Bears top of the list of Alaska’s “Big 5” wildlife viewing experiences. And because bears tend to visit the same locations in search of seasonal foods year after year, there are a number of fairly reliable viewing locations for bears across the state.
Anan Creek, Inside Passage – Black bears
July – August
The creeks and estuaries of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest provide healthy habit for salmon populations – and the bears that feed on salmon. Anan Creek, near the town of Wrangell, was traditionally used by the area’s Tlingit peoples as a summer fish camp to catch their winter supply of salmon. Today, a trail through the temperate rainforest leads to an observatory and viewing platform near a cascading waterfall. Salmon pool beneath the falls, gathering energy to leap upstream, and bears line the creek, looking forward to a fresh fish dinner.
Best way to see bears at Anan Creek: Day tour
Pack Creek, Inside Passage – Brown bears
June – September
Pack Creek, near Juneau, is in the heart of Admiralty Island – also known as the Fortress of the Bears (Kootznoowoo in the local Tlingit language). Approximately 1,600 brown bears live on the forested island, and visitors have been viewing bears at Pack Creek reliably since the 1930s. During peak salmon runs in July and August, bears congregate along the mud flats at the creek’s outflow and along the steep creek banks waiting to catch fish. No roads lead to Pack Creek wilderness area, so access is by boat or floatplane only.
Best way to see bears at Pack Creek: Day tour
Katmai National Park, Southwest – Brown bears
Approximately 2,200 bears live in Katmai National Park, and one of the best places to see bears at Katmai is at the famous Brooks Falls. Each summer and fall, salmon swim upriver to spawn and Katmai’s bears gather at the falls, looking for a meal. Bears are focused on food, packing on the pounds for a long winter’s nap. Be sure to track their progress during Katmai’s “Fat Bear Week” and vote for your favorite competitor. Let the fattest bear win!
Best way to see bears in Katmai National Park: Day tour or overnight package tour
Lake Clark National Park, Southwest – Brown bears
June – September
The long miles of Lake Clark National Park’s coastline provide ample food opportunities for coastal brown bears. In spring and early summer, bears congregate along the tidal mudflats to munch on beach grasses and look for clams, using their long claws to peel open the shells. In late summer and fall, when salmon start making their way up Lake Clark’s many creeks, bears splash up and down stream trying to catch fish. Bears are accustomed to people using gravel viewing platforms maintained by the National Park Service, creating excellent opportunities for viewing bears in their natural habitat.
Best way to see bears in Lake Clark National Park: Day tour or overnight package tour
Kodiak Island, Southwest – Brown bears
June – September
The Kodiak Archipelago is home to its own subspecies of brown bear – Ursus arctos middendorfii. Approximately 3,500 of these bears roam Kodiak’s islands and these bears are BIG. Brown bears living along the coast tend to be larger than their “grizzly” cousins in the Interior. Access to lots and lots of food (including lots and lots of salmon) means these bears can pack on the pounds. The largest Kodiak bear on record was more than 1,600 pounds! The area surrounding Karluk Lake in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has one of the densest populations of brown bears in the world.
Best way to see bears on Kodiak Island: Day tour or overnight package tour
Denali National Park, Interior – Brown bears
June – September
Head into Denali National Park for a chance to see the “Big 5” – wolves, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, and bears. Interior Alaska’s brown bears are constantly looking for food - digging for roots and ground squirrels, delicately picking berries with long claws, and wandering along steep hillsides in search of their next meal. Look high and low as you travel along the park road – you may see a solitary grizzly bear or a female (sow) with cubs walking along a flat riverbed or along the high alpine passes. These bears are active throughout the day, so keep your eyes peeled for movement! The National Park Service estimates up to 350 brown bears live in the park on the north side of the Alaska Range – and Denali, the Great One.
Best way to see bears in Denali National Park: Day tour or overnight package tour
Kaktovik, Arctic – Polar bears
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to all three species of North American bear, but the polar bear is the king of the Refuge’s castle. Polar bears are the world’s largest land carnivore, although they are technically classified as a marine mammal because of their reliance on seals and other marine species for food. The Arctic Refuge has a population of approximately 900 polar bears. Licensed polar bear tours originate in Fairbanks or Kaktovik, a small Inupiat community within the Arctic Refuge.
Best way to see bears in Kaktovik: Day tour or overnight package tour