Bear-viewing is a booming business in Alaska, and visitors never forget their first sighting. Most folks choose a package trip to areas where the bears have become somewhat habituated to the presence of humans — but there are more adventurous opportunities as well.
The most famous places to see and photograph brown (grizzly) bears are Denali National Park in Interior Alaska, Brooks Camp within Katmai National Park and Preserve, and at nearby McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. Some boats and planes also offer bear-viewing day trips to coastal Lake Clark National Park.
On Kodiak Island, bear-viewing centers around Frazer Lake within the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, but most of the bear-viewing flights out of Kodiak actually head to the Katmai coast.
In addition to the official bear-viewing areas, quite a few air-taxi operators fly out of Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Soldotna, and King Salmon on daylong trips in search of brown bears. Most of these head to the outer coast of Katmai National Park and Preserve for $550–625 per person.
In Alaska, polar bears are most common within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and are occasional visitors to Barrow and the village of Kaktovik, particularly during the fall whaling seasons when fresh carcasses provide a food source. Local operators — including a boat-based tour in Kaktovik — take visitors to see and photograph the bears. These are powerful and dangerous creatures, and passenger vehicles do not really provide protection from a bear attack.
If you’re really looking for polar bears, head to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, where special tundra-buggy vehicles provide safe platforms for viewing and photography.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition