Guided trips are available to Pack Creek, but almost half the people who visit the bear-viewing area on Admiralty Island save money by arranging transportation and going on their own. The U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Fish and Game keep rangers and technicians at Pack Creek, who give directions and answer questions.
Permits: The number of people visiting Pack Creek each day is limited during the peak season from July 5 to Aug. 25, so permits are required. Permits can be reserved starting March 1 from the Forest Service office at 8461 Old Dairy Road, 586-8800. Information on Pack Creek can also be found on their Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass. The permits go quickly for the peak season. The cost is $50 a day for adults, $25 a day for children and senior citizens.
In the shoulder season, from June 1 to July 4 and Aug. 26 to Sept. 10, permits are no longer limited but still required. They cost $20 a day for adults and $10 a day for students and seniors.
The Forest Service also holds out four permits for each day which only can be purchased in person within 72 hours of the trip. The so-called "late permits" are set aside specifically so locals can go to Pack Creek.
Cost: The cost of a trip to Pack Creek ranges from under $100 per person for a family taking its own boat to nearly $3,000 per person as part of a luxury guided tour package.
By boat: For boat owners, Pack Creek is a good weekend trip. It's about 100 nautical miles from Juneau by boat, taking about 4 1/2 hours, said Fish and Game technician Chad Rice. Bear-free camping is allowed on nearby Windfall Island. Then visitors have an entire day at Pack Creek, catching the best bear viewing in the early morning and low tides.
Boaters also can visit the lesser-known and less-restricted bear-viewing areas nearby. Swan Cove, Swan Island, Windfall Harbor and Windfall Island all have been closed to bear hunting since 1984, and bears frequent the streams and estuaries at Windfall Harbor and Swan Cove.
By plane: Most locals would rather save time than money, so they come by floatplane. The 20-minute flight costs $100 to $200 per person, depending on how many people share the charter. Charter flights can be arranged with Ward Air per person (789-9150), Wings of Alaska (789-0790), Tal Air (789-6968), Alaska Coastal Airlines (789-7818), Alaska Seaplane Services (789-3331), Alaskan Outback Adventures (789-9661) and Alaska Fly N' Fish Charters (790-2120).
People arriving by charter plane can arrange in advance to rent an Alaska Discovery kayak if they want the option of camping overnight or paddling to other bear-viewing spots on Seymour Canal. The kayaks are kept at Windfall Island, a 45-minute paddle from Pack Creek. Rental costs $75 the first day and $45 each day after.
Tour options: Alaska Discovery includes Pack Creek on many of its guided trips. Its one-day Pack Creek trip costs $395 from May to August, but pre- and post-season trips run about $100 cheaper. Juneau residents and their visiting friends or family can sometimes get discounts on trips with extra space. Announcements about the discounts are sent via e-mail. To be added to the e-mail list, call Alaska Discovery at 586-1911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alaska Discovery holds the majority of the commercial permits for Pack Creek, but several other tour companies go there too.
* All Aboard Yacht Charters (email@example.com or 1-800-767-1024) offers a week-long cruise from Juneau for up to 10 people with one day at Pack Creek for $2,795 per person.
* Dolphin Charters (dolphincharters.com or 800-472-9942) includes a day at Pack Creek in an eight- to nine-day cruise for $2,995. Inquire about local discounts.
* Alaska Fly N' Fish Charters (firstname.lastname@example.org or 790-2120) offers half-day guided trips via float plane. The $475 per person price includes rubber boots, binoculars and raingear.
* Thayer Lake Lodge (email@example.com or 789-5646) includes a day at Pack Creek as part of a three-day bear viewing package for $1,300, including meals, lodging and flights.
* Adventures Afloat (789-0111 or firstname.lastname@example.org) will drop clients off at Pack Creek as a part of a personalized cruise for up to 12 people, if the client arranges for a permit. The cost is $430 per person per day and it offers 10 percent to 20 percent local discounts.
Pack Creek tips from a kid
THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
For families with children, 12-year-old John Montgomery had a word of advice. Six hours of watching bears was too much.
"Even bears get boring," Montgomery said, suggesting three hours would be long enough for most kids. Even then, bring something to keep them quietly entertained until the bears actually show up.