My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Watching for Bears at Fish Creek

2014/01/11by Donna Hull

Updated 06.01.2014

Grizzly bear at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site in Hyder, Alaska

The grizzly bear makes an appearance. The hump on her back is the clue that she’s a grizzly.

From July to early September, salmon spawn at Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska. The silver backs of chum salmon flash in the sunlight as the salmon swimp up the creek from the Portland Canal. Bears (both black and grizzly), wolves, eagles and other wildlife aren’t far behind, attracted by the convenient food source. And where there is abundant wildlife, humans are sure to be found—watching and photographing.

It takes determination to go wildlife watching at Fish Creek. Situated in a remote section of the Tongass National Forest, Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site is definitely an off-the-beaten-path travel experience. The only road that accesses Fish Creek requires driving the Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia to a spur road that winds 41 miles down a fjord to the twin towns of Stewart (British Columbia) and Hyder (Alaska).

Photographers should arrive early, stake out a spot at the end of the platform and stay there. You’ll loose your place at the railing if you move up and down the viewing platform.

During an Alaska Highway road trip, Alan and I made two visits to Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site. After settling into accommodations at Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart, B.C., we drove a gravel road that crossed the border into Hyder and on up to Fish Creek for a late August afternoon of wildlife watching.

Watch grizzly bears fish for salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area in Hyder, Alaska.

Watch grizzly bears fish for salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area in Hyder, Alaska.

Joining a few other wildlife watchers, Alan and I walked up and down the long, wooden boardwalk that parallels Fish Creek. Salmon flipped and flopped in clear, shallow water while many of their dead companions littered the creek bank. Several seagulls feasted on salmon remains but the bears—the reason we had come—were nowhere to be seen.

The next morning, we arrived just as the Tongass National Forest Service personnel opened the gates at 6:00 a.m. The crowd grew as we waited in the early morning cold, most toting camera gear with hopes of capturing the photo of a lifetime.

Looking for more to eat

Grizzly bear looking for a salmon breakfast.

Soon, a brown grizzly bear lumbered up the creek. The crowd watched as the bear fished and ate, fished and ate, approaching closer and closer, oblivious to the humans on the platform above her. A park volunteer moved up and down the path to answer questions or remind a noisy visitor to tone it down.

This grizzly caught her breakfast at Fish Creek near Hyder, Alaska

Success! Now for a grizzly breakfast.

Eventually, between foraging for berries on the creek bank and fishing for salmon, the bear had her fill and moved out of sight.

Wolf walking up Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska

A wolf fishes for breakfast in Fish Creek.

But the animal watching wasn’t over. A wolf wandered up the creek in the bear’s footsteps.

A wolf catches breakfast at Fish Creek near Hyder, Alaska.

Now it’s the wolf’s turn to eat salmon.

The agile wolf pounced on the swimming salmon, catching them quickly. We watched as the wolf bit off the heads of the salmon dining on their brains and discarding the rest. Scavenger birds hung in the trees or flew overhead waiting their turn to finish off the salmon.

The action lasted about two hours, leaving us cold and hungry. On the drive back to Stewart, we stopped at the Glacier Inn for breakfast. Many of our fellow wildlife watchers were there, making for a fun morning of comparing notes.

Another option, after watching the wildlife at Fish Creek, is to continue up the road to Salmon Glacier. It was too foggy and misty during our visit to make the drive worthwhile. But there’s always next time.

Click on Alaska Highway Road Trip to read about the rest of our adventures from this trip.

Have you visited Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site? How many bears did you see? Our travel feet are itching to repeat this boomer travel adventure.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzanne Fluhr
Twitter:
January 12, 2014 at 9:13 am

Is there any concern about the bears deciding to join the gawkers on the boardwalk? When I once went on a hike next to the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau, Alaska, our guide pointed out that the river had become a bear refrigerator (the salmon were running) and he would not leave one of the hikers who found the hike too strenuous to wait for us on a bench — too many bears around.
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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 4, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Suzanne, that didn’t seem to be a concern. There are several park ranger volunteers who monitor the boardwalk. And there was an escape gate providing another access back to the entrance. But they do warn you to be careful in the parking lot. But why would the bears be interested in the parking lot when the creek has all that tasty salmon for them to eat?

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Irene S. Levine
Twitter:
January 13, 2014 at 7:23 am

I assume these photos were taken with a camera with a powerful telephoto lens? :-)
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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 4, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Not all of the photos were taken with a powerful telephoto lens, Irene. A couple of them are from my Panasonic Lumix although it has a great zoom.

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Brette
Twitter:
January 13, 2014 at 9:44 am

What an amazing adventure! I would love to go and see this. The only bear we saw on our Alaskan cruise was on the shoreline – a mother and cub were eating a beached whale. Our ship got as close as it could but it was nowhere as close as this. I would be a little nervous being so close to the bears I think!
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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 4, 2014 at 8:23 pm

At least you got to see a bear on your cruise. We’ve been on two cruises, a mainline ship and an adventure ship and saw no bears. And this wasn’t all that scary. I actually felt quite safe.

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Anne-Marie Nelson January 13, 2014 at 10:35 am

Lucky you that you saw not only a grizzly but a wolf too! So rare! We went to fish creek in August last year but saw only salmon. Of course, we didn’t get up at 6 a.m. either. Thanks for the great pix.

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merr January 13, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Oh. My. Goodness. Amazing shots. It looks like you were incredibly close.

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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
January 15, 2014 at 8:48 am

Oh my gosh, these photos are amazing. What a great adventure.
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Alexandra January 15, 2014 at 7:49 pm

What an adventure! I think you were very brave. Not sure I would have taken the leap, even for excellent photos like these.

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ruth pennebaker January 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Great photos. I I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who got a little nervous just reading about your adventure.
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Chris Flees
Twitter:
February 16, 2014 at 1:20 am

You have some nice grizzly bear and wolf pictures. What an adventure. I must place Fish creek on my bucket list.

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Jeff
Twitter:
May 30, 2014 at 5:47 am

What an experience it was. I’d love to see bear hunting its breakfast meal.
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noel June 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Wow that is impressive wild life, I would love to capture images like that.
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Larry June 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Such a raw place in terms of nature and wildlife … I gotta make a trip out there sometime soon!
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