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Last updated on May 7th, 2024 at 02:50 pm

Are you curious about the best ecotourism experience if you are based out of Anchorage for a couple of days? A flightseeing tour to see brown bears in a safe and ethical setting is one of the top activities you can enjoy if you visit Anchorage with enough time to enjoy a day trip to see these incredible brown bears up close and persona. 

Growing up in Alaska, I’ve had a lot of interactions with brown bears. I would fall asleep to the sound of them desperately trying to get in our bear-proof trash; sometimes, I narrowly avoided them hiking in the mountains. I saw brown blurs as I drove down the long, winding road home, and from time to time, I would chase them out of the yard, my trusty cat at my side. They were a part of my everyday life, and I, theirs. I rarely had time to pause and marvel at them because I was usually in survival mode. I finally found the time to appreciate them when I took off for a day trip from Anchorage on an eco-friendly brown bear viewing tour with Rust’s Flying Service in Chinitna Bay near Lake Clark National Park. Away from urban life and the impact of humans, it was relaxing to observe the Alaskan brown (grizzly) bears as they grazed on salt marsh grass, napped, and played. This bear viewing tour just outside of Anchorage easily makes my top bucket list thing to do in Anchorage, Alaska.

I want to thank Rust’s Flying Service for extending their media rate to me, but as always, views are my own. If you are looking for the best bear viewing experience in Anchorage, Alaska, book a tour with Rust’s for an unforgettable Alaskan Experience.

Indigenous History

Before we get started I think it is important to acknowledge this tour takes place on the ancestral lands o the Dena’ina Athabascan people. One thing I felt was missing from the tour was the inclusion of information about Indigenous history in the area. After independent research, I learned that Qizhjeh Vena is the original Dena’ina name for Lake Clark, meaning a place where people gather. Today, Indigenous Alaskans still use the resources in Lake Clark National Park for subsistence living, including fishing. I would love for Rust’s to incorporate more Indigenous culture and history into their tours in the future. Otherwise, this was a tour to knock it out of the park.

Alaska Brown Bear Viewing Eco-Tour to Chinitna Bay

As a lifelong Alaskan and former tour guide, this bear-viewing tour was one of the best things I’ve ever done in Alaska, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor repeatedly. Rust’s is a local Alaskan company providing small-scale tours in remote parts of Alaska. Supporting local companies like this and watching bears respectfully in their natural wild habitat is the perfect recipe for an eco-tour. Rust’s offers several packages and tours that range from multi-day trips to half-day trips out of Anchorage. Not only was this one of the best tour I’ve done, this time I had my new fiancé in tow, and he loved every minute of this trip. His favorite animal is the bear, but hailing from Australia, the only bear he has ever encountered is the drop bear, so this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him, and it was the perfect way to celebrate our three-year anniversary as a couple.

lake clark national park

I was initially hesitant to book a brown bear viewing tour with Rust’s. As a tour guide, I recommended them time and time again to my guests, but as a lifelong Alaskan, surely there was nothing I hadn’t seen before. I mean, I always get bears in my yard; what’s the big deal?

However, I could not have been more mistaken. On their terms, there was something special about seeing them on their home turf. To add the icing on the cake, the 2-hour plane ride in a Cessna single engine was mind-blowing! I saw remote parts of Alaska I had never seen, all from a unique bird’s eye perspective. We flew past volcanos, glaciers, small Indigenous villages, glacial plains, forests, lakes, and mud flats. It seemed every minute brought something new and exciting. Our pilot was knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our banter on the radio back and forth as he brought us safely in for take-off and landing.

Once we arrived in the park, we were handed into the care of Chinitna Bay Bear Mountain Lodge, where our expert guides took us to three different viewing areas for bears and allowed us to observe and photograph them at our own pace while educating us on the species!

alaska anchorage brown bear viewing Lake Clark

Alaska Brown Bear Viewing: Trip Stats

Tour Option:  Chinitna Bay Bear Viewing day trip from Anchorage with Rust’s Flying Service. Rust’s offers numerous other tours to places like the famous Katmai National Park, where bears feast on salmon. What tour you choose is largely dependent on the season.

 Length of Time: A proper half day. 6-7 hours, departures at 7:30 am and 2 pm.

Who is this right for?  This is great for active adventurers, couples, and small families. If you have major mobility issues, reconsider, but the viewing is all accessed by easy walking trails. If you’re scared of small planes, conquer your fears—it’s worth it, and the pilots are amazing!

Trip Costs: Chinitna Bay Bear Viewing is $795 plus a 3% transportation fee per person. The cost varies depending on the tour and season.

When Should You Book this Tour? June is the most active month for the Chinitna Bay bears. We saw dozens of bears up and about, including new cubs. However, Rusts offers tours to various locations, such as Katmai National Park, throughout the summer.

Packing List for Alaska Bear Watching

  • Small backpack.
  • Water bottle or camelback.
  • Camera.
  • Telephoto lens. Photographing some of the bears without one is very hard, as they can be in the distance. We packed our 100 mm-400 mm and did fine with the closer bears. If you want serious photos of the bears in the distance, bring at least 500mm or higher. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, the guides have a scope, and you can take photos with your smartphone through it for some cool close-ups.
  • A tripod that converts to a monopod for great on-the-go animal photography.
  • Check the weather and dress appropriately. Alaska is notorious for moody weather. Be prepared for rain, sun, and wind, all in one day. I wore long hiking pants, hiking shirt, a fleece jacket, a scarf, sunglasses, hat, and a long shirt, with a raincoat packed in June and I was happy.
  • Hiking boots or solid walking shoes.
  • A small lunch is provided, but if you have dietary needs, pack food (there was no vegetarian option).
  • Binoculars are provided.
  • Bear mace is not needed, safety precautions are handled by the professionally trained guides.

Checking in at Rust’s Flying Service and Takeoff


Rust’s float planes at Lake Hood, Anchorage

Arrive at Rust’s 30 minutes early. Rust’s is at Lake Hood, Anchorage, by our international airport. Limited parking is available, and you must leave your keys at the front desk if you are driving. If you don’t have a car, don’t worry; Rust’s will pick you up from the airport or your hotel! We arrived early to photograph the cool planes docked at the seaplane base.

Facts from a Local: Lake Hood is the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world, hosting over 200 daily operations! You’ll find plenty of old and quirky planes, from single-engine Cessnas to larger Beavers.


We were weighed in at check-in to ensure the plane would be well-balanced. Our pilot called us by name when he was ready to have us load up. You can ask your pilot to sit up front and co-pilot as I did, but it will come down to safety and weight balance, so don’t have your heart set on any one seat. Once everyone was loaded up, we began to taxi around the Lake Hood seaplane base. We loved seeing all the planes as we drove by. I was prepared for a bumpy takeoff in this small plane, but I barely felt the lift-off, and before I knew it, Lake Hood was getting smaller and smaller.

Looking for more outdoor adventures in Alaska? Don’t miss these awesome glacier view hikes near Anchorage.

Flight Seeing Tour to Chinitna Bay

I love bears, don’t get me wrong, but this was one of the best parts of the trip. At the end of the flight, Ganesh said, “That alone was worth the money we spent.” He was not wrong. I’ll let some of the photos do the talking, but you get a taste of how diverse and stunning Alaska is.


Facts From a Local: Did you know Alaska has everything from the Arctic desert to the rainforest?

The flight started over large glacial mudflats and marshy tundra to one side and the murky Cook Inlet to the other. Here you could spot little duck huts that are used for duck hunting in the autumn. Wide braided rivers carved through the glacial flats. You could spot some of the oil rigs and operations close to Anchorage in the inlet. There are also some natural gas plants below. You fly past Sleeping Lady Mountain, pictured as a smaller mountain with no snow on it. Sleeping Lady is named after her because she looks like a lady sleeping. This mountain is an iconic image of the Anchorage area.

Facts From a Local: These large braided rivers and gray muddy areas are a sign a glacier is near. The rivers bring and deposit glacial silt, which is a fine gray mud. It’s incredibly dangerous to walk on and acts almost like sinking sand, avoid these areas at all costs if you ever visit Alaska.

As we left the vast marshy plains behind, mountains rose before us. This snowy range, called the Aleutian Range, is an extension of the Alaska Range, home to Denali, the largest peak in N. America. You will also spot two, and if you’re lucky three, active volcanoes as you fly. Sprinkled through the mountains, glaciers rest, including a red glacier caused by mineral deposits from the volcano!

Alaska is huge, and this reminded me how little I’ve seen of my home state. I felt giddy inside as we flew; I couldn’t stop smiling and saying, “WOW!”. The flight really put into perspective how diverse Alaska is. Our pilot was one of those guys that knew everything about everything. I learned so much just talking to him, and every question I asked, from geological to economic, he knew the answer. He’s been a pilot in Alaska for 13 years and was previously a commercial pilot in Seattle. Alaska is a great place to be a pilot and he seemed very happy doing his job. Alaska has very few roads, and the small Rhode Island has more roads than our huge state. We rely on small planes for travel and supplies to remote areas. I wanted to keep flying all day. However, I was excited to see the bears. They are what we came for, after all.


Bird’s eye view of beautiful Alaska

Facts From a Local: The fastest way to tell a local from a tourist is by what they call Denali. Often, tourists know it as Mt. Mckinley, and locals will refer to it as Denali. Denali is the traditional name of the Athabaskan (interior indigenous peoples) of this mountain. It wasn’t until a gold miner campaigning for President McKinley saw the mountain and decided to call it after him. On all federal documents it was listed as Mt. McKinley, but all state documents had it listed as Denali. Alaskans have been fighting for a federal name change since the 70s, and finally, in 2008, Obama succeeded. #thanksobama Be respectful and use the name Denali.


We landed on a beach in Chinitna Bay!

Our pilot turned the corner into Chinitna Bay, and I looked around, wondering where we might land. The beach, it was on the freakin’ beach! How cool is that? We landed smoothly, unloaded and were greeted by the wonderful hosts at Bear Mountain Lodge in Chinitna Bay.

Alaska Brown Bear Viewing in Chinita Bay

Rust’s handed us over to the friendly staff of The Bear Mountain Lodge at Chinitna Bay. They welcomed us in with snacks and genuine conversation. We were allowed a quick break before loading up in the 4×4 monster green bus. We took off down the beach to our first stop. We lucked out as there was a beautiful female brown just a couple dozen feet away! She’s the cute one you see in most of the close-up photos. I scanned the area and counted almost eight bears, including some large solo males, and a few mommas with two or three babies. The babies were about three years old, so they look almost as big, if not bigger than their mom. This would be the last spring with their mother before they set out on their own.


The bears were so interested in feeding they minded their own business, as we mind ours. They’re used to people in the area and it was so relaxing watching them do their thing. We had plenty of time to photograph and observe them feeding and playing and had a perfect spot for photos! Our guides did carry a weapon in case of emergency, but at no point was there any threat, or did I ever feel scared. Our guide even showed us how to take photos from professional binoculars, so if you don’t have a telephoto you can still get some close-ups.

Facts from a local: Bears are omnivores in this protected area that eat high-protein salty marsh grass. After they wake up from hibernation- the salmon aren’t running yet, so they need the nutrition and protein these grasses provide. Once the salmon start running, they’ll feast on the tasty fish. Bears stay with their mothers until they’re three years old.

We needed to load up and head to the second stop as the tide was coming in. Further down the beach we parked and went down a little trail into the woods. We came out on the bank of a river, still sheltered by the woods. The bears here were quite far away, so photography was difficult, but I didn’t mind too much, as just watching them from a distance was enjoyable.

Facts from a local: Female bears and marked by being smaller in stature and lighter in color. Their ears and face tend to be more round and soft. Male bears tend to be a dark brown with a larger build and a boxier face. The average Alaskan male brown bear weighs 900 pounds! Can you spot the male and female bears in my photos?

The third and final stop was further down the beach and a small walk through the woods. A lone wolf was in the field with the bears and he ran off just as we emerged from the woods. We got a quick view, but it was too fast for photos. Wolves are very rare to spot and I’ve only ever seen a few in my life. All the action startled a bear and it began to run through the marshy river bank. It stopped at the other side and gave us a nice show while relieving itself. I guess that answers the question, “Do bears poop in the woods?” No one in the group thought my dad’s joke was funny. (We kept an eye out for the wolf, but he never came back into view. So, we spent our time watching a new set of bears, eat and meander.


Facts from a local: Did you know you can eat the new growth on pine trees? The tender, bright green bits. We nibbled on them as we walked through the forest and they go great in salads!

There was a large family at this stop, a momma with three larger cubs. The bear siblings enjoyed playing together, and we got a good view of some rough-and-tumble action and bear boxing!

Did you know that Alaska grizzly and brown bears are the same species? The only difference is the access to salmon and fresh fish. In the landlocked interior of Alaska, salmon options are limited, so the coats of the bears are haggard and rough, making them look grizzly. Bears near water with access to salmon have shinier and healthier-looking coats. Just think, if you give your dog fish oil, its coat will shine!

I almost filled up my camera by the time we were packing up and heading back to the lodge. In total, we saw about 10 bears at each site. It was an incredibly satisfying day. Back at the lodge, our pilot was waiting for us with a snack lunch to bring back on the plane. As we loaded up, I let Ganesh take the co-pilot seat. I realized that the back seat was better for photos, so I happily clicked away as Ganesh asked plenty of Alaskan questions.

We weren’t done seeing wildlife for the day, looking down at the Cook Inlet we saw pods of belugas and lots of seals, getting their fill of fresh salmon. Alaska comes alive with the first salmon runs as everyone fights for their chances to fatten up for the winter. Salmon fuel most of Alaska’s wildlife and economy, but as our pilot said, “sometimes you have to root for the salmon, everyone wants them.”

Landing at Lake Hood in Anchorage

As we came back in for the landing I observed my little home city from the air. This thrilling Alaskan bear viewing eco-tour gave me a new appreciation for Alaska and the beautiful animals I share a home with. We could not thank Rust’s Flying Service and Bear Mountain Lodge enough for the truly wild and thrilling excursion into Alaska’s wilderness. No one on the tour knew I was a media member, yet I still received 5-star service from everyone. If you’re visiting Alaska in the summer and looking for incredible things to do in Anchorage, I highly recommend an eco-tour with Rust’s to view bears at one of Alaska’s great National Parks.

Finish your day with an ice-cold craft beer at Anchorage’s microbreweries.


Have you been on an eco-tour recently, or is an Alaska brown bear viewing eco-tour on your bucket list? Tell me about it in the comments, and remember to share this with all your friends and family.

Experience this thrilling bear viewing wildlife eco-tour in Alaska. With a day trip from Anchorage this short scenic flight to Lake Clark National Park is one of the best sustainable eco tours in Alaska! See bears and wildlife in their natural outdoor habitat. Do not miss this post with lots of wildlife photography!

This Alaskan wildlife bear viewing ecotour is a bucket list must! With a short day trip from Anchorage, take a scenic flight out to Lake Clark National Park. See bears in their natural outdoor habitat. Don't miss the Alaskan wildlife photography!

Experience this thrilling bear viewing wildlife eco-tour in Alaska. With a day trip from Anchorage this short scenic flight to Lake Clark National Park is one of the best sustainable eco tours in Alaska! See bears and wildlife in their natural outdoor habitat. Do not miss this post with lots of wildlife photography!

Flight Seeing Eco Tour Bear Viewing
Alaska Brown Bear Viewing Tour