Where is the best bear viewing in Alaska?

Some of the most incredible bear viewing in Alaska is near Anchorage. Iconic spots like Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park, Redoubt Bay and McNeil River are all a short float plane flight from the city, and many air services can get you there for a day of unrivaled access. The key consideration in picking a spot is timing.

Finding Bears: Follow the Fish

The best bear viewing really depends on your dates. Salmon runs are a key reason bears congregate in such high concentrations (but certainly not the only reason). If you are looking for bear viewing worthy of a wildlife documentary, pick the spot where the fish are running during your visit.

Chinitna Bay is a good bet all summer long. From mid-May to mid-September, bears are active, moving between the area’s rich food sources. Beach grasses, salmon and even shellfish dug up on the Cook Inlet coast are each favorites for bears as the months shift. Fly in for the day, or stay the night. Bear viewing is on foot with the aid of ATVs and towed trailers to cover longer distances.

Redoubt Bay’s best bear activity is from June through August. Typically, Redoubt Bay visitors watch bears from a covered boat on the lake, with an expert guide alongside.

Katmai and the iconic Brooks Falls is best in July. If you’ve ever seen video of a bear snapping up a salmon atop a rushing waterfall, it was likely filmed at Brooks Falls. Bear viewing here includes walking on relatively flat paths and platform views. Visits are self-guided, with park service rangers on site to help and keep things running smoothly.

Lake Clark National Park is a solid bet for late summer. From the end of July through September, Crescent Lake is one of the best spots in the huge park, and again, visitors are usually looking for bears from an open boat.

With advance planning and a little luck, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is an incredible trip. Guided trips and unguided visits to McNeil from June to August are incredibly sought after. Access to McNeil is strictly controlled to preserve the area; a lottery determines who can visit for the season. Applications are due on March 1, with winners picked and notified later that same month.

Still not sure which spot to pick for your trip? Ask the pros. Many companies offer bear viewing in these and other areas. Bears are everywhere in Alaska, so you there’s a chance to spot them on other types of trips like flightseeing tours, ATV rides or even day cruises.

Guaranteed Bear Viewing

If a trip out to one of these locations isn’t in the cards, you can still get a good look at bears. For guaranteed wildlife views, check out the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center or Alaska Zoo. Both are home to black and brown bears, and the zoo is also home to several polar bears as well. The knowledgeable biology staff can share insights about each species, with special programs, lectures and feedings.

Bears typically hibernate from November to April, though there may be bursts of activity on the edges of hibernation.