The amazing unspoiled nature that characterizes Alaska is made unique by the animals that populate it. And right there wildlife, especially large mammals, are one of the main targets of those who travel to these wild northern lands. Even in cities, including the metropolis of Anchorage, it is possible to come across moose or even bears, but it is by entering the mountains of Denali National Park or the Kenai swamps that these majestic animals are the masters.
Bear watching is one of the most popular activities, and in almost every Alaskan city you can join organized tours to see ferocious plantigrades up close in complete safety. Next to moose and bears, it's easy to spot too caribou (the American version of the reindeer) e Dahl's sheep.
The coasts and islands are the bird paradise. There are millions of specimens of hundreds of different species ruling the Alaskan skies, from great eagles to the most bizarre seabirds. Even those who are not fanatic of ornithology will be enchanted in front of the rocks carpeted with birds or in hearing the call of the great birds of prey echoing in the mountains.
The sea, however, is the place where the most appreciated of the animals visible in Alaska live. Not just seals, walruses and (in the far north) polar bears, but above all the whales. Few places in the world are as great for whale watching as the waters lapping the coasts of Alaska.
Kenai fjords andInside Passage they are some of the best areas because the plankton that the immense cetaceans feed on accumulates there, and from some towns it is not uncommon to see some humpback whales from the mainland. There are numerous boat tours that take offshore to spot whales: the prices are not always low, but it is an experience that leaves an indelible memory in the memory.
- Bears, moose and caribou: where to see the big mammals
- Whales and killer whales: best areas and times to spot them
- Eagles and seabirds: a bird watcher's paradise
- Other useful information
Bears, moose and caribou: where to see the big mammals
The bear is one of the animals that most characterizes Alaska, not only because there are a truly impressive amount of them here, but because Alaska is the only state in which they live all species of bears of North America. Generally, each of these bears live in different areas of the country, so if you are an enthusiast or a photographer looking for a particular type of bear, you will need to go to a well-defined area.
- polar bears: white giants are the hardest to spot, because they live in the northern areas of the state, the most remote and isolated. To see a polar bear it is necessary to go to the Arctic coasts, using small airplanes. But it is good that cities are far from their natural habitat: polar bears, of all, are the most dangerous. They do not fear man and can hunt him down. It is therefore essential to take precautions and rely on local guides, if you really want to see them.
- Brown Bears and Grizzlies: these two species are among the most widespread and often confused with each other. In fact, the American Grizzly does not present marked differences from its cousin, and if you are not an expert on the subject it is difficult to distinguish them. The grizzly bears the greyest fur, can grow to a larger size, and has longer claws. Both are omnivores and make salmon the main dish of their diet but, if the more agile brown bear also seeks berries and fruits and hardly challenges humans, the more powerful grizzly easily hunts other mammals and is even more dangerous for humans. . It is therefore good to start with adequate precautions if you want to see them up close. Both live in almost all of the Alaskan territory, especially in the mountainous and wooded areas. The best time for sighting is the summer (until mid-autumn), when they gather along the streams to hunt for salmon. Some of the best places to see bears are the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary (easily accessible from Anchorage) or the Tongass National Forest (not far from Juneau). In all the main cities it is possible to find organized tours in summer to spot and photograph bears: being accompanied by an expert guide is essential in order not to take risks.
- Kodiak Orsi: also called simply "Alaskan Bears", they are a subspecies of brown bear native to these lands. They live mainly on the southern coasts and in the Aleutian islands, as well as on the Kodiak island from which they take their name. It is the largest subspecies of brown bear in the world, the only one to contend with the polar bear for the supremacy of the largest terrestrial carnivore. For sighting, an even greater precaution is needed than Grizzlies, as males can reach a weight of over 600kg. L'isola Kodiak and the front Katmai National Park are the best places to see these bears.
- Baribal bears: smaller than the previous ones and easily recognizable by their black color, they are the most common bears in North America, sighted in many US states during almost the whole year. Unlike its older brothers, in fact, the Baribal does not hibernate, but spends the winter in a state of drowsiness. It is also less dangerous than other bears, having a diet based mainly on vegetables and a lower physical strength. It can be seen in almost all of Alaska.
Next to the bear, moose is the largest mammal living in Alaska. Seeing an elk grazing is a unique sight, but one must not make the mistake of believing that, just because it is a herbivore, it is easily approachable. Moose are more dangerous than bears, as the locals confirm, so much so that the rangers themselves are more afraid of coming face to face with a moose than with a bear.
The sheer size of the moose doesn't make it clumsy: these majestic animals are much more agile than you think and being the target of a moose charge is a really bad situation. In addition, they are more likely to approach cities than bears, so close encounters are more frequent. The best places to spot elk in peace are the marshy areas where they graze, such as Kenai Peninsula, easily accessible from Anchorage.
Other large mammals are easily spotted across much of Alaskan territory, particularly the caribou (the American version of the reindeer) and the Dall sheep. The latter are more similar to ibex than to sheep, they live above all in mountainous areas and seeing them fight each other with their big curved horns is a spectacle. Even carnivores like and magnifying glass they are widespread and although it is more difficult, thanks to expert guides it is possible to spot them.
Most of the organized trips allow you to appreciate even in a single day many different species, which obviously change according to the area of the country where you are located.
- Wildlife Tour from Anchorage
- Glaciers and Wildlife: Super Scenic Day Tour from Anchorage
Whales and killer whales: best areas and times to spot them
The seas that bathe the coasts of Alaska are among the best in the world to see some large cetaceans, in particular orcas, humpback whales and gray whales. More rarely, it is possible to spot other species near the coasts, such as the sperm whales or the gigantic ones blue whales. One of the best places to spot whales, not just in Alaska but in all of North America, is the Inside Passage.
Here, during the summer, the plankton-rich waters attract these giants of the seas and it is not difficult to see them emerge near your boat. Indeed, it may happen to see from the coast the puffs and tails that slam on the water. No less fascinating are the groups of killer whales that can be spotted hunting for fish not far from the southern coasts of Alaska: Valdez and Seward are excellent starting points for this type of sighting.
The best way to ensure the thrill of being close to the marine giants is to rely on a special trip: there are various durations in different areas of the coast. The waters where it is easier to find whales are the large area of Prince William Sound and the environs of the Kenai Peninsula, as well as the Inside Passage, notably the Icy Strait, Frederick Sound and Sitka Sound.
- Whale Watching and Visit to the Mendenhall Glacier
Eagles and seabirds: a bird watcher's paradise
It is not only the large mammals, terrestrial and marine, that fascinate those who travel to Alaska. The skies of the deep north are flown over by countless bird species, who find in these wild lands the ideal place to nest. Whatever area of the state you intend to visit, it is easy to meet particular birds that are beautiful to photograph.
From majestic eagles to cute puffins, both the hinterland and the coasts are teeming with birds. Mountainous areas, such as Denali National Park, are ideal for spotting large birds of prey, while the swamps of the Kenai Peninsula are home to many waterfowl.
The real paradiso dei bird watcher however, they are the islands. The Alaskan Islands are among the places in the world with the greatest concentration of seabirds of various different species. There is talk of millions of specimens that crowd the rocks, share the beaches with the seals and fly over the skies undisturbed watching the puffs of the whales from above.
The Aleutian archipelago it is the favorite area for bird watchers, not only because there are many resident species, but also because they are found on the migratory routes of as many species of Asian birds. By choosing the right time, it is possible to spot over 30 Asian species moving over the Alaskan skies in less than a month. L'island of Attu, the farthest from the coast (1600km from the mainland) is considered a magical place by those who love to observe and photograph birds, due to the extreme concentration of different species.
The east coast around Nome, as well as the front St. Lawrence Island they are just as rich but more easily accessible. The southern coast, the easiest one to reach, is certainly not deserted: even if fewer species live there, there are still many thousands of seabirds.
Other useful information
If you are planning a trip to this splendid state, I would like to point out mine too top 10 on what to see in alaska and some recommended experiences for those who really want to get to know this area. Also do not forget the logistical and organizational aspects necessary for each trip to America, such as the Esta form, health insurance, car rental, passport etc… in our Travel Resources section you will find everything you need in this regard.