A PTR Review:
Silver Salmon Creek Lodge is located in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. For a photographer, it is a place to photograph Brown Bears while on foot without the protection of weapons, vehicles, or hides. One might say it is the ultimate adventure for a wildlife photographer.
Bear on Beach
David Coray, the owner, bought the lodge in 1983 and has since improved the facilities considerably. The lodge was originally a fishing camp and lacked many of the ammenities it now enjoys.
One can now expect comfortable rooms with en suite facilities within the lodge, or a newly acquired second lodge located a short walk away, or one can experience Alaska in a small one-room cabin without heat, running water, or flushing toilet (an outdoor toilet is close by).
Additionally, David can arrange for you to spend your time there in a tent. Which accommodation you choose is entirely up to you. One might say that the lodge is Alaska. One can go basic, or one can go comfortable. I chose comfortable.
Most importantly, though, is the atmosphere of the lodge, it’s location within Lake Clark National Park, and the staff and visitors who come and go throughout your time there. It’s very much like the great TV series “Northern Exposure” with constant surprises from the people one meets. A guy with a long beard, wearing jeans and boots, who one would not want to meet on an urban street, may start discussing how to install a solar panel to generate electricity, or a book written by some esoteric philosopher. In fact, everyone I met there had wonderfully diverse life experiences, and all of them were friendly and immensely interesting. I recall a discussion with my guide Drew about his experience living in Nepal!
One finds a large library, DVDs, and dozens of photography books within the main lounge. And, yes, there is electricity, a state-of-the-art LCD TV complete with slots for inserting CF cards for viewing shots made during the day. Internet services are available through a satellite link (although this service was not functioning while I was there).
Meals are simply awesome. The lodge employees a full-time chef and assistant. Want something special? The chef will gladly discuss what you want and then proceed to prepare your meal with zest. And when I use the word “Chef” I mean a world-class, school trained, and certified Chef!
How to get there?
David will arrange for a flight to the lodge in a small aircraft, he set that up with Homer Air for me. One can fly from Anchorage, Soldotna, or Homer. The aircraft will land on the beach in front of the lodge. That, itself, is quite a thrill.
Being at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge is enlightening, I can only recall one other place I have visited in my travels that was it’s equal – walking alone in the Serengeti. That’s another story.
As usual, I digress. My purpose in going to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge was to photograph brown bears. Some people mistakenly refer to them as “gizzly” bears. Yes, grizzly bears are of the same species, but the grizzlies are smaller because of their habitat. Brown bears a much larger, about twice the size. Only the polar bear is larger, but I have read that polar bears will not confront a brown bear because the brown bear is far more aggressive.
But frankly, during my time at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge and Lake Clark National Park, I never encountered an aggressive bear. Quite the contrary, the bears simply ignored me. For here the bears have never been hunted, they have seen lots of humans, and frankly, they could care less. Which means one can concentrate on doing photography while there without fear. And perhaps, find a shot that is worth remembering.
In fact, one needs to remember while there, that bears are everywhere, sometimes they wander into the lodge area. So, while there one must expect the unexpected, and if walking around at night to remember that one is in bear territory and bears come and go as they like. This is not Disney World.
And, while taking photographs, expect to get very close to the bears. The rule of thumb is to approach within 100 yards of a bear and stop, if the bear moves to you that is fine, and yes, they will move close if you stand still and wait. I recall one instance when my guide Drew tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move back and away from a bear that was 15 feet in front of me. Seems I was so intent on getting photographs that I forgot how close I was!
One should expect the unexpected while at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. Like this instance when two young bears decided to play.
Course, one has plenty of time to photograph a bear without hurry. In fact, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge is all about not hurrying about anything. It’s sort of a mystical experience, perhaps bordering on the surreal.
Concerto in Brown
In sum, if one is interested in doing something totally different, and one is interested in relaxing, and one is interested in doing wildlife photography, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge is the place to go.
In my view the best time to go is early June. Why? There are fewer people there, the bears have wonderful full coats of fur, the mosquitos aren’t out yet, the days are fair, the nights still chilly, and one is not confronted with dozens of folks who are fishing in the area, thus spoiling the photography.
Accommodations: 5. Others will differ, but frankly one cannot expect better in this location.
Professionalism of Staff: 5. Incredible diversity of experiences and wonderfully accommodating.
Food: 5. Shall I say fantastic!
Coffee: 3. Starbucks Standard. I know, but coffee is very important to me.
Cost: Expensive. Plan on $600 per day per person plus tips, park fees, taxes. (Cost will likely increase because of fuel price increases in the region).
Photography: 5+ – One will not find anywhere in the world that is better.
Overall Rating of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge: PTR 5 Stars.