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
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 30 minutes.
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.
Things to Do
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.)
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.