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Polar Bears In Alaska, Best Places To See Them

Most people who are animal lovers dream of seeing their favorite animals up close.

Polar bear lovers however are in for more of a difficult time catching a glimpse of these large and dangerous carnivores outside of a zoo. There are approximately 20,000 to 25,0001 remaining in the wild.

Because they primarily live in the Arctic Circle, getting the chance to see a Polar bear in the wild requires a bit more planning than just hopping on a plane and traveling to Alaska.

Booking an excursion with a tour group is usually a multi-day commitment, but it is truly one of the best (and safest!) ways to get the chance to see Polar bears in Alaska.

Let’s learn more about these beautiful animals and where you can see them in Alaska!

The Polar Bear Rundown

Polar bears can live over 40 years, especially if they are under the management of human care. In the wild polar bears tend to live closer to 20-25 years.

Polar bears do not hibernate. In fact, they spend their entire winter hunting seals, so they won’t bed down. Pregnant female polar bears will create a den when giving birth, which tends to be on sea ice.

Over 110,000 years ago, polar bears were thought to have evolved from brown bears. Many of their features are similar but have been enhanced and adapted to a lifestyle in the Arctic Circle.

They have an exceptional sense of smell, 6 inches of fat to keep them warm, short, dense fur, small ears to reduce heat loss, and even bumpy papillae on their foot pads for traction over the ice and snow.

What Do Polar Bears Eat?

Polar bears spend most of their lives on the ice, so it makes sense that they eat cold-weather creatures. Their main source of food is ringed seals. They are the world’s largest carnivores, after all.

They have high-calorie diets that allow them to generate their own heat in frozen conditions. They need to eat a lot because male polar bears can grow to 1,500 pounds. Females come in at a much smaller size, frequently settling at around 600 pounds.

You will find polar bears primarily hunting seals, but if they are desperate they will also eat small mammals, eggs, berries, and vegetation. These are not the best options for food, but with polar bear habitats shrinking with the sea ice, they can be forced to move to land for food options.

Land-based options burn more calories and reward with less nutrition, so it is not ideal for a polar bear to consume these other food sources.

Where Do Polar Bears Live?

Polar bears live in the Arctic, in and around the icy waters. They stay warm due to a thick layer of blubber topped with a thick layer of fur. Their paws are built to grip and move along the ice without slipping as well.

Polar bears are found in the Northern Hemisphere in:

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Greenland
  • Norway
  • Russia

They primarily spend time on land in coastal areas, as the sea ice recedes and returns seasonally.

Fun Fact: Due to the amount of blubber and fur they have, they are very hard to spot using thermal imaging!

When Are There Baby Polar Bears?

Unlike brown bears, polar bears don’t hibernate as their main source of food is available year-round in the Arctic Circle. The one exception is when a female bear has cubs.

She needs to have her cubs in a den to protect them from the harsh winter weather until they are old enough, usually, a few months after they are born.

Pregnant females will give birth to up to three cubs, but more usually will birth two. These baby cubs are born around December and stay with their mother for up to three years.

If you take a Polar Bear viewing tour in Alaska, you might not be able to see a very young baby as they usually emerge from their dens around March or April and most tours occur in the fall.

However, you might catch a glimpse of one of these cuties under a year old.

Wild Alaska Travel

On the Wild Alaska Travel’s Polar Bear and Northern Lights tour, you can see Grizzly bears and Polar bears on the same excursion! 

This trip is for serious outdoor adventurers, as you will be in Northern Alaska with limited amenities. The company will schedule a Zoom call with interested parties ahead of time to ensure understanding of the adventure and make sure it is right for them.

Start off in Denali National Park with accommodations near Wonder Lake. There is prime Grizzly viewing in this area, as well as other iconic Alaskan wildlife like caribou and mouse. 

Next, you will head to the Arctic Coast to view wild Polar Bears in action! 

Also on this trip, you will have the opportunity to visit a traditional Native Alaskan village, soak in a natural hot spring, and even see the Aurora Borealis. Or should we say Aurora “Bear”ealis? 

This adventure is for the wildlife lover, and we cannot recommend it enough. Because peak polar bear viewing season is in the autumn months, you will get spoiled with all of the foliage in Denali National Park as well!

Contact Information

Kaktovik Tours

Join US Coast Guard licensed captains on a cruiser to safely and responsibly view Polar Bears by water. This is a unique experience that will get you close to all of the polar bear action!

Choose either a 2 or 4-day trip option. This allows you to customize a trip to Kaktovic that will take you on several 3-hour boating excursions from your accommodations. 

The tour operators have seen polar bears every day from late August to mid-October for the past several years. With unpredictable wildlife sightings, those are pretty good odds to spot a polar bear!

You will have the opportunity to see polar bears performing all the actions: walking, swimming, nursing cubs, play fighting, and even intimidating other bears in their territory. A fast favorite is catching polar bears napping, too!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Kaktovic Tours had to be rescheduled and will resume in 2023. We recommend getting on their waiting list as soon as possible. Trips to Kaktovic can take a while to plan as this small village is a bit more remote. The only way to access it is by small plane.

Contact Information

  • Address: 618 6th St Kaktovik AK 99747
  • Phone: During Boat Season – Captain Apayauq Reitan (907) 640-0210 or Captain Ketil Reitan (907) 640-0166
  • Phone: Passanger Van or Plane Info – Evelyn Anguyak Reitan (907) 640-0165
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Website: kaktoviktours.com
  • Social Media: Facebook

Arctic Air Adventures

Depart from Anchorage and fly via Fairbanks to one of several Inupiat Villages below the Arctic Circle on this bear-spotting adventure! This company has seen as many as 20 polar bears at a time on a trip. How incredible of a view would that be?

You will visit many small villages on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, 250 miles North of the Arctic Circle around Kaktovik.

You may see cubs as young as under a year old! Although newborn cubs are not usually seen on the tours, as they are too young to view.

The price of your excursion includes meals and transportation to and from Fairbanks. For more itinerary details and tour information, request additional details on the Arctic Air Adventures website. 

Contact Information

Planet Earth Adventures

Fly over the Arctic Circle on a Polar Bear sighting mission with Planet Earth Adventures.

They offer five or seven-day adventure tours that include polar bear sightings, and also tons of other authentic Alaskan experiences. 

The Polar Bear Adventure Tour offers Kaktovik Polar Bear viewing trips from Fairbanks. Fly over the Arctic Circle, take pictures of these fantastic animals, and even take a walk to see these polar bears safely in their natural habitat.

Learn about the Inupiat Native culture by visiting their Eskimo village on Kaktovic, viewing polar bears by land and sea, and taking a few photos of arctic wildlife like snowy owls and arctic foxes!

Contact Information

Alaska Polar Bear Tours

Many Polar Bear Tours are on hold for the 2022 season, but we recommend checking back to  Alaska Polar Bear Tours for updates as they have a great itinerary! 

You will begin with a flight over some of Alaska’s most remote spots, including Deadhorse and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On the way to Kaktovik, you might be able to spot your first Polar bear!

After lunch, you will board an open air boat with US Coast Guard Certified captains to look for polar bears by sea. 

After your expedition, you’ll receive an Arctic Circle certificate. That is definitely one of the coolest and most rare Alaskan souvenirs you will be able to collect! 

Contact Information

Other Tour Information

While some tours require traveler’s insurance, we would recommend getting it even if insurance is not a requirement. Especially during more remote travel adventures, getting help during a medical emergency can be very costly. There are additional considerations such as fluctuating weather conditions and dealing with wild animals that make booking insurance worth the peace of mind! 

If All Else Fails? The Alaska Zoo!

If the funds are not there to travel to the furthermost corners of the state, consider keeping it close to home and checking out the Alaska Zoo.

Located in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, the Alaska Zoo has all manner of incredible local wildlife, including the impressive polar bears. Right now the Alaska Zoo has just one female polar bear, Cranbeary, whom you can visit during your stay.

If you are in the dreaming and planning stage, make sure to check out their Polar Bear Cam for a firsthand, live look at these amazing creatures! You will have the opportunity to view Cranbeary and her main habitat at the Alaska Zoo.

Contact Information

Polar bears can be extremely dangerous, but beautiful to observe safely. With an experienced guide, viewing polar bears firsthand can be an absolutely incredible experience.

Wildlife lovers can explore other excursions with iconic Alaskan animals such as moose and bears at these 10 wildlife viewing spots!

Resources:

1.) https://canadiangeographic.ca/articles/the-truth-about-polar-bears/

Photo of author

Megan McDonald

After living over 14 years in Alaska, Megan McDonald can confidently state that there’s not much of the state on the road system that she hasn’t visited. From the Brooks Range to McCarthy, Homer, and everywhere in between, every nook and cranny of Alaska is her always her new favorite place. As President and co-founder of Alaska-based boutique media agency HuMu Media, she spends her work time writing, photographing, and traveling, and her off time writing, photographing, and traveling. They say do what you love, and she is lucky enough to do so! You can follow her travels on Instagram at @theitinerantginger

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