When it comes to Alaska, animals are at the top of our must sees. From the mammoth humpback whales to the minute chickadees, they’re all as fascinating as the next. Tours in Denali National Park could see you ticking off bears, moose, caribou, coyotes and eagles in one road trip. For whales and walrus, you’re going to need to get a little more specific. Though, boat trips along the coast and fjords come packed with the chance to see sea otters, puffins, ospreys, porpoise and seals too. Excited? Let’s spill the intel on where to find Alaska’s wildlife…
Grizzlies and more…
Alaska is bear country. So expect to see a fair few as you explore the Alaskan wilderness looking for brown and black bears. One of the easier (and safest) ways to spot bears is to simply drive through the national parks. Bears snack on roadside berry bushes and generally amble through life causing ‘bear jams’ on the highways. To increase your odds, head to Katmai National Park with Alaska Bear Adventures. Whisking you in on foot, by air or by boat, they put you at the centre of the world’s most concentrated bear population.
Orbzii tip: Seeing Polar bears in Alaska can be a little more tricky. You’ll need to head north from October to December when the bears swim to the mainland. Arctic Air Expeditions work with the local Eskimo populations to track the bears and fly you straight to them.
Whales, seals and otters
Over a dozen whale species come to Alaska’s waters in search of krill, herring, salmon and seals. For close up encounters with humpbacks, Ketchikan’s waters are your best bet. Out to Sea Expeditions start heading out daily in May. You’ll feel a tad small as you pull up alongside a humpback in their sturdy zodiac – but happily, the whales are too busy gorging on herring shoals to take notice. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions, orca and more. For a wildlife excursion that includes a little glacier action – along with whales in Alaska, hop aboard Seward Wildlife’s boat in Kenai fjords for a chance to see porpoise, sea otters, puffins, bears and grey whales – depending on the season.
Orbzii tip: There are specific spots in Alaska where whale watching is a little easier. There’s a large Beluga pod that lives in Anchorage’s Cook Inlet. Kodiak is the place to search for grey whales in May – as they swing by during their epic migration.
Moose, caribou and elk
You could be lucky and catch a glimpse of a Moose or elk on your road trips, but you’re more than likely going to need to put a bit of legwork in. And, it really helps to go hiking with someone in the know. The best time to see Moose in Alaska is autumn – the Moose bulls are in their prime and ready to rut. The best person to show you a secret spot for cracking photography? Carl Donohue at Expeditions Alaska. In exchange for $400 and a day of your time, he’ll hike you into the Chugach Mountains near Anchorage.
Orbzii tip: You’ll need a lot of luck to catch the spectacular seasonal Caribou migrations. But you can still spot smaller herds from the northern end of the Denali Park Road. If you’ve got the skills to get really remote, have a chat with a licensed guide who can get you into Kobuk Valley National Park. You’ll hopefully find some of the 240,000 caribou that live there.
Wolves and coyotes
Time to get back on the road again – this time you’ll want to focus on Denali National Park. But, we’ll keep it real – the odds of seeing wolves are against you. Average sightings come in at 1 in 5 visitors. But there are ways to maximise your chances. Get up early and book a 14 hour jaunt into Denali’s backcountry with Kantishna Wilderness Trails. As well as keeping your eyes glued to the horizon for the wolf packs, they’ll add some scenic photo stops, park facts, a little bit of gold panning and a lunch. You’re highly likely to see bears, caribou and possibly moose. So chalk this up as an all–rounder. It’s worth noting that where there are wolves, you’re unlikely to see coyotes.
Few tours track them specifically, so you’ll be looking for opportunistic spots. The biggest numbers are seen around the Copper River Valley and Kenai Peninsula. Don’t expect to see them north of the Yukon.
Alaska’s birdwatching is thrilling for even the most casual wildlife admirer. From the razor-sharp talons of the golden eagles to the cute and fluffy chickadees, there’s a species to catch your eye in every habitat. To tick off some seabird species in one epic tour, hop aboard an Alaskan Seabird Charter. You’ll spend 8 hours exploring Aialik Bay and Chiswell Islands or the Northwestern Fjord to look for puffins, red-faced cormorants, ancient murrelets and more. As you’re on the water, keep an eye on the surface for whales and seals. If you want to see an albatross or shearwater, there are multi day trips to get to more remote spots.
Orbzii tip: If you like you Alaska wildlife to come with seriously sharp talons, head to Haines. More specifically, find yourself a spot on the banks of the Chilkat River in November to see thousands of bald eagles fly in to pluck salmon from the waters.
For most of the year, Alaska’s walrus population are pretty difficult to spot. You’ll need to be on a boat that can find its way to the pack ice where the walrus feed and nurture their pups. Better then to wait for late summer when the ice melts and the walrus come to well known ‘haul outs’ on the coast. For the most concentrated walrus numbers, you’ll need to get to the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary in Bristol Bay. Round Island has the biggest numbers, but the island is protected – so comes with access restrictions. Take a read of the rules and regs around visiting the sanctuary and navigate your way there. Or, for a more simple option, the folks at Trygg Air will fly you right to the beaches where you can see and photograph these formidable animals.