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Bear viewing from Homer?

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Looking for opinions on which service to choose. I haven't read many recent posts and can't really figure out how to select a company to go with (other than by availability). I've checked websites for Emerald Air, Hallo Bay, K Bay and Bald Mountain and they all sound good. Major difference I see is in the cancellation policies and practices. I think float planes offer a little more flexibility, but I'm not sure. We're 2 (almost) seniors in pretty good shape. Our dates are somewhat flexible and we'll be in the Homer/Soldotna area the last week in Aug and first week in Sept (I know, it's late to plan...what can I say??). Thanks for any tips.

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    Emerald Air used to be (I felt) the best but Ken and Chris Day sold the business last year. Don't know the new owners but I'm guessing they are still OK and this would be a good choice.

    Bald Mountain has been around a long time and are supposedly excellent. Both of these operators take guests to a variety of places, depending on the season.

    I doubt you can book either one of those guys at this late date, but worth a try.

    Hallo Bay day trips are not as good in my opinion. I did a camp trip with them a couple years ago and the guy who did their day trips quit so they just dumped those people into the camp with us each day. If you go with the others you are going with the owner/operator but with HB you are on a charter flight with a pilot from say Smokey Bay and with a guide who may not have been working there very long. Hallo Bay is OK for the camp but not as good for the day trips, I felt.

    Dunno anything about K Bay.

    Ask where Emerald and BM are going (if they can tell you in advance). It's possible that time of year they are just flying to Brooks River, since there are always a lot of bears there that time of year, but also a lot of people. You can book Brooks via KatmaiLand in Anchorage and there's much less chance of weather cancellations from Anchorage, in my experience. Outfitters like Emerald and BM are great if you are getting a remote wilderness day trip, but not so much if you are one of 150 elbowing each other on the platforms at Brooks, or waiting two hours for a sleeping sow to move off the trail so you can even get to a platform.

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    Thanks Bill. This is all very helpful. From what I've read, Brooks isn't the optimal place to go in late summer. Interesting comment about going from Anchorage as I'd read a number of posts which mentioned weather delays from Homer. I didn't look into leaving from there.

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    From what I've read, Brooks isn't the optimal place to go in late summer.

    Brooks has two peak periods ... in early July the salmon are running upstream and the bears congregate at the falls to catch the leaping fish. This is the most famous time. Then as the fish move into the smaller feeder streams off the two big lakes to spawn the bears follow and early August +/- 2-3 weeks is slow at Brooks, with many fewer bears.

    After the salmon spawn they die and the weak and dying fish are thick in the river as they are washed downstream. This brings the bears back in large numbers, usually from late August thru Sept. The bear biologist Tammi said she was IDing 18-30 different bears in early Sept when we were there, for example.

    We used to spend a week in Denali in late Aug-early Sept, then 3-10 days at Brooks in early Sept and had the best of both places. Outfitters like Emerald Air/BM don't like going to Brooks because of the crowds but will occasionally do so if their usual spots are weathered in or if there aren't many bears at their other options.

    Interesting comment about going from Anchorage as I'd read a number of posts which mentioned weather delays from Homer

    On our last trip from Homer, planned for a week at a wilderness fly-in camp, all flights had been grounded for 3 days when we got there. For the next two days we drove to the airstrip and sat for several hours hoping for a weather break (one day we even took off but had to turn back), then were cut loose to find a hotel room etc and try again the next day. Some people on short trips didn't get out at all ... we got out the third day.

    I asked the outfitter how many days they lost to weather each summer. She said "in a good year maybe 25%, in the worst year 60%".

    From Anchorage I guess the weather pattern is much drier and the planes were somewhat bigger (we would fly to either a paved strip at a lodge and then xfer to a small floater to Brooks, or fly to King Salmon commercially and then xfer for the 30 minute hop to Brooks). The Homer planes were either float planes for landing on an isolated lake or small wheeled planes that land on the sandy beach at low tide, for comparison.

    I asked the pilot of the larger Anchorage plane from Katmailand how many days he lost to weather on average each summer (they fly several times a day, ferrying fishermen to lodges, bear watchers to Brooks, etc). He said just one or two days are lost totally to weather (which seems unbelievably low to me but that's what he said), though delays are common. Had to wait an hour for a ridge to clear near Brooks before we could hop to the airstrip on the other side, and have waited up to 2 hours in the King Salmon airport for the flight from ANC to arrive but have always gotten in and out with no more than a few hours delay even when it was raining.

    So 25-60% from Homer (say 25-60 days if you figure a 100 day summer) vs 1-2 days from Anchorage ... hard to believe but that's what they said.

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    From my experience, I believe Bill's numbers.

    Since you mention Soldatna, I went to this bear camp once. I did not get as close to the bears there as in Katmai or Brooks, but I did count about 40 in the meadow at one time, a personal record in one panoramic view.


    First week in Sept is good in Brooks. You'd fly from Anchorage.

    I had a great weeklong experience at Hallo Bay Bear Camp, but am aware of the rough spots so often mentioned.

    If there is any chance you'd be in Kodiak, I'd have some suggestions for you--either a flight to one of John Rogers' boats that visit the Katmai coast, or Lee Robins' Trophy II out of Kodiak. But these are not day trips.

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