Bear Watching In Alaska’s National Parks

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Katmai Or Kenai Fjords – Which Park Is Best For Bear Viewing?

Alaska is home to 15 national parks, which offer outdoor enthusiasts the chance to hike, kayak, camp, and enjoy the state’s native wildlife in its natural habitat. Each park is also home to healthy populations of bears – brown, black, and (in the Far North) polar bears! There are so many bears in Alaska’s national parks that bear-viewing is one of the top reasons tourists visit Alaska.

Two of the most popular parks for bear viewing in Alaska are Katmai National Park and Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park. The brown bears at Katmai National Park are some of the largest in Alaska because the food sources they target are so abundant. On the other hand, bear viewing on the Kenai Peninsula offers visitors the unique opportunity to see both brown and black bears while visiting. Keep reading to learn more about each park!

Location, Location, Location – Where To Find Alaska’s Bears

Katmai National Park and Preserve is located on the northern Alaska Peninsula, about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage. If you want to see bears at Katmai National Park, you will have to charter a floatplane! To get to the park, you can fly from Anchorage via commercial airline to King Salmon (the park’s headquarters), then take a floatplane or ferry across the bay to the park where your bear-viewing adventure will begin.

Kenai Fjords National Park is located just outside the town of Seward in south-central Alaska, 126 miles south of Anchorage. From Anchorage, the opportunity to go bear viewing on the Kenai Peninsula is just a two-hour drive away!  During your trip along the Seward Highway, you will enjoy the dramatic shorelines of Turnagain Arm and the soaring peaks of the Chugach Mountains before you reach your bear-viewing destination on the Kenai Peninsula.

Which Park Should You Visit?

Both Katmai National Park and Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park are top destinations for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Each park offers incredible landscapes, a variety of wildlife, and quintessential Alaskan outdoor activities. If you want to see bears in Alaska’s National Parks, either of these parks would be a great choice. Here is a list of activities and attractions in each park, so you can start planning your bear-viewing adventure today.

Katmai – Where The Brown Bear Is King

The bears at Katmai National Park are some of the largest bears in the world. Here, bears feast on an almost endless supply of salmon during the annual salmon runs, as well as clams, sedges, and beach grasses along the coast. The bears spend the early summer to early fall months feeding in preparation for their winter hibernation. Almost 2,000 brown bears live in Katmai National Park, with many of them concentrated at Brooks Falls. This is one of the best places to see bears in Alaska’s National Parks, and thousands of visitors make the trek to Brooks Camp each year to see Katmai’s incredible brown bears.

  • The best time to see bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve is from June to August. Katmai is located in southwestern Alaska and has a subarctic climate with mild summers and cold winters. During these months, temperatures average in the mid-50s to low-60s, making bear-watching conditions pleasant! Bears are most active at Brooks Falls in July, but bear in mind you’ll be fighting other tourists for a good view of their activities during that time, too.
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve is also a great place for visitors to get outdoors and go exploring. The park has several easy hikes for people of all abilities, including the Brooks River Trail, a 2.5-mile round-trip hike along the Brooks River to Brooks Falls. For a more challenging hike, visitors can tackle the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a 7-mile round trip hike through the park’s iconic volcanic valley and its unique landscape.
  • Visitors come to Katmai to see brown bears, but the home is also home to a variety of wildlife species. If you venture away from Brooks Falls into the more backcountry areas, you can also see moose, caribou, and various bird species such as bald eagles and gulls.

Kenai Fjords – Home Of Alaska’s Black Bear

Kenai Fjords is home to both brown and black bears, although black bears are far more common. Of all Kenai’s wildlife, its black bears are probably its most famous inhabitants. If you’ve been wondering where to see bears in Alaska, bear viewing on the Kenai Peninsula should be on your bucket list. Many visitors have their first bear encounter in Alaska during a visit to Kenai Fjords, where both black and Alaskan brown bears fish and forage around the park’s coastline.

  • Kenai Fjords National Park, located on the Kenai Peninsula, experiences cool temperatures and high rainfall throughout the year. The best time to visit is during the summer months of June to September when the weather is mild and the fjords are filled with calving glaciers and abundant wildlife. Winter temperatures can drop below freezing and the park is only accessible by boat, making it a more challenging destination for visitors.
  • Avid hikers can explore the park on foot and see Alaska’s famous Harding Icefield. The 8.2-mile round-trip Harding Icefield Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park. Visitors can see black bears along the trail during the summer months, where they feed on salmonberries and other dense vegetation. Or, take a shorter trek to the face of Exit Glacier. No matter which option you choose, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see glaciers, fjords, and bears in the park!
  • The location of Kenai Fjords means you’ll be able to enjoy the sight of humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, and porpoises swimming in the fjords. Additionally, you’ll be able to see bird species such as puffins, murres, and kittiwakes. If you want to see bears in Alaska’s national parks – as well as some of the state’s famous marine life – Kenai Fjords offers the best of both worlds.

An Adventure Of A Lifetime

Both Katmai National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park offer visitors the opportunity to observe bears in their natural habitat. However, the parks offer different topography and landscapes, so which one you visit is entirely dependent on what you want to see. Whether you want to simply observe bears at Katmai National Park or see bears and whales at Kenai Fjords, your trip is sure to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Download all three Alaska tour brochures for tour dates and pricing.