Wow, I can really add to this thread . . .
I just returned from an 11 day trip to Alaska yesterday. Every once in a while we all experience a "day for the ages", and I feel I had THREE such days on this trip. One was a day round trip flight in to Lake Clark National Park (Port Alsworth) from Anchorage. Once past the Cook Inlet there is just INSANE Alpine scenery (area of Redoubt Volcano) -- I'd only been in Alaska under 18 hours and I'd probably seen upwards of 30 glaciers already. A second day was a flight around Denali out of Talkeetna which -- finally -- showed me that the mountain was NOT a hoax (as suspected when I failed to ever see it with at least 5 opportunities 2 years ago). It was "out" with the top 3,000 feet enclosed in clouds from about 30 miles out, but close in the clouds were transparent enough to view the entire mountain. And there were two quick moments when even those clouds cleared. The flight included a glacier landing. 2 years ago I'd done that (without SEEING the mountain) with a landing in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater (where most flights land -- just spectacular). The bad news THIS trip was that we would not be landing there. But the GOOD news was that we would land at the mountain climbers' base camp to pick up two climbers. YESSSSSS! (Also spectacular here.) Whereas flying into Lake Clark was Alpine, Denali flights are HIMALAYAN!
But this post is mostly about the bears at Brooks Falls (Katmai National Park). I flew on another day round trip out of Homer for this. NOT cheap ($ 650), but worth every buck.
After an hour and a half crossing the Cook Inlet and getting inland a bit on the other side you land on a lake right by the visitor center. You then get a 15 to 20 minute safety briefing about the brown bears. It's a 1.2 mile hike to the Brooks Falls viewing platforms, and the bears use the trail you'll be walking on. (You want to stay 50 yards from bears, you back away slowly if encountering a bear, but on the trail you want to go OFF the trail if you have an unexpected meeting.)
With all that being said, I nonetheless did NOT want to have a bear encounter on the trail.
You get to the platforms and you are free to watch from a "lower" platform and you sign up for the wait for the "upper" platform (where most of the views from the webcam originate). It was about an hour and a half wait, and you are allowed to stay at the upper platform an hour.
This was no problem -- there was GREAT action even from the lower platform.
I've monitored the webcam many times, but it will come as no surprise to note that being there LIVE kicks it!
With about 3 hours total time there, you do NOT get bored. I felt like serendipity had slugged me when I realized that with all the time I'd spent watching the webcam that it didn't begin to approach the DIVERSITY of action I caught this day being there live. First, MANY bears out -- at one time 9 viewable at once. Bears after salmon, bears eating them (X rated for sure), bears standing up, bears running, bears walking right UNDER you. I probably took 30 or more still shots and videos. With just a point and shoot camera I'm astonished at the number of totally cool videos I got out of it all. And yet another cool moment was when I finally stopped photographing and realized I'd better use my binoculars too. I trained them on one bear at the top of that terrace on those upper falls, the bear facing downstream in hopes of catching a salmon jumping up to leap over the falls. As luck would have it I CAUGHT LIVE CLOSE UP this bear actually catching one in mid air. Serendipity -- this is the classic Brooks Falls "money" view, right? And I am lucky enough to watch it close up with binocs in real time!
But the "best" was yet to come . . .
When it was time to return to the visitor's center the walk from that upper falls platform is on a boardwalk with about a waist high railing on either side of you, the boardwalk maybe 6 feet wide. It descends gradually from platform height (perhaps 10 feet up?) to ground level over an estimated 100 to 150 yards, and at the end is a door (kept closed by a simple latch that you move to get out) to get out on the open trail.
As we (I made sure I walked with others) got to that point a ranger outside the gate had his hand up and yelled, "STOP -- bears on the trail." I saw a huge bear in his immediate vicinity on the trail. (I was told there were two others close by although I didn't notice them.)
STOP? OK by me! Especially after you see these creatures live you respect their size, weight, and potential danger (hey, there WAS an avid fan of them who met his demise with one of them . . . that movie). Let alone the fact they can run up to 30 mph.
Have you got the picture? One is respectfully skitterish about getting anywhere NEAR one of these wild animals, and the pause one has about that just increases when your trek back to the visitors center is halted by KNOWN bear activity (that you SEE)on that trail.
And then, in a split second after the ranger's warning, from my right rear (I was facing the exit gate and the ranger) I heard loud rapid thumping, turn to my right, and in a heart exciting instant TWO large bears are RUNNING on the other side of the rail (10 feet away tops?) . . .
WAY too much excitement/fun for one day! I don't know if it was being scared so much as having a palpable realization that it was a fine line between what I'd just seen and an unfavorable outcome. We human mortals are but a ball of cotton for these animals -- they could EASILY have just jumped over the rail.
(In point of fact, there has never been a fatal encounter between brown bears and human beings in Katmai NP -- but there HAVE been knockdowns and injuries. Although grizzlies/brown bears ARE potentially very dangerous, at Katmai they are so focused on salmon and so previously exposed to visitors that it, I'm sure, lessens the general danger. That being said -- if I described what I did fairly well, and you could picture yourself in that situation, you'll hopefully realize how extraordinary an experience it was! I'll NEVER have THAT happen to me watching the webcam at my pc at home. And how many other visitors actually there at Brooks Falls get THAT kind of action like I did?! Cooler than doo doo!)
Bottom line -- a hearty recommendation to all to do this! (And doing it by day trip is much cheaper than actually staying there at the Brooks Lodge, let alone the fact that lodging there has to be reserved WAY in advance.)
(And for Chicagocwright -- the Moose's Tooth (2 visits) pizza was as superb as ever . . . and I braved further danger 5 out of 7 nights in Anchorage at Koot's!)