Best Time to Visit Alaska

Whether you want to get up close and personal with a grizzly bear walking in Katmai National Park, watch bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls, marvel at Humpback whales bubble netting from Juneau, or fly around Mount McKinley while on a wildlife safari in Denali national park; a tailor-made Alaska wildlife tour with Wildlife Trails can make it happen.

Best places to see bears in Alaska

Alaska is a huge country with many national parks which are famous for bear viewing and whale watching. So, we have prepared our own personal Expert Guides to the best places to see bears in Alaska. Here are our guides for Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Brooks Falls Lodge.

Best time of year to visit Alaska

In North America when it comes to bear safaris and whale watching tours, there is probably no place more affected by changeable weather than Alaska. The huge Pacific Ocean creates weather systems which affects travel plans even in the peak summer months, so careful planning of your Alaska wildlife holiday is very important. We have put together our own specialist guide to the Best time of year to visit Alaska.

January – This is the peak of the Alaskan winter and locals throw themselves fully into outdoor pursuits. People start traveling into the country on full-day adventures on snow machines, skis, bikes and dog sleds. A great time to learn about animal tracks left in snow by a local expert and to see Moose much more visible and closer to the capital Anchorage, as they forage for leaves on trees in suburban gardens. Several natural areas like the windswept Palmer Hay Flats and Potter Marsh also concentrate moose populations. Visiting the Alaska Zoo and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre can be a great way to see Alaskan animals in their thick winter coats.

February – The winter with its ice and snowy conditions in many areas continues and some of the most famous dog sledding races occur at this time of year, such as the world famous Yukon Quest between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, which covers an incredible 1000km. There are also other winter related festivals, with sprint mushing, carnivals and ice carving. The huge white mass of Denali shimmers on the horizon, visible from Anchorage and Fairbank alike and the chance of seeing it in its fully glory without cloud cover, is much more common in winter. Denali national park is open year-round, though facilities and services are more limited in winter than in summer.

March – This month marks the start of spring and may offer the best conditions for enjoying the Northern Lights (aurora borealis)—nights are still long and dark, while temperatures have begun to moderate. Specialist northern lights companies will take you away from the bright lights of the cities to ‘dark’ spots where you can truly appreciate the scale and magnificence of this natural wonder. The Aurora winter train has regular departures from Anchorage to Talkeetna and Denali. From Talkeetna there are year round sight seeing flights around Denali and at Denali you can put on your snowshoes and try out the extensive winter trail network. There are sure to be many animal prints you can identify with your expert local naturalist.

April – A transition month as winter snows and ice start to thaw by the end of the month and good views of the northern lights will only be available in the first few week. The annual epic migration of Gray Whales from Baja California to the feeding grounds in the Arctic accelerates during April, with these long-distance travellers seen crossing the mouth of Resurrection Bay almost every day. This 10,000-mile roundtrip is one of the longest mammal migrations on the planet and some of the specialist whale watching operators based on Seward open for the season. The marine world begins to awaken from the winter slumber. Bald eagles and gulls make an appearance, with a few ducks and geese making appearances in rare ice-free spots.

May – The long Alaskan winter/spring officially comes to an end and we gently transition into the summer months. Many of the best Alaska bear safaris and wildlife tours occur between mid-May until mid-September. With the summer come the berries and flowers and it is the many varieties of berries which will provide food to the female brown bears and their spring cubs during late April into May. The first salmon run is in May, and it may be possible to see grizzly bears taking advantage of this annual migration of a prized resource. You can now head to Juneau for the chance to see Humpback Whales close to Auke Bay and explore the amazing ice caves of the Mendenhall glacier with few other visitors.

June – June is one of the best months to visit Alaska for bear and general wildlife viewing. The days almost never get dark and this can mean bear action late into the evening and having to ring ahead to Alaskan wilderness lodges to delay dinner once again. One of our favourite locations is Lake Clark national park which has some of the best bear viewing in Alaska for mother and cubs. It is still too early for the main salmon runs, but that is exactly the reason why it is such a good time to see family groups. The large male bears have not yet arrived on the scene and therefore the female bears feel comfortable in bringing their 2 or 3 cubs out of the sheltered forests. In June most bears are feeding in sedge grasses or on crustaceans on the vast tidal flats, which can create some incredible landscape and wildlife photo opportunities.

July – When people planning Alaska bear safaris think of July, they associate this month with the incredible bears catching salmon photos, many of which come from one very special location; Brooks Falls in Katmai national park. Reservations actually open for Brooks Lodge on the 2nd of January each year for accommodation bookings for the following year! That is not to say there are no grizzly bear found here between May and September, because there are. However, the best opportunities for bear photography tend to be in July and early August. Another great Alaska wildlife holiday to plan for July is trying to see Humpbacks bubble netting off the coast of SE Alaska and fly-in bear viewing tours to the wild and remote Pack Creek.

August – Mid-July to mid-August is a superb time to visit Katmai wilderness lodge via a scenic flight from Kodiak, where you can sometimes see Fin Whales from the air. This lodge is the only permanent structure for tourists allowed in the park and despite its simple appearance, provides a level of comfort, service and food unparalleled in Alaska’s bear country. Using a small boat (skiff) from the lodge, you will explore numerous inlets and beaches for bears and it is the opportunity to get off the boat and ‘walk with the bears of Alaska’, which provides a bear viewing experience of a lifetime. Add into this Alaska wildlife tour, the chance to fly to Kodiak Island on a half-day trip and see the largest bears in the world and you have a real showstopper of an Alaska wildlife holiday.

September – Denali national park is incredibly popular with US travellers and you can expect it to be fairly crowded in the summer month. Despite the fact that the only way to access the full network of wildlife roads is by bus, we still recommend a visit here in September for the chance to see a greater diversity of Alaskan wildlife. It is not uncommon to see the Big 5 of Denali in just one short trip; they are Brown Bear, Wolf, Moose, Caribou and Dall Sheep. In addition to this diverse wildlife, you have some relatively inexpensive scenic flight options, which allow you to obtain stunning close ups of the iconic Mount Denali. There are also some high end hiking lodges available which give you access to some stunning wilderness areas inside the park.

October – October is another transition month in Alaska, with the possibly of a few last sunny days at the start of the month and by the end of the month, the autumn fall colours giving way to the first cold temperatures which signifies the arrival of winter. Many of the wildlife lodges will have closed despite the fact that if food is still around and temperatures not too cold, there will still be bears around. Bears frequent berry patches and salmon streams and geese, cranes, shorebirds, and raptors migrate through various locations in large numbers. A few of the glacier boat tours out of Whittier and Seward are still active in early October, with the chance to see Orcas and Humpback Whales. This is the rutting season, when moose, goats, caribou, and muskoxen are mating, often frequenting open areas.

November – One of the most spectacular birding wildlife sights you will see in the northern hemisphere occurs in November, when the largest bald eagle concentration in the world occurs along the Chilkat River near Haines. They come to feast on the dying late runs of silver and chum salmon which started to arrive in the river in October. At peak times in early November, you can see more than a thousand bald eagles profiting from this seasonal feast. Migrating snow geese, en route to California, rest and feed on the Stikine River Flats along with tundra swans and Canada geese.

December – We are now into the full winter season, so appropriate clothing and suitable vehicles for transport are essential to avoid being stuck in harsh conditions. The snow and cold will push some species, like Sitka Deer, lower into old growth forests to get shelter from the elements. Many water birds winter in the wetlands and marine waters in the milder climate of Southeast Alaska. In the southern islands, trumpeter swans, hooded mergansers, and American coots often occur in the few freshwater ponds and lakes that remain open in winter. Red-throated loons, horned grebes, Canada geese, mallards, green-winged teal, greater scaup, Barrow’s goldeneyes, buffleheads, and surf scoters use coastal wetlands.

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