Summer isn’t the only time for wildlife viewing in Alaska. Some animals might be easier to spot when the temperatures dip, snow covers the ground, and vegetation is thinner. Just as in summer, dusk and dawn are the best times to see wildlife, since those are the times when both nocturnal and diurnal animals are out. Here are seven animals you might find during Alaska’s winter, and where to look for them. Just remember to pack a warmer jacket.
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Winter is particularly good for bald eagle viewing. Or November, at least. That’s when the largest concentration of the birds can be seen along the Chilkat River outside Haines, Alaska. Gray days are best for spotting them, as they often don’t fly on the thermal updrafts that occur on warmer sunny days. Look for them between dawn and 11 a.m., since they feed in the morning on dead salmon that wash to shore along the river.
Moose populations actually increase in places like Anchorage during the colder months when they head to lower elevations to find food. Some locals find moose eating dinner in their backyards. In Anchorage, Kincaid Park and the Coastal Trail are two good places to spot moose. Farther away from the coast, moose tend to gather near marshes and wetlands—anywhere there might be more greenery to eat.
November is prime viewing season for Dall sheep because they’re in rut in the late fall. White and stocky with amber horns, yellow eyes and black noses and feet, Dall sheep are a close relative to bighorn sheep. They’ll be driven to higher windblown ridges as the snow deepens, and it takes some effort to get to their habitat. But before winter sets in, you can track them on alpine ridges, in meadows and on steep slopes in Alaska’s mountain ranges.
Also in rut during late autumn, mountain goats actually head down away from the snowy, exposed high mountains during the winter. Seeking shelter and forage, they’ll populate the forests throughout the Southeast panhandle and west along the coastal mountains to Cook Inlet. In Southcentral Alaska, they’re most easily found in the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains.
While other birds migrate as far south as the Lower 48 for the winter, some owls stay in their arctic breeding grounds. The arctic tundra outside Barrow, Alaska is a great place to view snowy owls.
Harbor seals and sea lions
Late winter into February is prime viewing time for harbor seals, as they gather near Alaska’s shores. While you might have to look a little farther into secluded areas for them, sea lions are also still around during the winter. Both seals and sea lions can travel great distances, but can be seen during the cold months on beaches and sand bars from the Canadian border west to the Aleutian Islands.
Wolves might seem like the most elusive wildlife to view, but they can be seen in either summer or winter. In winter, finding their tracks in snow might be helpful. You’ll find them both on the mainland and many islands. The trick is to spend time quietly waiting in remote and protected areas like national parks.
While it might take a few more warm layers and bit more fortitude than in the summer, winter wildlife viewing can be just as—or more—rewarding. If you’re ready to bundle up and pack the binoculars, these and many more animals are waiting to be seen throughout the winter in Alaska’s backcountry.