For many travelers eager to see Alaska, the journey is often a “bucket list” trip to see spectacular scenery and wildlife. Many simply can’t wait to spot brown or black bears in the wild. Definitely, Alaska bear viewing is an unforgettable adventure!
So, today, on National Vacation Day, National Geographic aptly announced its “Top 20 Coolest Global Travel Adventures for 2024.“ Editors, photographers and explorers affiliated with the magazine picked the winners. And it seems that they too value a terrific bear spotting adventure in the wild.
As a result, bear viewing at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska has ranked fourth on that National Geographic list. Southcentral Alaska is home to more than 2,000 brown bears, many of whom find their way to feed along the Brooks River and the iconic Brooks Falls.
A lucky few visitors can find overnight accommodations in the park. But the majority of travelers fly in for the day from Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak or King Salmon. Can’t be there in person? Tune in to the park’s live cam or join in the heavyweight fun of the world-celebrated “Fat Bear Week.”
But for cruise travelers, depending on their Alaska itinerary, a Katmai bear viewing excursion is also possible. One example is a new Princess Cruises cruisetour to Katmai, debuting in summer 2024.
(In the photo above, a brown bear is shown at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Photo by State of Alaska/Chris McLennan.)
Alaska Bear Viewing: New Princess Cruisetour
Princess Cruises’ new nine-day Katmai National Park Cruisetour includes two nights in Anchorage, where guests can embark on a bear-watching experience at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. This can be done before or after sailing on a Princess seven-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” cruise that also includes a visit to Glacier Bay National Park and glacier viewing in College Fjord or Hubbard Glacier.
Cruisetour guests will fly to King Salmon from Anchorage to reach Brooks Lodge for a day observing large brown bears eagerly welcoming the returning sockeye salmon. More than 2,000 brown bears call this area home. Male bears often dramatically compete for the best salmon catching spots.
Princess’ guests can enjoy hiking on scenic trails that traverse the bear habitat and salmon locations including Brooks Falls. A lunch is provided midday as well as an exclusive souvenir designed just for Princess guests.
This cruisetour also takes guests to experience the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a wildlife sanctuary focused on conservation, education, research and quality care. Guests typically will encounter moose, musk ox, reindeer, wolves, lynx, caribou and more.
In 2024, Princess will operate 32 of these cruisetours that depart between June 8 and August 29. Katmai National Park Cruisetours start at $2,429 per person and combine a seven-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” cruise with two hotel nights in Anchorage, flights to and from Katmai National Park and all transfers. Talk with your personal travel planner for all the voyage options and the best pricing.
More Alaska Bear Viewing Options
The National Geographic pick of bear watching at Katmai aligns with the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s research. “Travelers have ranked bear viewing as one of the top activities in Alaska for years,” says Jillian Simpson, ATIA’s president and CEO. Helping build interest over the years, she says, are live webcams that have been installed in Katmai; click here to see one. Simpson says millions of people have streamed live webcam footage of the bears at Brooks Falls.
But there’s much more bear-sightseeing than simply Katmai.
- The Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska is home to an estimated 1,500 brown bears. That’s more than all the lower 48 states combined. How does one get there? This sanctuary is often visited on a one-day guided flightseeing tour from Juneau. Princess Cruises is among lines that also offer this shore excursion.
- Anan Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell Island, also in Southeast Alaska, is one of the few places where brown and black bears co-exist. Travelers can visit the observatory on a shore excursion from Wrangell via floatplane or boat. On certain Alaska voyages, Seabourn’s Ventures offers a seven-hour “Anan Creek Bear Viewing & Photography” excursion to the wildlife observatory and meals. Pricing starts at $1,000 per person. Talk with your travel advisor about which Seabourn voyages may offer this.
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, just north of Katmai in Southcentral Alaska, has less notoriety, but offers rewarding brown bear viewing experiences all the same. Several nearby lodges curate wildlife tours in the park, or multiple operators in Anchorage, Homer, and Kenai fly visitors in for day tours.
More Alaska Bear Viewing Options
The Meandering Traveler and Alaska tourism officials also point out two other top spots to see bears in their natural habitats. One is Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on Kodiak Island in Southwest Alaska. Boasting more than 3,000 Kodiak brown bears, this wildlife refuge has one of the world’s densest populations of these colossal creatures.
Think brown bears but much larger! They’re massive — particularly when rising up on their hind legs. Getting to Kodiak either involves a stay at a remote wilderness lodge, flying into the refuge on a tour, or a cruise line shore excursion.
And, of course, a top spot for Alaska bear viewing is Denali National Park and Preserve in interior Alaska. It’s the ideal location for visitors to see the “big five” of Alaska wildlife — bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep. In taking a coach tour of the park, visitors often spot grizzly bears and other wildlife along Park Road.
Many cruise lines offer Denali add-ons. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for example, operates a pre-cruise, five-day “Denali Adventure“ from Fairbanks, AK, for 2024 and 2025 It includes travel through Alaska by rail, hotel/lodge stays, transfers, a drive through Denali National Park, sled dog adventures and exploration of inland cities and more.
At press time, this add-on to some Regent Seven Seas Alaska sailings was priced from $2,399 per guest, double occupancy. For rules and questions, contact your professional travel advisor.
Eco-Alaska and Bears
Over the years, lodges and tour operators have expanded bear viewing offerings around the state. So, travelers can have similarly rewarding “bear spotting” experiences whether they’re cruising through the Inside Passage or spending time around Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.
“Watching bears in their natural habitat is just an awesome experience, and I mean ‘awesome’ in its truest sense,” Simpson says. “I wholeheartedly agree with National Geographic’s experts that it’s an adventure you must have in your lifetime. We do encourage travelers to go bear viewing with a professional guide while they’re in Alaska.”
While bear viewing season runs on average from mid-June through early September, it can vary depending on the bears’ location. Learn more about bear viewing in Alaska at TravelAlaska.com.
“There’s no better way to see bears in the wild than by taking a vacation to Alaska,” says Shelby Steudle, president, Pavlus Travel. “The summer Alaska travel season is just a few months away, so now is a great time to plan your Alaska cruise or tour.”
Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas and many other luxury lines as well as small ship/expedition lines offer a good mix of cruise options to The Last Frontier. Steudle suggests calling one of the agency’s experienced Pavlus personal travel planners. “We can help you plan the perfect summer Alaska vacation — and at great pricing,” Steudle adds.
Nat Geo’s Other Picks
The Meandering Traveler also thought readers would like to know the rest of the National Geographic list for “Top 20 Coolest Global Travel Adventures for 2024.” These were picked because they’re travel experiences that illuminate our beautiful world and the diversity of communities and people within it.
To read the full National Geographic story with interesting insight about why the picks were made, readers will need to put in their email for National Geographic (but no purchase is required) at the link listed in this sentence. But if you choose not to do that, we understand. So, in that case, here’s the full list.
- Go on a horseback safari in Kenya.
- Run an Olympic marathon in Paris, France.
- Take a ski tour of UNESCO sites in the Republic of Georgia.
- Go bear watching in Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA.
- Hear legendary live music in Kyoto, Japan.
- Cruise an epic river (the Magdalena) in Colombia (FYI, this blog previously covered AmaWaterways’ plans to begin cruising there in 2024).
- Take a road trip along Route 66 through New Mexico, USA.
- Explore ancient art in Algeria.
- Dive with sharks in western Australia.
- Hike a volcano in Panama.
- Catch the eclipse at Niagara Falls, New York, USA, and Ontario, Canada.
- Trek a glacier in Chile.
- Step back in time in Menorca.
- Ride classic rails in Scotland.
- Find authentic flavor in Thailand.
- Wander tea trails in Sri Lanka.
- Gallery hop in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
- Raft the rapids in West Virginia, USA.
- Go antiquing in Hudson Valley, NY, USA.
- Sleep on the water in British Columbia.
Maybe not all appeal, but they provide good “food for thought” as you plan your next adventure across the globe. The good news is that several including bear watching are close to home in North America.
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