Logo bar of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok and Ketchikan
A wet brown bear searches for a tasty salmon.
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Bear Viewing information audio version
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Three bears at Denali National Park & Preserve. Click on the image to download our free Bear Viewing PDF.
The hump on the back of brown bears is actually muscle used mostly for digging.

Bear Viewing in Alaska 2015 pdf
List of all Bear Brochures

Bears in Alaska
Alaska's bears have always been a popular attraction among visitors. Maybe it's because Alaska has all three different types of American bears! Alaska is home to the black bear (Ursus Americanus), the brown/grizzly bear (Ursus Arctos), and the polar bear (Ursus Maritimus). Each of these species can be viewed in Alaska. Find out more in this Bear Viewing Guide!

Our Three Bears

The Black Bear
The Black bear is the most common and abundant of the North American bears and can be found in all states except Hawaii. In Alaska they are typically seen in forested areas, though they are not exclusive to them. They are the smallest of the bears, standing at about 5 feet on their hind legs. One can easily distinguish them from other bears by their straight facial profiles and their sharply curved claws. As far as food goes, they are creatures of opportunity, just like any other bear, and will eat a wide range of things, from meat to berries to an unprepared camper's food.

The Brown/Grizzly Bear
Though the black bear is the most common, most people think of the Brown/Grizzly bear when they think of bears at all. In Alaska, they can be found in most places, except some islands in southeastern or southwestern Alaska. Technically speaking, the Brown Bear and the Grizzly bear are classified as the same species, though on Kodiak Island Brown bears refers to a distinct subspecies that are physically isolated and have a larger bone structure. Salmon is this bear's primary food source, and Brown bears are usually found where salmon are running. The Brown/Grizzly bear is larger than a Black bear, standing at about 8 feet on its hind legs. It can be distinguished by its prominent shoulder hump, its less-than-curved claws, and its round face.  

The Polar Bear
Though closely related to the Brown bear, there's no mistaking this bear, with its very large size, white color, and its strong carnivorous tendencies. The Polar bear is only seen in the northern hemisphere, north of the Arctic Circle, and lives most of its life near sea ice, which it uses for hunting. Polar Bears stand about 10 feet tall on their hind legs, making them an especially large and intimidating predator. Polar bears hold a special place of pride in the heart of Alaskans, and their image can be seen just about anywhere. The Polar bear's most obvious physical attribute is its white fur, but otherwise they can be distinguished by their small ears and their teeth, which are specialized for a carnivorous diet.

For more on bear safety go to the English version of our Bear Safety page, or click on a link below to download a PDF in these languages:

Also visit our Bear Safety for Kids page and watch the Bear Safety Video puppet show!

If you are an educator please visit our Statewide Education Kits page for information on how to check out a Bear or Bear Awareness kit for use with your students.

McNeil River — State Game Sanctuary and Refuge
Public Use and Access

The access permit program administered by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game manages visitor numbers and activities in the sanctuary and was developed after many years of excessive and uncontrolled public use of the area that often put people and bears in danger. The goal of the access permit program is to provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph bears while minimizing their impacts to bears and wildlife habitats.

Photo by Mark Stevens. July 3, 2012 Photo by Pam Link. Katmai National Park. Aug 22, 2009. Katmai National Park Photo by Mark Stevens. Katmai National Park. July 3, 2012

Mt. McKinley in stark white with blue shadows rises above low clouds on a clear day. Did You Know?
The highest elevation established campsite in Alaska is High Camp at 17,000 feet on Denali. Only used for about three months every year, it is also the coldest & windiest campsite in Alaska!