You can potentially see a bear almost anywhere in Alaska, from bottom lands near water in the south to the arctic regions in the far north. Of course, the species of bear you might see would vary depending on the habitat, but since most people travel in the more southern regions of the state near to the oceans, forests and tundra, you would most likely see either a black bear or a grizzly.
Bears are everywhere and just because they are not spotted doesn’t mean they are not around. They leave signs of their presence, like big piles of berry-filled SCAT, huge paw prints and claw-marked trees. That’s why hikers are encouraged to explore the wilderness in groups, make noise, always be vigilant and minimize food odors. It is exciting to see such a majestic animal in the wild, but it’s safer to see it from a great distance or from the safety of a vehicle.
Getting up close and personal with a bear is dangerous. They are fast, have big teeth, huge claws and can be quite aggressive. We were cooking our dinner one night while camping at a state park in Haines, and quite suddenly, a grizzly walked into our campsite and helped himself to the food. We retreated to the van and when he left, we packed everything, in record time I might add, and left. That is not a common situation, but an example of how nearby a bear can be.
There are several places where you might safely view bears. One place is Denali National Park. The park shuttles that take visitors into the interior of the park offer opportunities to spot lots of wildlife including grizzly and black bears, sometimes right on the road. Salmon-spawning waterways are another habitat frequented by bears, such as the rivers in the Kenai peninsula, in Haines and the salmon hatchery in Valdez. And during berry season in August, when the tundra and hillsides are full of ripe fruit, bears may be spotted feeding on the mountain slopes near roads. And then there’s the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center south of Anchorage, an educational and wildlife rehab institute that you can walk or drive through.
Wherever you decide to visit in Alaska, check with the local park rangers and tour guides as to safe bear- viewing opportunities. And make sure you follow the guidelines for safety.