Brown Bears of Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

Posted Jul. 30th, 2018 by Daniel J. Cox

Thirty Year Search

Brown bears of Alaska bush plane adventure is the culmination of a thirty-year search. Back in the late 80’s, I was a young photographer trying to earn a living making pictures of whatever creatures I could find. I grew up in northern Minnesota and I loved bears. It began with black bears, and eventually, I began dreaming of going to Alaska to find their larger, more dominant brethren, the brown bear.

In the late 80’s there were two very famous places to go see and photograph the coastal grizzly. One was Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and the other was McNeil River. I’ve never been lucky enough to get a permit for McNeil. Brooks Camp became such a circus I’ve avoided that sideshow for almost two decades. Even back then I dreamt about other opportunities that might be out there.

It’s taken almost 30 years, but new places to see brown bears continue to surface. And last month I found one of the most amazing spots ever.

Brown Bears Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

That’s me, sleeping with my bear spray, somewhere around 26-27 years old in my tent at Brooks Camp. Alaska

Bush Plane Adventure

Like all good brown bear locations, it’s not easy to access. In fact, getting close to the bears requires a lot of what I refer to as “bush plane adventure.” My goal of going to Alaska was to scout this new location, see what the possibilities were, and find out what it was going to take to get our NE Explorers in prime brown bear habitat.

Brown Bears Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

A quick stop to visit the Richard Proenneke cabin and historic site. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

I spent three days flying with one 0f the most dedicated and talented pilots I’ve ever worked with. On day 1 we started with just the two of us in his Super Cub. Bright yellow and well taken care of, the Piper aircraft reminded me of a bumblebee, small and nimble with lots of power.

Brown Bears Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

Jerry with his Super Cub along the coast.

And it is all three of these attributes that make the Super Cub so popular in the Alaskan Bush. Kind of like a trail bike really, its agility makes it relatively easy to get into places other bush planes don’t dare attempt. Day 2 was a day of camaraderie with some of my host’s friends and family. Almost the entire day was spent in the much larger Beaver with nearly six hours of airtime just poking around the lakes, mountains, and rivers of Alaska. Finally, on Day 3, we jumped in his Cessna 206 and did some additional scouting on my way back to Anchorage.

Brown Bears Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

Headwaters of the Mulchatna River in Southwest Alaska.

Three days of non-stop flying was a good introduction to what this place is all about. Flying is how you get to the bears. If they aren’t on the creek they were on last week, you grab a plane and fly to the creek they moved to. It’s that simple.

World-class Action and Red Salmon

As you can imagine it’s not cheap to do almost all travel by air and therefore the cost of this adventure is considerably more expensive than our other bear trips, but it’s going to be worth it. The action I’ve seen is absolutely world-class, and the location is right in the heart of the glorious red salmon runs I experienced during my first adventure to Alaska in 1987. I’ve not seen Sockeye salmon since, but you can never forget their bright,  intensely red color. Fish that glow like neon signs beneath the cold, clear waters.  They’re even more electric when a bear gets a hold of one and stands looking at the camera.

Brown Bears Feeding on Sockeye Salmon

Brown Bears Alaska Bush Plane Adventure

Brown bear bringing in a beautiful red Sockeye salmon. Alaska

This Trip Will Fill Fast

So that’s what I was up to and I wanted to share what I found here on the Blog. If you’re interested in this special adventure just drop Tanya or Jill an email at They’re laying it all out for 2020 and I can’t wait.

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There are 6 comments on this post…
    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 25th, 2018

      Guillermo, it’s hard to recommend specific lenses for your work since I haven’t shot weddings for 30 years. I would think the 12-35mm or possibly the Leica 12-60mm would be a good start. The 12-35mm is fast at F/2.8 all the way through the zoom range. The 12-60mm is F2.8-F/4 which may be an issue in natural lighting situations with weddings. I would most likely go for the faster 12-35mm. Another option would be the Lumix 35-100mm, F/2.8. Both lenses are not the cheapest but as always you get what you pay for. Hope this hels.

  1. Portrait of Sue Dougherty

    sueOn Aug. 2nd, 2018

    Hi Dan!! Sounds awesome!! When are you doing this trip???

  2. Dean SwartzOn Aug. 1st, 2018

    It’s this kind of advance work and experience that make NE the best photo tour company (actually, “Moving Photo Party” is a more apt moniker) on the planet!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 1st, 2018

      Thaks Dean but you should know we’ve stepped the fun up a great deal since you traveled with us. You should come with us again. Would love to have you along. By the way, I love that “Moving Photo Party” description. Very appropriate. Thaks for joining the conversation.


  3. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn Jul. 30th, 2018

    Sounds interesting Mr. Cox! The Boss is emailing now.

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