Alaska By Road
It's not just the 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley that makes Denali National Park and Preserve a top destination for Alaska visitors. The park is home to 37 species of mammals, ranging from lynx, marmots and Dall sheep to foxes and snowshoe hares. Make sure you bring your binoculars – 130 different bird species have been spotted in Denali, including the impressive golden eagle. Shuttle and tour buses run along a 90-mile gravel road inside Denali from late May to early September.
Southcentral’s Kenai Peninsula has been called “Alaska in miniature,” with rural areas connected by an extensive network of roads, offering plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife in its natural surroundings. The mouth of the Kenai River is a prime place to spot bald eagles, merlins and short-eared owls. Harbor seals regularly pop up when the salmon are running, while beluga whales occasionally venture upriver. Even peregrine falcons and coyotes can sometimes be seen.
The viewing decks at Cooper Landing boat launch overlook the Kenai River, offering a chance to spot Dall sheep on the alpine meadows to the north and mountain goats on the more rugged and steeper slopes to the south. The alders and willows near the boat launch also draw songbirds including yellow-rumped, orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers.
Homer sits at the western end of the U.S. road system, also on the Kenai Peninsula. While Bishop’s Beach in Homer is often thick with migrating shorebirds and waterfowl, visitors with a quick eye can also watch for the squirting jets of water from clams clearing their siphons as the tide recedes. Tidepools can hold jellyfish, sea anemone, plankton and tiny crabs.
Guided tours around the state can take the guesswork out of tracking wildlife and get you straight to the hot spots.
One area that’s popular for tours is Exit Glacier, a viewing site in Kenai Fjords National Park outside of Seward. Along with Steller’s jays and black-billed magpies, the area is home to mountain goats, black bears, brown bears and moose. Visitors may even spot snow buntings, horned larks, mountain goats, hoary marmots and iceworms, tiny nocturnal worms that live in the surface layers of glaciers.
While many of these viewing opportunities are easily accessible from the road, it helps to have the expertise of a guide to make sure you’re going to the right place at the right time. Whether you choose a guided kayak tour or a naturalist-led hike, guides can help ensure your wildlife viewing is maximized during what will surely be the experience of a lifetime.
For more about highway travel in Alaska, visit Alaska by car, bus or motorhome.