Watching for Bears at Fish Creek

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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 swim up the creek from the Portland Canal.

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.

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.

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