You set foot on land, heart racing as both feet are on hard ground and ahead of you is one of nature’s greatest events. The water bubbles and pulsates with millions of salmon swimming against the current, grizzly bears are swiping with finger length claws either in the hopes of catching one of these tasty treats mid-leap and a bald eagle is circling above selecting its next meal. You stand on the same ground as the grizzlies, some of the biggest grizzlies in the world, as they fish, play and forage on the shores, putting on their annual show to fill up on protein before going into hibernation. This is a major event for the fish, the bears, the birds and the fishermen of Alaska, and you are slap bang in the middle of it.
Each year, the salmon return providing food, not only to the bears and the birds, but also the wolves, the killer whales back in the ocean and even the forest itself. This major event is unmissable to any wildlife enthusiast, whether you want to see the grizzlies up close and personal, fancy some bird watching or even a spot of fishing.
In Alaska you can witness the salmon run via boat, viewing platforms or land vehicles, but for the most intimate and jaw-dropping experience, we offer the chance for you to walk among them, on foot. Similarly, you can experience this magnificent display in British Columbia in Canada.
Where and when
The great run not only provides food for bears, but for killer whales, wolves, bald eagles, and even the forests themselves.
In both Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, the summer months are when you can see it, with July and August being the prime time. In Alaska, areas such as Denali National Park and Kodiak Island are perfect, with amazing activities in place to get you there safely and with excellent viewings. In Canada, we recommend viewing in Bella Coola or staying onboard an expedition ship and exploring the coast where you might spot spirit bears as well.
As with a majority of nature’s most fantastical events, there is still an element of mystery around the great salmon run, especially as to why.
The salmon are born in the rivers, where they spend their early lives, and as they mature their body goes through some changes allowing them to adapt to the salty water of the sea. During the changes they stick to brackish waters, waiting until they reach about 15-20cm in length before leaving the river systems completely, around Spring time.
The sea is where they spend most of their lives, usually about 4 years, building up their strength and body mass enough for them to be able to spawn. At this time, during the summer months, they start to work their way back up to the river systems, often finding their way back to the exact spot they were born. They fight currents, negotiate waterfalls and avoid predators, from eagles and bears to otters, finding their way home. Once they reach their final destination, the salmon that manage to spawn create nests, or ‘redds’ in shallow waters with their tails, where the males will deposit their sperm. The females will then cover this up with gravel before heading out to make another seven or so redds, or until they run out of eggs.
The fresh water leads to rapid deterioration of the salmons health and they soon die, leaving their spawn to follow the same journey. This magnificent journey provides food for the animals of the area and for the local fishermen.
How can I see the salmon run?
We offer a range of ways to see the salmon run and the exciting activities that go with it. You can watch from the safety of viewing platforms, float down the middle of a river whilst grizzlies fish from the shores, or walk with the bears on land.
You can also embark on a cruise style expedition where you will stay on a boat for a majority of the time, exploring the coastal areas in search of grizzlies and spirit bears.
There is a wonderful range of accommodation as well, including luxurious and authentic lodges, safari style camps, expedition ships, inns and resort style hotels. This really is a great way of seeing wild North America, as wildly as you like.
Best time to go
July and August