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Best time of year to visit Alaska for bears

Posted in: Alaska


Best time of year to see bears in Alaska?

Like many of our clients, before we visited Alaska on a bear watching holiday we had visited Canada and understood that the key salmon runs in the river systems affected the bear viewing quality in Canada’s wildlife sanctuaries. So we were used to visiting Canada in late August/September when salmon runs were at their peak and this was therefore the best time to organise a bear watching holiday in Canada. Alaska has much earlier initial salmon runs, which means that legendary bear viewing locations in Alaska, such as Brooks Falls and Katmai national park are at their peak during the months of July and August.

Best time of year to visit Katmai national park for bears?

Because there are subtle differences between Alaska’s bear sanctuaries it is important to consider each national park separately if you want to enjoy a great Alaska bear watching holiday. The iconic Brooks Falls located in Katmai national park is one of the most famous bear viewing locations in the world. If you enjoy images of grizzly bear catching salmon in mid-air at a waterfall, then it is highly likely that the image you saw on Google was taken at Brooks Falls. The bigger story when it comes to brown bears and Katmai national park, is that simply it has the highest density of bears anywhere in the world and if you come to Katmai you are going to see one. Because the peak of the salmon run is from July to early August, if you visit in this period you are going to enjoy more explosive action, when brown bear chase newly arrived salmon in the estuaries. When the salmon are not running, the bears don’t go hungry; it is just the case that their eating exploits, which consist of eating sedge grass and digging up clams, are just a little more relaxed.

Why is Alaska so good for bear viewing?

Careful management of famous bear watching locations in Alaska such as Katmai national park over many decades has resulted in grizzly bears which do not have a fear of humans; which they will have in the many areas which are still open for hunting. Although on the surface that may sound  a little dangerous; when ‘walking with grizzly bears’ in the company of a good guide in Alaska, you are likely to experience the ultimate bear viewing in North America. Famous Alaska wilderness lodges such as Katmai Wilderness Lodge have pioneered bear walking safaris; allowing their clients to get up close and personal with grizzly bears and to take memories and photographs which will last a lifetime. For sure, this is a step up in quality from even the very best bear viewing locations in Canada and you feel you are at the frontier of bear safaris in Alaska and Canada.

Best time of year to see whales in Alaska?

Of course we have many different species of whales off the coast of Alaska; from Beluga Whales and Narwhal in the High Arctic, to Humpbacks and Orcas in the more temperate waters. For the purpose of this blog we are going to focus on those more charismatic of whales, the Humpback and a very unique and specialised type of feeding called bubble netting. To observe this type of communal feeding in the wild (like we did in July 2016) is rare, very rare, and amongst nature’s most spectacular wildlife encounters. It is important to note that Bubble Netting by Humpbacks in Alaska is not a behaviour you can predict. The same pod of Humpbacks seen off the coast of Juneau which have been bubble netting constantly for 3-4 days can suddenly stop and separate. It is not ‘normal’ behaviour for these whales to be in a group. Humpbacks are solitary animals coming together only at mating time or to take advantage of a huge local food source. As a general rule of thumb the month of July tends to witness the peak period of bubble netting behaviour by the Humpbacks, but early August could still be a good time.

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