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From the rushing waters of the coasts to the tundra-covered Interior, there’s one animal you can find across Alaska – and one that drives many people to visit and seek them out: bears. Brown bears, specifically. Now, the enthusiasm we all feel for these behemoth mammals has been recognized as one of the top travel experiences in Alaska – and the whole world.
National Geographic editors have just unveiled their list of top travel experiences for 2024, and bear viewing in Katmai National Park and Preserve made the cut. This prestigious list, named “Best of the World 2024,” highlights travel experiences that showcase the beauty of our world and the diversity of its communities and people. Best of all, while NatGeo recognized Katmai as the best place for this experience, there are locations across Alaska where you can see bears.
This recognition aligns with findings from the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA). Jillian Simpson, President and CEO of ATIA, noted that travelers have consistently ranked bear viewing in Alaska as one their top motivations to visit and activities once they arrive. Millions have also enjoyed live webcam footage of bears at Brooks Falls since the installation of cameras in Katmai.
Simpson emphasized the awe-inspiring nature of watching bears in their natural habitat and concurred with National Geographic‘s experts, calling it a must-have adventure in a lifetime. She encouraged travelers to opt for professional guides when going bear viewing in Alaska.
Over the years, lodges and tour operators across the state have expanded their bear-viewing offerings. Whether cruising through the Inside Passage or striking out to explore beyond Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, travelers can now enjoy a similar bear-viewing experience.s
The season for bear viewing in Alaska typically runs from mid-June – once bears have roused from hibernation – through early September when they begin to retire for the cold winter ahead, although it can vary based on the bears’ location. Here are some popular bear-viewing spots in the state:
- Katmai National Park and Preserve (Southwest): Home to over 2,000 brown bears, many of which can be spotted along the Brooks River and the iconic Brooks Falls. You can fly in for the day from Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, or King Salmon; I recommend checking out Rust’s Flying Service for their bear-viewing options from Anchorage.
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Southwest): Less renowned than Katmai, Lake Clark is a neighboring national park that offers rewarding brown bear viewing experiences. Nearby lodges curate wildlife tours, or visitors can take day tours from Anchorage, Homer, or Kenai.
- Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Southwest Alaska): Covering most of Kodiak Island, this refuge is home to over 3,000 Kodiak brown bears. Travelers can stay in remote wilderness lodges or opt for day tours into the refuge. (“Kodiak” bears are a subspecies of brown bears, as are grizzlies.)
- Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area (Admiralty Island, Southeast): Hosting an estimated 1,500 brown bears, more than all the Lower 48 states combined. Most visitors opt for a one-day guided flightseeing tour from Juneau.
- Anan Wildlife Observatory (Wrangell Island, Southeast): A unique location where brown and black bears coexist. Accessible via floatplane or boat with tour operators from Wrangell.
- Denali National Park and Preserve (Interior): Denali is an ideal wildlife destination for spotting Alaska’s Big Five: bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep. Grizzly bears and other wildlife can often be seen along the Denali Park Road on a bus tour.
If you’re looking for Alaska bear viewing experiences in a more controlled environment – such as with small children in tow – the Anchorage Zoo and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center both have bear exhibits that allow you to safely learn about bears. Additionally, wild brown bears and grizzlies can be found all across Alaska, so you might just see one while exploring The Last Frontier on your own.
This post is part of a new type of news I’m sharing on my blog. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!