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5 Best Places to View Bears in Alaska

by ATJ Posted in The Alaska Experience Blog |

Brown Bear Viewing in Alaska

Living in Alaska is like living in a zoo that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All kinds of wildlife creatures roam freely through the forests and plains—and sometimes even down Main Street!

One of the most iconic animals of the Alaska wild is the bear. And it’s the only state with all three types—the black bear, the brown/grizzly bear, and the polar bear. There are plenty of places to catch a glimpse of these fearsome animals in their natural habitat. Here are a few of our favorite places to view bears in Alaska, all within a short distance of some of our Princess Lodges.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

Near Anchorage, Alaska

If you want to see brown bears, Katmai is one of the best places to view them in the world. An estimated 2,200 inhabit the park, so if you’re dying to watch bears eating, playing, lounging, and lumbering in their natural habitat, this is the place to do it.

We recommend visiting the Brooks River, where bears congregate to fish. A platform stretches out above the bears, allowing for close-up views with minimal disturbance to their habits and habitat. Another great location in Katmai is Hallo Bay, where bears graze upon the protein-rich sedge grasses and razor clams along the beach.

Anan Wildlife Observatory

Near Ketchikan, Alaska

Anan Wildlife Observatory is in Southeast Alaska’s magnificent Tongass National Forest, which is the largest national forest in the United States. You can get to the Observatory by a boardwalk trail that starts at the mouth of the Anan Lagoon. Bears have gathered here for centuries to harvest the salmon making their way to the sea.
It’s rare to see brown and black bears inhabiting the same area, but Anan is one of those special places. An easy, half-mile walk through the rainforest brush ends in an observation deck, where you overlook the bears fishing in the stream below. Permits for Anan are limited, and it’s a 45-minute flight from Ketchikan, but there’s nowhere else like it.

Sable Pass, Denali National Park

In Denali, Alaska

You aren’t guaranteed to see bears anywhere you go. Wildlife in Alaska isn’t trained, caged, or baited—that’s part of what makes it so special. This is definitely the case for bear watching in Denali. Unlike most fly-in bear hotspots, Denali shows you how bears live when they’re in the high alpine, not a creek run red with salmon. At Sable Pass, you can spot bears from the road on driving tours. Caribou, mountain goats, and dozens of other animals also roam these slopes, so there’s plenty to see if no grizzlies show up.

Admiralty Island (Fortress of the Bears)

Near Juneau, Alaska

This bear-filled island (and National Monument) is a 30-minute floatplane trip from Juneau. Almost 1,600 brown bears live in the area, which is the highest concentration in North America! After you touch down, a ranger will guide you through the protocols, and then you’re on your own to explore.

Pack Creek runs through the island and fills with salmon in the summer months. Up to a dozen brown bears a day come to feast here. You can watch them fishing from the stream or digging in the sands of the estuary for shellfish from a safe yet intimate distance. And nothing beats a floatplane trip!

Gates of the Arctic

Near Fairbanks, Alaska

The Gates of the Arctic isn’t exactly Yellowstone when it comes to being tourist-friendly. It’s the northernmost national park in America, and consists of 9.4 million acres of unmarked land. There’s no phone service, campgrounds, or ranger stations, and you’ll need an experienced guide to navigate the park.

However, it can also offer something no other park in America can: a glimpse of the elusive polar bear. Polar bears spend most of their lives out on the sea ice, but they come into the mainland to have cubs in the fall. Gates of the Arctic has a very high concentration of polar bear dens along its coastline. It might take a combination of sea plane and kayak to see them, but it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

A position with Alaska Tour jobs might mean seeing more wildlife in one summer than you have in your whole life. There are bears near all of our Princess Lodge Locations, and you might even see one by accident! But remember, even if they look cute, bears can be dangerous. Observe at a distance, and exercise caution when bear viewing.

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