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Bear Viewing in Alaska
(Black Bears, Brown Bears & Polar Bears)

    Alaska has one of the highest concentrations of bears in the world, and are a major attraction for many visitors. The state is home to black bears, brown bears and polar bears, and there are viewing opportunites throughout the state. Below are some basic facts about the bears, and the best viewing areas (listed generally from the best to not-so-good going down).

    A large number of tour operators offer tours to most of these viewing locations, by air, boat and/or bus. To find the tour operators, have a look at our guide to the community that services the particular viewing location (Alaska community guides). To show you the possibilities, I've posted the 12 best grizzly and black bear photos I've ever taken in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Columbia.

  • Brown bears (Ursus arctos) occur throughout Alaska except on a few islands. Although brown and grizzly bears used to be thought of as separate species, they are now considered to all be Ursus arctos. They are commonly known as brown bears along the coasts, and as grizzlies inland. There are 35,000-45,000 brown bears and grizzlies in the state.
  • Kodiak bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) are a subspecies of the brown bear, larger than the average brown bear. There about about 3,000 Kodiak bears, living exclusively on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.
  • Black bears (Ursus americanus) occur in most forested areas of Alaska, though they are occasionally seen beyond treeline. Although they are usually black in colour, they may be any colour from black through shades of brown to a creamy white (known as the Kermode bear). There are over 50,000 black bears in Alaska.
  • Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) occur along the coastlines of northern Alaska. there are 4,000-6,000 polar bears in Alaska.

Brooks Falls (Katmai National Park)
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: viewing platform adjacent to the falls
Best time: mid-July and again in mid-September
Location: southwest of Anchorage
Access: scheduled flight to King Salmon, then charter flight to Brooks Camp,30 air miles away
Permits: required Grizzlies fishing at McNeil River, Alaska

McNeil River State Game Sanctuary
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: viewing platforms
Best time: mid-June (Mikfik Creek) or July to mid-August (McNeil River)
Location: southwest of Anchorage, adjacent to Katmai National Park
Access: charter flight from Anchorage or Homer. Four-mile hike to viewing pad.
Permits: awarded by lottery; applications available each January
Note: the photo to the right was shot from the viewing platform

Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area (Stan Price State Wildlife Sanctuary)
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: viewing tower overlooking the tidal flat at the mouth of Pack Creek
Best time: mid-July to mid-August
Location: Admiralty Island
Access: charter boat or floatplane from Juneau
Permits: required A grizzly at Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park
See: brown bears in open country
Facilities: various
Best time: all summer
Location: park headquarters off Mile 237, George Parks Highway
Access: road, rail or charter flight to park headquarters, shuttle bus into park (Fish Creek suggested as minimum distance to go in)
Permits: park day pass; obtained upon arrival, no daily limit
Note: the photo to the right shows a typical fall grizzly sighting from the park road

Hyder (Fish Creek)
Facilities: viewing deck overlooking the small creek
See: black and brown bears fishing
Best time: mid July through early September
Location: north end of Portland Canal
Access: Road access via the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Fish Creek is 3 miles from the village of Hyder.
Permits: None required
Note: this is sometimes called the Misty Fjords viewing area, though it is far from Misty Fjords proper

Anan Creek Wildlife Viewing Site
See: black bears fishing (occasionally brown bears)
Facilities: viewing deck overlooking the falls
Best time: late June to late August
Location: 30 miles southeast of Wrangell
Access: charter boat or floatplane from Wrangell or Ketchikan
Permits: required July 5 - August 25; maximum 60 people per day. To obtain a pass please contact the Wrangell Ranger District at 907-874-2323.

The trail to the Margaret Creek Fish Ladder Traitors Cove (Margaret Lake Fish Ladder, Margarita Bay)
See: black bears fishing
Facilities: viewing deck at the top of the fish ladder
Best time: July through October (best in mid August)
Location: 26 miles north of Ketchikan
Access: charter boat or floatplane from Ketchikan
Permits: none required
Note: the photo to the right shows the trail to the fish ladder. It is used by bears as well as humans.

Nine Mile Bridge, Situk River
See: black and brown bears fishing
Facilities: None
Best time:
Location: 9 miles from Yakutat
Access: air or boat access (scheduled flights and ferry) to Yakutat, road to viewing site
Permits: None required

An Alaska brown bear Dog Salmon Creek (Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge)
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: public use cabin
Best time: early July to early August
Location: Kodiak Island, 70 miles from Kodiak
Access: scheduled flight to Kodiak, charter flight to cabin, hike to viewing area
Permits: awarded by lottery (cabin sleeps 6)
Note: there are many other bear viewing opportunities in the KNWR, including Karluk Lake and Uyak Bay

Chilkoot Lake State Recreation Site
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: none
Best time: April for eulachon runs, and various times from mid-June until mid-October due to 4 salmon runs
Location: ten miles northeast of Haines
Access: road access to Haines, and to park
Permits: none required

Wolverine Creek Cove (Redoubt Bay Critical Habitat Area)
See: brown bears fishing
Facilities: none
Best time: July to late August
Location: 40 miles southwest of Anchorage on the west side of Cook Inlet
Access: charter boat or flight from Anchorage
Permits: none required

Pavlof Marsh
See: brown bears (though not common)
Facilities: observation blind at marsh
Best time:
Location: on Chichagof Island, 38 miles from Hoonah
Access: boat or flight to Hoonah, then road to viewing area
Permits: none required

Barrow & Kaktovik
See: polar bears (possible but not common)
Facilities: none at viewing areas Brown bear - Ursus arctos - on the shore of the Beaufort Sea
Best time: when sea ice forms - late September or October
Location: Arctic coast
Access: scheduled flights from Anchorage or Fairbanks; charter vehicle to viewing areas
Permits: none required
Note: Brown bears may also be seen along the Arctic shores, as seen to the right

Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game Bear Viewing Guide

Alaska Public Lands Information Center Bear Viewing Guide

Brown Bears (Grizzlies) of the North