Alaska's Bears & Bear Watching

Alaska's Bears & Bear Watching

One of the things that makes Alaska so special is that all three species of North American bears flourish there. There is a chance that you may be lucky enough to see a bear. But even if you don't, you will never be far from one, because Alaska is bear country.Brown/grizzly bears are found from the islands of southeastern Alaska to the arctic. Black bears inhabit most of Alaska's forests. Polar bears frequent the pack ice and tundra of extreme northern and western Alaska.

Black Bear

Humpback Whales in Alaska

Black bears live over most of the state except north of the Brooks Range in the arctic. They are frequent visitors in towns surrounded by forests and love to supplement their diets with garbage. In the wild, look for them in the spruce and birch forests, where they eat roots, berries, grasses and small animals. In Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, they also eat salmon. Look for black bears at Anan Creek, south of Wrangell in Southeast Alaska.

Most often black in color, black bears lack the shoulder hump prominent in grizzly bears. The tan muzzle is distinctive. They have strong curved claws that allow them to climb trees with agility, a talent grizzly bears lack. Unlike other tree-climbing mammals that descend head-first, a black bear walks down a tree with its rear legs in the lead.

Grizzly Bear or Brown Bear

Grizzly Bears in Alaska

What's the difference between the brown bear and the grizzly? Brown bears are the ones you're more likely to see on your voyage, since they live where the salmon do, along the southwestern coast and Gulf of Alaska. Grizzlies are simply brown bears that live inland. Brown bears can weigh up to 800 pounds and reach a height of eight feet when standing on their hind legs. And they're fast, able to run 35 to 40 miles per hour.

Brown bears can be watched safely by people who keep their distance, so you'll want binoculars or a long camera lens. The bus tours of Denali National Park usually come across the park's blond grizzlies browsing or sleeping. In southwestern Alaska, browns gather to catch salmon in the Brooks River of Katmai National Park; visitors watch from a viewing deck.

Polar Bear

Polar Bears in Alaska

Polar bears live along the Arctic Ocean, and they're sometimes found down the Bering Sea coast. Although they wander into Barrow and other towns along the shore, they mostly stay on the pack ice, to hunt their main food source -- ringed seals. They also attack and eat walruses.

Polar bears are big -- most males weigh between 600 and 1,200 pounds and females reach 400 to 700 pounds.

Bear Viewing

Bear Viewing in Alaska

Alaska is home to over 98 percent of our countrys brown bear population so it is no wonder that Alaska bear viewing is a popular visitor attraction. Bears are found in nearly every corner of Alaska. Viewing a bear in the wilds of Alaska is a truly awesome experience, and often one of the highlights of a trip to Alaska.

There are a number of Alaska bear viewing opportunities available to visitors. Denali National Park is one of the most popular areas in Alaska to view bears in their natural habitat. Each year tens of thousands of Alaska visitors board buses to travel all or part of the 90 mile road that travels deep into Denali Park. While bear sightings in Denali are by no means a sure thing, most visitors do see bears in Denali, although sometimes at a distance.

For a more up close and personal Alaska bear viewing experience many visitors travel to southwest Alaska to locations such as McNeil River, Katmai National Park, Kodiak Island and Lake Clark National Park. In the summer months, typically from early June through late September brown bears gather near area streams to feed on Alaska salmon.

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