In the sparkling shallows below, a large paw plunges into the creek. It darts so quickly I wonder if I’ve really seen it. It comes up empty. Trying a new tactic, the bear dunks his whole shaggy head in and finally snags a squirming salmon, beautiful pinks and greens flashing in the sunlight.
Catching sight of our group hovering just at the edge of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, he pauses, salmon still flip-flopping between his razor-sharp teeth. Then, disinterested and seemingly accustomed to humans, the bear turns his attention back to his lunch and lumbers up the bank to enjoy it.
This intimate wildlife viewing is a treat for visitors to southeast Alaska’s Rainforest Sanctuary. Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, the reserve is just a 15-minute drive south of Ketchikan. Eagle Creek, a popular salmon spawning spot, runs directly through the sanctuary and attracts black bears to the fish, during July and August especially. Visitors can watch from a safe distance while closely observing nature at its most majestic – both intimidating and awe-inspiring.
Bears aren’t the only predators drawn to these lush banks for fresh fish; bald eagles dive into the glistening water and scavenge leftovers from the black bear’s meal. On a busy summer day, as many as 30 eagles can be seen perched in a tall pine overlooking the creek, their keen sight following the happenings below as they wait for an opportunity to strike.
Our naturalist encourages us to keep an eye out for wolves as well; although salmon isn’t their staple diet, local packs occasionally stop in for a snack, taking advantage of what momma black bear has left behind.
Civilization seems far away as we navigate the vibrant green wetland trails. We’re surrounded by the damp, earthy smell of the rainforest. Birds rustle in branches artfully draped with lichens of different shapes and colours. Every now and then a raven caws in the distance.
As I strain my eyes into the woods – hoping I’ll be one of the lucky few to spot a lone wolf, or even a young cub haphazardly climbing a mossy tree trunk – it’s easy to see why this 40-acre reserve is one of Alaska’s treasures. You’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into a stunning ecosystem. And if that’s not enough, you can also check out the reserve’s raptor centre, visit the historic sawmill, watch a master totem carver at work, or even feed the centre’s resident reindeer.
What a day it was exploring the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.