5 Best Bear Viewing Spots In Alaska | What You Need To Know

Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Beach
Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Beach Bear | Photo – Phillip Flippo

Whether you live in Alaska or are coming to visit for the first time, one of the most sought after activities in the state is seeing our mighty and majestic Bears. Alaska is home to 98% of the entire United States population of brown bears, has over 100,000 Bears in general, and so it is no wonder that so many people the world over come here for the chance to visit them.

There are, a great number of options to get to see these creatures and it can be daunting to try to decipher which ones are best for you. After having spoken with a great number of different people over the last year who both really wanted to see them, and also had wildly different budgets/expectations, I decided to write this article to help demystify bear viewing in Alaska.

I would also like to make a note that there are bear viewing opportunities from spring through fall in Alaska, but what you will see is going to be very different.

In the springtime you will see more baby bears, bears feeding on vegetation, and skinnier bears overall after they emerge from hibernation.

In the late summer and fall is when you will see bears fishing for Salmon and becoming much larger because of it. Keep in mind the seasonal changes when deciding when to come for your Bear viewing adventures.

Although no wildlife sightings are ever guaranteed, in this article I will cover my five favorite options for Bear viewing in Alaska ranging from the nearly free, to choices that are way off the beaten path.

Note: This article will exclude Polar Bear viewing as it is a whole different discussion which we will cover in a future article.

The Best Bear Viewing For Those On a Schedule/Budget – Lake Clark

Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Fishing
Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Fishing For Salmon | Photo – Phillip Flippo

Just to rip the Band-Aid off now, Bear viewing in Alaska is almost always an activity that will cost you thousands of dollars. You are dealing with small aircraft flights to extremely remote places, relying on experienced guides to respectfully introduce you to these animals & keep you safe.

To make this all happen during the short period of the year that Bear viewing is at its peak, it all gets very costly to provide.

That does not mean there are not some, relatively, inexpensive options out there that are also, incredible.

My favorite of these budget options is one that will take you to the somewhat lesser known destination that is Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park. Although becoming more and more famous over the last few decades, this once hidden gem has a number of things going for it that separates it from many other destinations.

Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Water
Bear Viewing Lake Clark National Park Playing In The Water | Photo – Phillip Flippo

Departing from Soldotna Alaska, Talon Air Service offers fully guided bear viewing day trips to Crescent Lake starting at only around $750 per person, which for what you get, is an absolute steal.

They will fly you out to this remote destination and you will take a few steps and then get onto a small boat that will take you along the shore to visit these amazing Coastal Brown Bears.

This is important for a couple of reasons because it means it is both an option for both those who may have mobility issues (you just need to be able to get on and off a small plane) and its also a great option for those who may be uncomfortable standing right next to a Bear in the wild.

You will be in the safety of a boat with a trained guide who will get you up close and personal with actively fishing/swimming bears. When we went out with them last we were able to see Bears fishing, play fighting, crossing the lake, and just plain enjoying themselves.

They only operate these incredible tours July 15th – September 30th when the Bear have the spawning Salmon as a food source so you are basically guaranteed an incredible show at a very low cost.

Best Bear Viewing & Scenic Landscape Combo Option – Denali

Cathedral Mountain Denali National Park
Cathedral Mountain Denali National Park | Photo – Phillip Flippo

Denali National Park is unsurprisingly pretty high on the list of best places to see wildlife of many kinds here in Alaska. The high mountain Grizzly Bears do not have the rich Salmon food sources to feed off of, but to get to see them amongst some of the the most beautiful scenery on planet earth is literally awesome.

Just like the previous option in Lake Clark, a trip to Denali (especially if it is already part of your itinerary) won’t break the bank. There are a number of ways, to actually get to experience the park from an inexpensive bus tour (great option if you have mobility issues) at only $144 a person to actually camping in the park itself for around $15-$50 a night (depending on if you have a tent or RV).

Denali National Park Bear Distant Hills
Denali National Park Bear Distant Hillside | Photo – Phillip Flippo

Going into the park you have a decent chance of spotting a Grizzly feeding on vegetation or stalking a wild Caribou. One of the things that makes this different than other Bear viewing locations is that there is just a lot more variety.

While there may be less concentration of Bears overall, they roam huge distances, you can also potentially see Wolves, Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep, Pikas and more.

This makes Denali a winner no matter what you see as there is just so much variety and the landscapes are amazing even if the animals are a bit shy that day.

Denali National Park Bear Road
Denali National Park Bear On The Road | Photo – Phillip Flippo

You might see Bears right along the side of the road, which if you can only afford to do the bus tour is a real blessing.

What my wife and I found to be the best opportunity to see them though, was to camp for a few days (we stayed at the Teklanika camp site in an RV) and take one of the transit buses to the summit of Sable Pass around mile 39 of Denali Park Road.

Once there, get dropped off, and simply walk the road down to the bottom and focus your attention on the hillsides off to the left or right. You will have a good chance at spotting Bears and loads of other wildlife, then once you reach the bottom, simply hop on a bus to go back up and do it all again.

This is my only complaint about the wildlife bus tour, you cannot get off and walk this or any other portion of the road. So if you wanna see Bears in Denali National Park, I highly recommend staying a few days.

Best Bear Viewing Option On Earth – McNeil River

McNeil River Bear Viewing Salmon Eggs
McNeil River Bear Viewing Salmon Fishing | Photo – Phillip Flippo

This location is so special that we actually wrote a whole article about it – The Ultimate Guide To Bear Viewing At McNeil River.

Without a doubt the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary has the best Bear viewing on the planet, but getting the chance to come here comes with a few challenges, and I won’t sugar coat it.

First, you can’t just go there, you must actually win an extremely limited lottery (you can apply here before March 1st of every year). Only 185 people in the entire world every year are awarded permits.

Second, even if you do win the lottery, it’s not like you are going to fly out to a fancy remote Alaskan resort. This place is purposefully and meticulously maintained in such a manner to impact the Bears and surrounding environment as little as possible. You will be tent camping next to the Bears, you will be getting your own water from streams, and the only food is what you can fit in your limited pack. There is no wheelchair access, there is no store, it is absolute wild remote Alaskan wilderness.

Third, is that going to McNeil is not cheap. The lottery itself is inexpensive at $30 for both Alaskan residents and out-of-state non-residents, but if your are chosen you will have to pay $225 as an Alaskan or $525 as an out-of-state non-resident in order to go.

You cannot drive here, it is only accessible by small float planes, so you will be paying $900 a seat (we went with Northwind Aviation). Not to mention after acquiring all the necessary camping equipment, photo gear, food, and clothing it can easily cost $5,000 or more if you are going with a party of two, so much more if you are coming from out of state.

McNeil River Bear Viewing River Geology
McNeil River Bear Viewing River Bears Hanging Out | Photo – Phillip Flippo

All of that to say, it’s the best bear viewing in Alaska for a reason. They go through great lengths to protect this place that, since its inception in 1967, has held the world’s largest concentration of Brown Bears.

It may be difficult to access but its one of those things that, if you really want to see the Bears here in Alaska as a bucket list style item, and if you are physically capable of doing so, you would plan an entire trip around this one adventure.

If you do make it out you can expect to see Bears fishing, sleeping, play fighting and sometimes just fighting, eating all manner of things, socializing, giving Bear hugs, mom’s teaching cubs, and all of this often several feet away from you.

McNeil River Bear Viewing Play Fighting
McNeil River Bear Viewing Play Fighting | Photo – Phillip Flippo

That’s right, although our guides would, never ever, actively encroach on a Bear’s space for any reason, Bears have minds of their own. On at least 5 occasions we had these huge and beautiful animals come cruising on by us, not 3 feet away.

This all really sums up why this location is so special. You are in remote nature with the Bears and an extremely small group of other people (never more than ten visitors are in McNeil at any one given time), the Bears a wildly active, they are close, and there are more than anywhere else on the planet.

The Best Bear Viewing Option For Ease Of Access & Price – The Eagle River Nature Center

Eagle River Nature Center Black Bear Baby
Eagle River Nature Center Black Bear Cub | Photo – Phillip Flippo

The Eagle River Nature Center is just 30 minutes North of Anchorage Alaska and only costs $5 to park. If you live in Alaska, or are visiting, this will absolutely be the easiest and cheapest place to have a chance of seeing Bears and a number of other animals.

Although you can see Brown Bears on the trails of the Nature Center it is far more likely that you will encounter the beautiful and curious Black Bears while out exploring. There are several trails that you can walk, but I think my favorite is likely the Albert Loop Trail.

You can start by walking by the very cool Beaver damns, walk along the edge of the river, a great spot to potentially see Bears, then on the way back walk through the forested areas – I like finishing my hike by taking the first portion of the Dew Mound Trial.

Eagle River Nature Center Black Bear Flower
Eagle River Nature Center Black Bear Sniffing A Dandelion | Photo – Phillip Flippo

At the end of this trail system I also recommend stopping by the Salmon viewing deck area, it’s not only a beautiful area, but Bears are known to frequent it as well.

Keep in mind that unlike other locations on this list of the best Bear viewing spots in Alaska, you will be on your own, you will have no guide. These are public trails and you should certainly exercise caution and respect if you do encounter a Bear, never approach a bear or run from a bear. You can review how to stay safe around Bears here.

We have also talked about bear attacks in Alaska, and just know that it’s rare.

Anecdotally, if you see a Moose, always run from a Moose, should they charge you or show aggression.

There are times of the year where the Nature Center is closed due to either flooding and/or increased presence of Bears in the area, so please check their website’s current trail conditions to make sure they will be open.

The Best Bear Viewing For A Luxurious Or Easygoing Experience – Katmai

Brooks Falls July | Photo – Jon Rayeski

If you have the time and in some cases, the money, Katmai National Park & Preserve is world famous for Coastal Brown Bear viewing for a reason. The extremely well known Brooks Falls is where you can see the Bears catching Salmon with their mouths mid air, and there is no doubt that will make memories you will never forget. This place is also wheelchair accessible with special all-terrain wheelchairs you can rent.

There is a lot more to Katmai than just the iconic falls, so lets look at what you can do in Katmai and where you can stay.

Right off the bat I can tell you that Katmai is all over the place lodging/experience wise, for example these are just three examples of wildly different options for visiting Katmai:

  • You can fly in for a day trip out of Homer, Alaska with Alaska Bear Adventures for 7-8 hours ~$1,200 per person.
  • You can stay in total remote luxury in Iliamna at the all inclusive resort Royal Wolf Lodge and be flown out everyday to Katmai for a week ~$14,250 per person.
  • You can tent camp at Brooks Camp in Katmai itself for $10-$18 a night (but don’t forget you will need a flight out there).
Margot Creek Katmai | Photo – Jon Rayeski

Regardless of where you stay or if you are just popping over for a day trip, lets talk about where to go and what to do while you are there looking for the Bears:

  • Walk the ~5 miles of maintained trails, the Bears often use them as a highway.
  • Go back country backpacking/camping and look for Bears near the other rivers and streams. In general you want to look for where Bears feed on sedges, clams, and salmon.
  • Brooks Falls – It’s often crowded when the Bears are in full swing chowing down on the Salmon, but if you are in Katmai you must check it out.
  • Go fishing shoulder to shoulder with the Bears! There are only a handful of companies that are allowed to provide guided fishing services in Katmai and there are a number of regulations so always check these before dropping a line. That said you can catch Lake and Rainbow Trout, Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, Arctic Grayling, as well as the five species of Pacific Salmon.

Katmai is definitely an unforgettable and famous place to visit to see the Bears here in Alaska, and it is made even more interesting by the fact that you can see it so many different ways, at so many different price points.

Easiest Place To View Bears With Guaranteed Success

If you come to Anchorage and drive south you will find the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Here you can have a guaranteed view of bears and other Alaskan wildlife.

Think of your zoo but in a more natural habitat. We love the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and everything they do. It’s worth going here no matter what and supporting their cause. They rescue wildlife and bring them here, which include bears!

If you end up going, please tell them that The Alaska Frontier sent you!

  • Address: 43520 Seward Hwy Girdwood AK 99587

Where Will You Go To See Bears In Alaska?

McNeil River Bear Viewing Fighting
McNeil River Bear Viewing Fighting | Photo – Phillip Flippo

There you have it, 5 of the absolute best places to see Bears in Alaska as noted by a lifelong Alaskan.

Although there are many places and methods to seeing the Bears I hope that this article gave enough options to help make whatever you choose to do that much easier. From all of us here at The Alaska Frontier, good luck on your next adventure and remember Alaska Loves You!

If you have any favorite Bear viewing locations/services that I didn’t mention, feel free to contact us here.

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Where to see bears in Alaska
Brand Ambassador at The Alaska Frontier | + posts

My name is Phillip Flippo and I am a professional nature and wildlife photographer based out of Wasilla Alaska. As a lifelong Alaskan, I have always been captivated by the incredible scenes and amazing sights that our great state has to offer. Sharing photos, films, and articles from the real wild Alaska is a passion of mine, and I work hard to deliver the best of best to audiences around the world! Whether I am climbing mountains, spending time at sea, or exploring the frozen unknown I want to help others unlock Alaska’s mysteries for themselves. I truly believe we are always better off united, sharing the beautiful destinations of our world, and helping each other discover the most amazing experiences; and that is exactly my mission, to share, to help mentor, and to find the best Alaska has to offer!

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