**Updated : October 2022*
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Alright, so you're visiting the last frontier - ALASKA - and you want to see some wildlife. Relatable. Depending on what you're looking for (beluga, moose, black bear, grizzly, humpback, otters...and on and on and on) there are certain areas in Alaska where you'll have the best chance to see them. We've organized this post by the type of animal you're looking to see.
Best Wildlife Areas Overall
We would say the top areas to see wildlife up close while you're in Alaska are Valdez, Homer, and the National Parks (Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai, Lake Clark). We’ve had the most luck in these areas and have been able to see many different species (while still maintaining a safe and respectful distance) on one visit. Many people recommend the Skilak Lake Recreation Area on the Kenai Peninsula but we’ve explored the area on 4 different occasions and have never seen more than a duck. But maybe you'll have better luck!
Before we share some of our best spots to spot wildlife in Alaska, we want to make sure that we share some safety tips (because we’ve all seen those people before). Here are 3 things to always keep in mind :
Beaver - These little mammals can definitely be a hit and miss, although there’s a possibility to see them on any lake with a beaver dam - they can be a little sneaky, and we’ve only seen them 3 times in Alaska. Keep your eyes peeled when you pass by any lake - if you see a dam or a round ball of fur swimming around - chances are it's a beaver.
Beluga - Turnagain Arm is your best bet - there are plenty of pull offs along the entire way all the way down to the Portage turn off - make sure to check the tide schedule for when it’ll be at it’s highest and look for white little humps in the water! (Not to be confused with the white caps...) The best times to see Belugas are in the Spring and Fall. We highly recommend checking out the Beluga Alliance for updates on when they’re in certain areas!
Birds/Swans - Potters Marsh, or really any lake. If you’re in Anchorage then we really recommend checking out Potters Marsh - the boardwalk makes it super accessible and easy to walk while there are plenty of species of bird life in the area. If you drive along it on the Old Seward Highway there are a few pull-offs where the Swans usually hang out.
Black Bear - The best luck we’ve had with Black Bears was in Valdez. There was one day during the end of a salmon run where we saw a total 14 black bears in a single day, including two little cubs! (And then we stopped counting!) This was at the end of August, but we’ve also had some luck in Eagle River.
Brown Bear/Grizzly - Of course we would have to say Katmai National Park, this was one of our most recent adventures and it was truly incredible. We visited a few weeks ago and you are guaranteed to see them in this area. You can also take a tour out in Kodiak or Lake Clark National Park to see brown bears, all of these options will guarantee that you’ll see brown bears. If these trips are a little out of budget or just takes too much time during your visit to Alaska, then we recommend trying your luck in Valdez, Girdwood, or Denali National Park - where we’ve also seen Grizzlies!
Caribou - The majority of Caribou we’ve seen in Alaska have been in two locations. The first and most accessible is near the Denali National Park and Cantwell area. Here we’ve seen Caribou during both the winter and summer months. The second area we’ve seen Caribou is up in Barrow/Utqiagvik, which will be a little more expensive and time consuming to get to. Many of the Caribou here are hunted by locals, and chances are you’ll see just as many racks/hunted Caribou vs. live Caribou.
Coyote - We’ve only seen one Coyote while in Alaska, and similar to many of these animals - we spotted it while in Valdez. We googled it just to make sure, but it turns out that YES, there are Coyotes in Alaska. While in Valdez searching for bears, I happened to look out at the mud flats and see a little Coyote running along during low tide - so you have a chance!
Deer - Contrary to what many people think, there are actually not that many deer in Alaska. We’ve only seen them once, while in Kodiak, although they are also located throughout the Southeast of Alaska. Alaska does have a unique species of deer - the Sitka Blacktail Deer - which is usually smaller than a Whitetail or Mule Deer that are more commonly seen in other areas of the United States.
Eagle/Hawks - Pretty much anywhere and everywhere. We seen the most concentrated amounts of Eagles and Hawks in Homer near the marina, but just keep your eyes towards the sky and you’ll see both these species around almost every corner.
Elk - We’ve only seen Elk in Alaska one time, and usually when we tell people about it they don’t believe us. While we were in Kodiak we drove all the way out to Fossil Beach and saw 4 Elk simply walking through the field. We were shocked and definitely surprised! Elk in Alaska can only be found on some islands, including Kodiak.
Humpback Whale - We’ve been lucky enough to see Humpbacks a few times in Alaska, however the most incredible experience (and our all time favorite whale experience) was when we went out of Juneau. You can read about our entire experience here, but we saw about 20+ whales in just 4 hours! Absolutely incredible! If you're unable to make it to Juneau, we've also seen humpbacks on marine wildlife tours out of Seward and Valdez.
Lynx - We’ve only seen a Lynx once while in Alaska, right outside Denali National Park. It was only out near the road for about a minute, but a cool spotting none the less! We would recommend looking in the Denali National Park area for your best bet!
Moose - Just like the Eagles, you’ll see Moose just about everywhere. Truth be told we’ve seen them most commonly in town (Anchorage) near Earthquake Park and Kincaid Park. I think it’s necessary to say more people are injured by moose in Alaska than bears, and that it is essential to give them their distance and DO NOT TRY TO FEED THEM.
Orca - The Killer Whale. We’ve been fortunate to see these guys on almost every marine wildlife tour we’ve been on, including the famous orcas from the AT1 pod that survived the Valdez oil spill, but our best interaction was on a tour with Major Marine Tours out of Seward. Not only did we see multiple pods, but a few of them swam at us and right under our boat! It was amazing!
Polar Bear - Unfortunately, this is the one animal on this list we weren’t lucky enough to see while in Alaska. We did make a trip up to Barrow/Utqiagvik to try our luck at spotting one of these majestic guys, but we weren’t quite lucky enough. After doing quite a bit of research, our best recommendations would be to try heading up Barrow/Utqiagvik, or Kaktovik, which is where Polar Bear tours were held. As far as I know they have not started these up again since Covid.
Porpoise - These guys are probably the most fun to see and interact with! We’ve seen them just 3 times - all on different boat tours, but it is an absolute blast when they decide to swim with the boat and play! They will normally be in a pretty large group, and even though every single time we saw them was in a different location, you have the chance to see these guys on marine wildlife tours out of Seward or Valdez
Ptarmigan - Alaska’s state bird, and what Tyler and I like to call wild chickens. We first saw these guys while in Denali, and they change color depending on the season. Keep your eyes open for little fluff balls on the side of the road and you’ll probably see them too!
Puffins - One of my favorite animals to go searching for, I still haven’t gotten “that” photo of them quite yet. In the past we’ve seen them on different marine wildlife tours out of Seward and Valdez.
Salmon - If you visit in the Summer chances are you’ll be able to see Salmon in many of Alaska's streams and rivers. It depends on the time of the salmon runs of course, but we’ve often seen large groups in clear water at Ship Creek in Anchorage and Bird Creek along Turnagain Arm.
Seal - These sneaky little guys can be in many different areas of water. They can often be seen in different coves, river mouths or other calm areas of water like in a bay. We’ve seen them in Valdez near the Salmon Hatchery, in Whittier in the multiple coves, and in Seward along the beaches as well as on all the marine wildlife boat tours we've taken.
Sea Lion - Although you’ll see Sea Lions on any Marine Tour in Alaska, our favorite Sea Lion experience is seeing them at the Valdez Salmon Hatchery. Here you’ll see them swimming through the river chasing the fish, bellowing at each other, taking a nap, chasing away seagulls, and sometimes making their way all the way up to the waterfall.
Sea Otter - Some of my favorite animals to see in Alaska. Even though they are truly much bigger than you would think, I personally think they are just the cutest. We’ve had the best opportunities for these guys in Homer and Seldovia - but you’ll be able to see them in most harbors and marinas if you take your time and don't scare them away.
Wolf - We’ve only seen one wolf in Alaska, and it was on the old Denali Highway (not in the national park). IT. WAS. HUGE. Even though there are over 11,000 wolves in Alaska, they can be pretty hard to see. If you really want to see them up close while you’re in Alaska, then the only place that would guarantee a close up would be the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. (If you see some in the wild, try not to get them confused with a coyote, which is much smaller!)
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We're Deborah & Tyler, a pretty average husband and wife duo from a pretty average state that didn't want to live so averagely. After our *Covid wedding we sold everything that didn't fit into the Jeep and moved to Alaska, then decided to take a gap year!
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