What Is The Best Time Of Year To See Bears In Alaska?

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Alaska's Grizzly Bear Watching Tours

You may wonder when the best time of year to see bears in Alaska is, but the answer depends on what type of bear you want to see and what kinds of activities you'd like to participate in! Are you interested in grizzly bear watching tours or would you prefer to take one of the Alaska bear photography tours that are popular with both amateur and professional photographers? No matter what type of activities you are planning for your Alaska getaway, there are plenty of opportunities to see bears and capture amazing photographs of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Read on to learn more!

Bear Viewing in Alaska

If you ask the experts, they'll tell you that some of the most incredible bear viewing in Alaska is near the city of Anchorage. Many of these iconic spots are just a short floatplane flight from the city, and many air services can get you into the backcountry for a day of unrivaled access or fly you in for a longer bear camp adventure! Some of the best destinations for grizzly bear watching tours are listed below:

  • Chinitna Bay - from mid-May to mid-September, Chinitna Bay's bears are active, grazing on the beach grasses, salmon, and shellfish they find on the Cook Inlet Coast. Visitors often fly in for the day or book overnight trips. Many travel guides arrange bear viewing with the help of ATVs and towed trailers to cover longer distances.
  • Redoubt Bay - from June through August, expert tour guides offer bear watching tours at this location from a covered boat on the lake.
  • Katmai National Park & Preserve - visit the famous Brooks Falls in July to watch brown bears snapping up salmon during the salmon runs! Visitors can watch bears from platforms, which are accessible from a flat walking path.
  • Lake Clark National Park - from the end of July through the beginning of September, visitors can watch the Lake Clark bears hunt and fish from the comfort of a boat on Crescent Lake.
  • McNeil River State Game Sanctuary - a lottery system determines who can visit this remote area to watch grizzly bears! If you are lucky enough to win a sought-after spot, guided trips, as well as unguided visits to this backcountry location, are best from June through August.

If you're not sure which spot is best for you, it's a good idea to ask the pros! There are many touring companies that travel to Alaska or in-state ones that can organize grizzly bear watching tours for visitors. Remember, bears are everywhere in Alaska, so it's a sure bet that you will spot one even if you don't take an organized tour.

Alaska Bear Photography Tours

According to expert guides, finding and photographing the interior grizzly bear is not easy! They are solitary animals and cover a large territory. They do not congregate in specific locations, at specific times, or in large numbers, like their cousin the coastal brown bear. Photgraphing the coastal brown bear, however, is another matter! There are a number of Alaska bear photography tours that give visitors an opportunity to photograph brown bears in their natural habitat. Unlike their cousins in the Interior, coastal brown bears congregate in larger numbers and at specific locations year after year. There are a number of outfitters and air-taxi services that organize Alaska bear photography tours, but there are also lodges where guests can travel on their own and generally have good success in creating photos of brown bears.

Some of the best places to photograph grizzly bears are listed below:

  • Katmai National Park & Preserve - established in 1918 to protect Mount Katmai and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, this the most famous location for observing brown bears in the wild. During peak season, you can count on multiple bears being visible at Brooks falls at any time of day.
  • Admiralty Island - located near Juneau, this island is home to approximately 1,500 brown bears. This bear population is significantly more than all of the lower 48 U.S. States combined, and has earned the island the nickname "Fortress of the Bears." Admirality Island is now a protected wildlife and nature preserve.

  • Kodiak Island - The Kodiak bears were isolated on the Kodiak archipelago approximately 12,000 years ago. Because of the abundance of food sources on the island, they have evolved into the biggest brown bears in the world. An adult male Kodiak bear can reach an astonishing height of 9 1/2 feet when standing on its hind legs! 

If you do not want to fly into the backcountry to photograph grizzlies, however, there are Alaska bear photography tours in these locations:

  • Haines - you can reach this town of 1,700 people via the Alaska State Ferry. Famous for its winter gathering of bald eagles, the town attracts many brown bears and photographers to its Chilkoot River every summer.
  • Hyder - this small town, with a population of 90, has more bears in residence than people! Every summer, the nearby Fish Creek supports several salmon runs. This makes Hyder a great location for Alaska bear photography tours, as well as grizzly bear watching tours, that don't require visitors to fly in by floatplane!

Best Time Of Year To Photograph Bears In Alaska

So, when is the best time of year to see bears in Alaska if you want to photograph them?

Experts all have their own opinion! Of course, summer is the best time of year to see bears in Alaska. The bears emerge from their winter hibernation in the early spring months but become active during the summer months as they hunt and fish during the salmon runs in preparation for the next winter's denning! Many photographers prefer to visit during the height of the salmon runs, to get photographs of the bears fishing in Alaska's rivers. Other photographers say September is the best month to photograph bears on Alaska bear photography tours. In September, the fall color sweeps across the continent, and the bears are in peak condition from a summer of foraging. These two factors have many visitors convinced that the best time of year to see bears in Alaska is September - right before the bears return to their winter dens. Many seasoned travelers will tell you that an added bonus is fewer tourists in the early fall, which gives you an even better chance of photographing these magnificent creatures without bumping into too many visitors on your trip.

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