Chinitna Bay

two women watching bears through binoculars

Bear viewing in Chinitna Bay

NPS Photo


A trip to Chinitna Bay on Lake Clark's Cook Inlet coast offers a unique experience in the heart of coastal brown bear country.

Getting to Chinitna Bay

By plane
Most visitors arrive by small plane that land on the beach or in the bay. The fight from Homer, Kenai or Anchorage is less than an hour.

By Boat
It is also possible to travel across Cook Inlet in a boat, though the seas are often rough. A one way trip from the Homer Harbor is approximately 60 miles and can take four to five hours.

The eastern bear viewing site is located at approximately: 59° 52.050' N 153° 07.180' W
The western bear viewing site is located at approximately: 59° 51.680' N 153° 08.070' W
The Ranger Station is located at approximately: 59° 52.240' N 153° 05.430' W

Getting Around Chinitna Bay
Travel between bear viewing sites at Chinitna Bay is most commonly by foot, though some area lodges may offer vehicular transportation along the beach to their guests. Be prepared to walk through sandy terrain a few hundred yards from the beach where your plane lands to the nearest bear viewing site. You may walk two or more miles back and forth between sites on the salt marsh and/or those in the tidal flats in search of bears.

Things to Do at Chinitna Bay

Brown Bear Viewing
Chinitna Bay offers world class brown bear viewing. Visitors may be able to see as many as twenty coastal brown bears from a single location. The bears congregate in high numbers in the estuaries where rivers flowing out of the mountains meet the sea in Chinitna Bay. In this habitat food is plentiful from early spring until the bears return to their dens in the fall. Late spring through mid-summer bears feed on sedges that are high in protein and other edible plants which grown in the salt marshes. Tidal flats brimming with clams year round lay just a few yards away.

Bears head to the rivers at the head of the bay when salmon begin to run in late summer. It can be more difficult to watch bears fishing in Chinitna Bay than eating sedges or clamming because of the patchwork of private property at the head of the bay and the reduced number of safe landing areas for small planes. Trespassing on private property is not allowed (see the map below.)

Bird Watching
Bears aren't the only wildlife that congregates in Chinitna Bay's rich estuaries.

  • Shorebirds stage in the mud and sand flats during spring migration
  • Dabbling ducks are present all summer, but peak during migration in April and September. Look for them at river mouths and mud flats at the head of the bay
  • Diving ducks stage in the intertidal zones near shore during spring migration.
  • Sea ducks are present all summer, but peak in mid- August prior to the fall migration. Look for them in the intertidal and subtidal zones.
  • Seabirds nest on nearby Gull Island during the summer and can be seen foraging in the bay.
  • Raptors nest and forage along the coast and rivers year round.
  • Songbirds nest and forage in the salt marshes and forests.

Camping, Backpacking, and Hiking
Travelers comfortable in bear country can follow a spectacular 25 mile hike from Chinitna Bay to Silver Salmon Creek. Though no formal campground exists, excellent camp sites abound.

Fishing and Clam Digging
Fishing is not a common activity in Chinitna Bay because the salmon bearing streams are challenging to access. However, the tidal flats, while a bit rocky, are filled with razor, little neck, and butter clams. Keep in mind that all shell fish may be exposed to the algae that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poising. Eating contaminated shellfish can cause severe illness or death. This beach is not monitored for PSP. Anyone consuming shellfish gathered here does so at their own risk. Visitors wishing to fish or dig for clams must follow all Alaska state regulations. Please clean clams below the tide line and cast remains into the ocean.

Lodging and Guided Trips
Several licensed commercial outfitters specialize in day-long and overnight bear viewing trips to Chinitna Bay for travelers who prefer to visit bear country with a knowledgeable guide.

Meadow trail marker Chinitna Bay

A trailmarker

NPS Photo

Staying Safe at Chinitna Bay

Bear Viewing Best Practices
Interactions between bears and people are different in a high density area like Chinitna Bay where people come with the intent to observe the bears than it is in the remainder of the park. Learn how to stay safe in this environment by becoming familiar with the bear viewing best practices prior to your trip to Chinitna Bay.

In Addition to All Other Park Rules and Regulations
There are a few amenities and regulations in Chinitna Bay designed for your safety.

  • There are two bear viewing sites at Chinitna Bay (see the map below). The trail to the meadow at the easternmost site is marked by a carved stump featuring a bear. We ask that you use these two sites because consistent use of the same sites makes human use more predictable for the bears, and thus may help minimize disturbance and reduce the risk of negative interactions between people and bears.
  • A pit toilet is available at the easternmost bear viewing site.
  • A Ranger Station is located 1 mile east along the beach from the easternmost bear viewing site.
  • The marsh is closed beyond the river at the bear viewing site due to high bear use. (see the map below). For your own safety, please do not venture into the meadow.
  • Eating is prohibited above the beach from Glacier Spit to the NPS Ranger Cabin (2 miles east). This restriction is intended to minimize the risk of negative human/bear interactions and prevent bears from associating food with the bear viewing area.
  • Attend your food. If you have any food with you, you must keep it packed out of site and in your possession at all times or stored in an approved bear resistant food container.

satellite map of a bay and shoreline indicating areas closed to entry and the location of a ranger cabin, bear viewing platforms, and private property,

Map of Chinitna Bay meadows and bear viewing area.

NPS Image


For More Information

Brown Bears
Why are the best bear viewing locations on the park's coast? Learn the differences between brown bears that live on the coast and the interior of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Salt Marsh Ecology
Salt Marshes are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, and are a prominent feature of Lake Clark National Park's Cook Inlet coastline where they provide important habitat for wildlife including both brown and black bears.


Chinitna Bay Prehistory
Chinitna Bay has a rich prehistoric story.


Did You Know?