Alaska Bucket List: Bear Viewing
It’s hard to shake the image once you’ve seen it, usually on a TV special or in a magazine: giant grizzlies standing mid-thigh in a churning river, scooping salmon by the fistful to feed themselves or their adorable cubs waiting onshore. There are few wildlife viewing opportunities more thrilling and special than watching wild bears in their natural habitat, and for many Alaska visitors, it’s high on their bucket list of must-see phenomena in the state.
Alaska is home to about 98 percent of the U.S. population of wild bears, so you might think seeing them doesn’t require a lot of thought or advanced planning. While it’s true that bears are found statewide and in all sorts of habitats, there are a few tips and pointers to keep in mind if seeing bears is on your Alaska list.
First of all, timing is everything. Bears follow their food source, and for most Alaska bears, their favored food source is salmon. Salmon runs occur at different times during the summer depending on the salmon species and river or stream, so knowing when the fish are running and where is important information. Virtually any time you visit the state during the summer, you can find bears somewhere.
Another consideration is species – do you want to see black bears, brown bears or grizzlies? Black bears inhabit Alaska’s heavily forested regions, and although they’re called black bears, their coloration ranges from cinnamon brown to a gray-blue shade that distinguishes the rare and mystical “glacier bear,” a variety of black bear. Technically, brown bears and grizzlies are classified as the same species but there are some very obvious distinctions between them. Brown bears, including the legendary Kodiak brown bears, live along Alaska’s southern coast and feast primarily on salmon.
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Tips from an Alaskan
Alaska's untamed backcountry is comfortable quarters for Roman Dial, a 30-year resident who has explored nearly every corner of the state. A professor of environmental science, mathematics and outdoor studies at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Dial is the author of a how-to guide to packrafts - small, lightweight, personal inflatable boats designed to be carried on your back for use in rivers, lakes or on the ocean.
Read more about Dial's favorite Anchorage haunts.
Bear viewing on your Alaska cruise
Traveling to Alaska by cruise ship? Not to worry – you have plenty of flexibility to include bear-viewing excursions. Not on a cruise? Add these day trips to your itinerary a la carte! The suggestions below are based on a “typical” seven-day Inside Passage cruise itinerary.
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