In many ways Alaska is the last great unexplored wilderness of America; a new frontier for adventure tourists and the Wild West of the modern age. Covering nearly 700,000 square miles, this great and gargantuan land is perched far from the US, buffered from its stately neighbors by the mountains, hills and prairie plains of the Yukon and British Columbia.
For wildlife lovers, there is perhaps no better spot to come for a glimpse of America’s most definitive beasts in their natural habitats. From the yellow-beaked bald eagle to the roaring grizzly bear, Alaska really does have it all.
Here are five of the top places Hopper recommends for seeing wildlife in this sprawling state, ranging from managed preservation centres, to vast national parks complete with all the creatures and critters anyone could want.
Since its humble beginnings in the early 1980s, this grassroots wildlife preservation center has grown to encompass no less than 17 acres of magnificent forested backcountry near to the Tongass National Forest in Sitka, southern Alaska. Today the staff here treat between 100 and 200 birds of prey each year, with the aim of re-releasing them back into the wild. Visitors are invited to come and marvel at the wealth of so-called resident birds, ranging from the mighty Bald Eagle to the majestic falcon. What’s more, regular tours of the center are available right throughout the summer months, from May to September.
Also shrouded by the pines and firs of the great Tongass National Forest, the Fortress of the Bear reserve offers guests the unique opportunity to get closely acquainted with one of North America’s most definitive wild animals: the brown bear. The center is currently home to eight characterful individuals, ranging from the colossal and curious Balloo to the fun-loving Tuliaan, the newest arrival at the Fortress. Guests are welcomed all year round and tours last approximately 30 minutes from start to finish.
Crowned by the snowy spire of monstrous Mount McKinley and encompassing more land than all of Massachusetts State, Denali National Park is rightly hailed as one of the wildest and most wildlife-endowed spots in all of Alaska. Through its tree thickets, mountain ridges and wild tundra plains, wolf packs, grizzly bears and rare species of fox and moose can be spotted roaming, while the elusive wolverine has also been known to make an appearance. Bus tours and game excursions depart regularly for the park, while real adventure seekers will opt to hike their way through to the depths of its wilds.
Managing 48,000 acres of land across the wide Chilkat River flats north of Juneau, the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve is home to the largest population of its eponymous creature in the world. Visitors are invited to cruise their way into the rugged backcountry of the Coast Mountains on the Haines Highway, where strategically placed roadside pull ins and photography spots offer some of the best Bald Eagle viewing in all of America. Those lucky enough to arrive in early spring may also catch a glimpse of the animal’s enthralling aerial courtship displays.
Situated on the northern fringes of the town of Fairbanks, amidst a patchwork of wetland swamps and sprawling fields, Creamer’s Refuge is hailed as one of the best bird watching spots in all of Alaska. Aside from its healthy array of resident birds, the site is also famed for the huge influx of visiting cranes that descend on the fields during late August (an event now marked by its very own festival), not to mention the winding three miles of wildlife viewing boardwalk, where guests have been known spot coyotes and woodland lynx amidst the trees.