No vacation in Alaska is complete without a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife tour. Bird watchers can catch over 450 species, including puffins, bald eagles, osprey, loons and owls. Carnivore lovers may spot lynx, coyotes, red fox, arctic fox, wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears, black bears or brown bears.
Going on an Alaskan cruise? Perhaps you’ll see beluga whales, orcas, blue whales, humpback whales, seals, walruses, sea otters and more! Other mammals to look out for include moose, caribou, sheep, bats, pikas, arctic hares, martens, minks, muskrats and muskox. There are many wild Alaskan tours to help you catch a glimpse!
Whale-watching is one of the main tours that people take in the state of Alaska. “The time the cruise ships are up there is when humpbacks and orcas are feeding, so there’s a good chance you’ll see them,” says Robert Blythman, director for Carnival Cruise Lines.
He says some excursions, like the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest in Auke Bay, comes with a money back guarantee. “It’s a 100 percent guarantee that you’ll see the otters,” Blythman added, noting that there are 70,000 of these playful critters swimming in Alaskan waters.
He personally recommends the Sea Otter Quest from the town of Sitka. Humpback whales and killer whales can be seen surfacing and breeching the Inside Passage, which is a popular Alaskan cruise route, or in Prince William Sound, the Kodiak archipelago, Glacier Bay National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park. Humpbacks sometimes disappear for thirty minutes at a time, but the orcas usually move in pods with the ships.
Beluga whales are most easily seen in Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm, near Anchorage. Many drivers pull over between Beluga Point (Mile 110) and Bird Point Scenic Overlook (Mile 96) for a magnificent view of these endangered whales. Bowhead whales, the state marine mammal of Alaska, can be seen in the Arctic Ocean and the Northern Bering Sea.
Another group of wildlife spectators in Alaska come for the bears. There are roughly 100,000 black bears and 30,000 grizzlies, which represent 98% of the total US grizzly population.
You can take a $100 “Bear Search” from the port of Icy Strait Point or take a $300 – $1,600 fly-in to more remote locations, like Pack Creek (Admiralty Island) or the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. At Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, grizzlies often feed on spawning salmon during the summer months, which you can see from a viewing deck.
You can catch a glimpse of grizzlies sleeping or browsing on a Denali National Park bus tour. The Kenai River occasionally has fishermen and bear meeting points. Black bears generally congregate at Anan Creek, south of Wrangell.
Polar bears live along the Arctic Ocean and down the Bering Sea coast. The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is the easiest place to see this elusive creature.
While you may want to choose animal-specific private tours in Alaska, there are a few sights you definitely don’t want to miss! The tours at Denali National Park range from a four-hour Natural History tour, to an eight-hour Tundra Wilderness tour, to a twelve-hour Kantishna Experience tour.
The Anchorage Zoo houses many endangered animals in a captive setting, while the Anan Wildlife Observatory in the Tongass National Forest and the Denali National Park showcase animals in their natural environments. The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a breath-taking experience just off the Haines Highway.