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The Best Bear Viewing

There are many places to see bears in Alaska, but if your goal is to make sure you see a bear -- and potentially lots of bears -- these are the best places (but note that, in most cases, you have to time your trip to salmon runs, when bears are present):

  • Anan Wildlife Observatory: When the fish are running, you can see dozens of black bears feeding in a salmon stream from close at hand. Access is easiest from Wrangell.
  • Pack Creek (Admiralty Island): The brown bears of the island, which is more thickly populated with them than any other place on Earth, have learned to ignore the daily visitors who stand at viewing areas along Pack Creek. DNA research shows that these bruins are more closely related to polar bears than to the grizzlies found elsewhere. Access is by air from Juneau.
  • Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau): With a group of female black bears in the vicinity, anyone who can walk to the edge of a parking lot may have the pleasure of watching them feeding on fish and rearing their young during the salmon run. Quiet, respectful behavior and no food, please, when watching the bears.
  • Katmai National Park: During the July and September salmon runs, dozens of giant brown bears congregate around Brooks Camp, where, from wooden platforms a few yards away, you can watch the full range of their behaviors. Flight services from Kodiak also bring guests at any time of the summer to see bears dig clams on the park's eastern seashore.
  • Fortress of the Bear (Sitka): This nonprofit education and rescue center for orphaned brown bear cubs has two older bears in residence as well, providing hours of safe viewing from platforms into their imaginatively landscaped three-quarter acre habitats.
  • Denali National Park: The park offers the best and least expensive wildlife-viewing safari in the state. Passengers on the buses that drive the park road as far as mile 63 usually see at least some grizzlies. And you don't have to worry about whether fish are running, as these bears are not focused on salmon streams.

The Best Marine Mammal Viewing

You've got a good chance of seeing marine mammals almost anywhere you go boating in Alaska, but in some places, it's almost guaranteed.

  • Frederick Sound (Petersburg): A humpback jumped right into the boat with whale-watchers here in 1995. The whales show up reliably for feeding each summer. Small boats from Petersburg have no trouble finding them and watching in intimate circumstances.
  • Juneau: A mom-and-pop whale-watching operation here claims 100% success in finding whales on every tour for 5 years running. You can count on seeing humpback whales and often killer whales and spectacular Dall's porpoises. And the competition of many operators provides numerous choices and low prices.
  • Icy Strait (Gustavus) and Bartlett Cove (Glacier Bay National Park): Humpback whales show up, and often orcas are present off Point Adolphus, in Icy Strait, just a few miles from little Gustavus, a town of luxurious country inns. They can also be seen in Bartlett Cove within Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Sitka Sound: Lots of otters and humpback whales show up in the waters near Sitka. In fall, when the town holds its WhaleFest, you can spot them from a city park built for the purpose.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park (near Seward): You don't have to go all the way into the park -- you're pretty well assured of sea otters and sea lions in Resurrection Bay, near Seward, and humpbacks and killer whales are often seen in the summer, too.
  • Prince William Sound: Otters, seals, and sea lions are easy -- you'll see them on many trips out of Valdez, Whittier, or Cordova -- but you also have a chance of spotting both humpback and killer whales in the Sound.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.