives of your life. If you want to see Alaska the best place to start is from the air!
Last week I received a call from my neighbors, Tim and Janet Pope, owners of Natron Air in Alaska’s Kenai River City of Soldotna. They said that if I could be there in 45 minutes, that they’d have a spot open for me, plus one, on an afternoon Cook Inlet bear viewing excursion in Lake Clark National Park. Naturally, I dropped everything for this incredible opportunity. I should note that the fine folks at Natron Air had no idea that I was planning to write an article on The Alaska Life’s blog documenting my experience. Therefore, this is a completely honest account of how they genuinely exceeded my expectations.
After chatting with Janet and grabbing some literature out of the office, we loaded up on a small plane and took off for our flight across Cook Inlet. There were five of us in total: my plus one and me, another couple, and Tim, our excellent pilot.
Our first views were of the piercing blue glacial waters of Tustumena Lake draining into the Kasilof River.
After crossing Cook Inlet, we landed right on the beach after Tim spotted some bears from above. If you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see a sow and her three cubs in the distance directly behind the back of the plane.
On the beach we also noticed what appeared to be possibly wolf tracks with a pup trailing along, or maybe a coyote. Although we couldn’t be sure what kind of animal had made the tracks they were very cool to see.
As we took a close look at the beautiful brown bears enjoying the outlying areas of Lake Clark, we were blown away to see a sow with three very healthy cubs in tow. We quietly observed them as they dug for clams on the beach.
Tim informed us that we needed to stay very quiet and keep together in a tight group. After that, he just started walking right up to the bears. Um… what? That’s right! We were within 30 yards of these beautiful creatures, and they were hardly paying us any attention at all. I was literally shaking in my boots as we approached, but Tim did a good job keeping everyone calm and focused on the life-changing experience that was happening in front of us.
Every once in awhile the cubs would stop and peek over at us (snap, snap, snap went our cameras…), but otherwise they weren’t the slightest bit interested in what we were doing.
In fact, they were so comfortable with us that the mama even laid down and nursed all three of her cubs on the beach while we were watching. It was unbelievable!
After snapping the obligatory photo of us with the bears in the middle of the wilderness, we loaded back into the plane to continue the epic excursion that we were so blessed to be on.
We soared in comfort across snow-covered mountain peaks on a perfect 70-degree Alaska day. The weather was so clear that in the distance we could even see Denali (North America’s tallest peak) and Mount Foraker of the Alaska Range. I couldn’t help blabbing out repeatedly, “This is as good as it gets.”
We flew past two active volcanoes in Lake Clark National Park: Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna. Tim took us so close that we could see in great detail the jagged edges of the towering peaks. Mt. Redoubt was even blowing a little steam (pictured below)!
The bays and estuaries on the western shores of Cook Inlet were spectacular.
We soared across the Cook Inlet oil platforms and got to see Double Glacier and incredible views of Kenai on our way back to Soldotna.
Before landing back at the Natron Air office in Soldotna, we finished out the last leg of this three-hour adventure by flying over the world-renowned Kenai River. Living in a place this beautiful is filled with countless “pinch me this can’t actually be real” type of moments.
As a new business owner on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground, I’ve really enjoyed being able to dive into all the fun and excitement that Alaska’s hospitality and tourism industry has to offer. Having a small lodge/cabin rental business means that lots of visitors are continuously asking for recommendations for “the best” things to do in the area. For that reason, many activity vendors (such as Natron Air) will often reach out to surrounding businesses (i.e. direct area salespeople) when open spots come available on their regularly planned trips. Familiarization tours (FAM tours) are common in Alaska’s tourism industry and in destination locations all around the globe. The opportunity to enjoy this otherworldly adventure over Cook Inlet and into Lake Clark National Park was truly a larger-than-life experience that I’ll be proudly raving about it to Alaska visitors for years to come.
I put together a short three-minute YouTube video capturing my experience flying over Cook Inlet and into Lake Clark National Park. Take a look below and get ready to start planning your very own world-class bear viewing adventure in the Last Frontier!
Looking for more where that came from? Check out these 15 incredible lakes that will demand your attention this summer. If you love wildlife, you’ll enjoy the admirable Alaska animal sanctuary that’s providing a safe haven for bears in Sitka, Alaska. Also, we’re sure you’ll agree with these 15 reasons why anyone who visits Alaska this summer won’t want to leave.