From 15-pound cubs to 1,500-pound bears, these creatures never fail to impress and enchant Alaska visitors.
The state is home to three species: the black bear, the smallest; the grizzly (also known as the Alaska brown or Kodiak brown bear); and the largest species, the polar bear. Even in Alaska’s largest cities you might see a black or brown bear crossing the street. And in far north communities, such as Prudhoe Bay, it is not uncommon to see patrols out seeking to deter roaming polar bears.
One of the best ways to see bears is on an aerial trip that includes bear viewing. Rust’s Flying Service in Anchorage offers flightseeing tours over Cook Inlet and an agenda that includes bird’s-eye views of Redoubt Bay, Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park. Guests deplane for an explorative walk or boating excursion through wilderness to see brown bears in their natural habitat. Three trip options, ranging from 6.5 to 12 hours, are available. Book early, as summer reservations fill quickly.
Katmai Wilderness Lodge, on the remote coast of Alaska’s Katmai National Park, offers guests intimate and personalized guided wildlife excursions on and around the shores of protected bays along the Katmai Coast. Though bears take center stage here, many guests also see harbor seals, sea otters, eagles and a variety of marine bird life. Other species that might also be seen (though less predictably) include wolves, moose, red fox, whales, porpoise, sea lions and river otters.
The lodge itself is isolated and has a 12-guest capacity. It offers three-, four- and seven-night all-inclusive tour packages that include roundtrip airfare from Kodiak, comfortable overnight accommodations with private bathrooms and delicious meals. katmai-wilderness.com
Kodiak Island, the largest island in Alaska and the second largest in the United States, is home to an estimated 3,500 Kodiak brown bears, the largest brown bears found anywhere in the state. Isolated for more than 12,000 years in its island home, this bear has distinctive species adaptations and owes its massive size to the plethora of fish that fill the streams.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is accessed by floatplane or boat, and bear viewing is common near any salmon-bearing streams from June throughout the summer. Additional information is available at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
Visitors to the southeast portion of the state can take a jetboat out of Wrangell and visit the Anan Wildlife Observatory to watch black and brown bears fishing 30 feet from the viewing platform. Alaska Waters offers this six-hour tour that often includes views of eagles fishing and harbor seals playing. The one-hour ride to the observatory is in calm, protected waters.
For polar bear viewing, fly north from Fairbanks to Kaktovik on the Beaufort Sea coast. Warbelow’s Air Ventures offers trips during September—the whaling season—and visitors can watch as polar bears gather to dine on the whale carcasses. More than 80 bears arrived to feed in one day in September of 2014.
Short on time? See all three bear species at the Alaska Zoo, in Anchorage, or head south of Anchorage about 50 miles to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where a bear-viewing walkway suspends you over the bear enclosure for close-up views of black and brown bears.