Juneau is a perfect basecamp for bear viewing, one of Alaska’s greatest wildlife experiences.
JUNEAU, AK — Juneau is bear country. Our estuaries, avalanche chutes and salmon streams provide brown and black bears with all the things they need to flourish. What’s more, we have so many bears here, you’re bound to see one at some point. Read on to learn more about our bears and find out the best place to spot one (or several).
About Bears — There are two main species of bear found in Juneau: black bears and brown bears. Don’t be fooled, both bear species come in a variety of colors — they are not exclusive to their monikers — meaning black bears can be brown, and brown bears can be black. Black bears are smaller (adult males average 400 pounds) than brown bears, lack a shoulder hump and have a straight, flat-faced profile. Black bears can be black, brown, cinnamon-colored or, if you’re lucky, you might even spot a rare blue or “glacier” bear, which also happens to be a variation of the black bear.
The coastal-dwelling, salmon-feeding brown bear also happens to be the same species of brown bear as the smaller grizzly living in Interior and northern Alaska. The brown bear is larger than the black bear, with a noticeable shoulder hump and longer claws. A male brown bear can weigh more than 1,000 pounds; females weigh half as much. One of the best places to observe brown bears is at the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area on Admiralty Island.
There are tons of places in and around Juneau to see bears and other wildlife. Visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for a complete list of viewing locations.
When in bear country, always remember:
- Be aware of your surroundings, even in town.
- Never feed a bear, it’s illegal. Store food in bear-proof containers away from camp.
- Never approach or follow a bear. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- If you encounter a bear, make noise, sing and clap your hands — let it know you’re a human.
- A bear standing on its hind legs isn’t threatening you; it’s trying to identify you, so stand your ground.
- Never try to outrun a bear. Bears may instinctively chase anything that runs.
About Admiralty Island — The absolute best place to see brown bears is on Admiralty Island National Monument. The area is also known by the native Tlingít people as “Kootznoowoo,” which translates to “fortress of the bears.” Admiralty Island is home to an estimated 1,600 brown bears (no black bears here), one of the world’s highest density brown bear populations — that’s more brown bears than the Lower 48 combined!
To see these furry giants in action, head to the island’s Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary, located on the northeast corner of Admiralty Island. During summer months, you might see as many as 25 bears come together to feast on yummy pink and chum salmon. For optimal viewing, head to the “viewing spit” at the mouth of Pack Creek, or take the one-mile trek inland through old-growth rainforest and climb atop the Observation Tower.
Season — Peak season is July 5–Aug. 25, but the sanctuary is open from June 1–Sept. 10. Shoulder season is June 1–July 4 and Aug. 26–Sept. 10. While permits are available for purchase in Juneau, your best bet is to apply for a permit ahead of time. To make things easier, go with a guide – they source permits, arrange travel and provide expert knowledge about bear country.
Getting Here — Just 40 miles from Juneau, Pack Creek makes for an ideal day-trip. There are no roads or accommodations, so the only way to get to the area is by floatplane, boat or kayak. A 30-minute floatplane ride provides the quickest and most direct method of transport from Juneau (versus a 3.5-hour boat ride).
An air or marine charter provides transportation to-and-from the island, but you’ll be responsible for sourcing your own permits. For those who want to stay the night, campsites and open shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
More Information — For more information about Admiralty Island/Pack Creek, visit the U.S. Forest Service. For more information about bears and where to view them, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
- There are no facilities (bathroom or shelter) on the island.
- Pack rain gear, snacks and extra clothing.
- Wear rubber boots, you might be unloading in eight to 12 inches of water.
- There is no cell phone service.
- Bring binoculars, a telescope or a camera with long telephoto lens.