The Yuzhno-Kamchatsky Reserve is located on the southern-most tip of Kamchatka and was created in 1882 to protect its sea otter population. The reserve not only represents the diverse natural complexes of Kamchatka but also those of the Kuril Islands stretching to the south. The reserve is well known for its incredible salmon spawning habitats. Kurilskoye Lake, the second largest on Kamchatka, is the biggest spawning ground for red salmon in Eurasia. The reserve’s location where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk meet, defines this territory’s harsh and wet climate. But also represents its uniqueness as a place hard to get to but once there, astounding by its entrancing beauty, wildlife, and bird life. The reserve is managed by the Kronotsky State Biosphere Preserve. Its status as a protected area has evolved largely due to the abundant sockeye salmon runs into Kurilskoye and Kambalnoye Lakes. The reserve has outstanding significance for education and scientific purposes. There are great ecotourism development opportunities that could be explored, but there are serious challenges that need to be resolved to assure that the reserve’s conservation and preservation goals are met.
As almost anywhere in Kamchatka, the reserve is crowned by volcanoes: Kambalsky (2156m), Koshelev (1812m) and the most graceful Ilinsky (1578m). Spring and fall migratory birds use the wetlands of the Yuzhno-Kamchatsky Reserve as a vital stopover place for feeding, resting, and restoring energy reserves. In winter, when large birds of prey gather at Kurilskoye Lake, to feed on the salmon, it is possible to observe up to 150 of the magnificent Steller Sea Eagles, as well as occasional White-tailed, and Golden Eagles. Also present during winter feeding of the salmon are Gyrfalcon, and thousands of geese and seagulls.
Whales and dolphins are often observed along the reserve’s coastline, as well as large colonies of up to 2,000 sea otter frolicking among the shore’s rocks and islands. Kurilskoye Lake, Kamchatka’s second-largest water body is the most outstanding feature of the amazing wild ecosystem of the Yuzhno-Kamchatsky Reserve. The lake was formed 8300-8400 years ago by a gigantic volcanic eruption. The lake is 300 meters deep and is surrounded by a surreal and mountainous skyline commanded by the Ilinsky volcano. Millions of sockeye salmon pour into Kurilskoye Lake each summer, entering the Ozernaya River from the Sea of Okhotsk accounting for between 1.5 and 3.5 million fish. Because the spawning season from July through March, the lake offers unique opportunities for wild and birdlife observation during this season. Specifically in August and September, numerous bears feed on the abundant red salmon, ripening berries, and pine nuts.
A growing number of Kamchatka tour operators offer multi-day bear viewing trips to the lake with accommodations at the Grassy Point Lodge, run by the Yuzhno-Kamchatsky Reserve. You may also request more tour information from our advertisers.
To reach Kurilskoye Lake, the most visited area of the Yuzhno Kamchatsky Reserve, you fly by helicopter from Yelizovo about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Please note that weather conditions may sometimes cancel flights requiring some patience. Usually each trip includes one or two reserve days for this occurrence. Most travelers book with an organized group, usually to Kurilskoye Lake for bear observation or bird watching during the fall migration. The helicopter usually lands at the lake at the reserve’s Grassy Point Lodge. The lodge’s cozy and comfortable accommodations provide a safe haven to spend the night in the middle of bear country. Grassy Point Lodge offers bunkhouse style accommodations for up to 14 visitors. The cabin has electricity, outdoor toilets, and family style cooking and meals.
Form the lodge it is a short .9 km hike down the lakeshore to a viewing platform where especially in August it is often possible to observe bears catching salmon running up the river into the lake. During a typical day, visitors see much of Kurilskoye Lake by boat, on foot with the escort of an armed reserve inspector. It is possible to hike to the border of the reserve from the west coastal village of Ozernaya, following an old road. However as soon as one enters the reserve, an escort by an inspector is required so this must be arranged in advance by contacting the Yuzhno-Kamchatsky Reserve office in Yelizovo.
We're on social media: