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Where to View Bears on Your Alaska Cruise

With over 30,000 bears across the state, Alaska is the perfect place to visit for seeing bears. And an Alaska cruise is a great way to see a lot of bears in a short amount of time. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a black bear or brown bear, these are some of the best places to view bears on your Alaska cruise.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a wild bear in its natural Alaska habitat! But with so many options, it can be hard to know which excursion routes are the most bear-friendly.

Brown bear along the Spasski River, Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Alaska

If you’ve been wondering where to view bears in Alaska, you’ve come to the right place because I am obsessed with bears. On my Alaska cruise, bear-viewing was a top priority for me! So I found all the best ports for seeing bears on your Alaska cruise so you can plan accordingly.

And since seeing bears in the wild is never a guarantee, I’ve also included some great nature preserves and bear sanctuaries where seeing a bear, even in captivity, is a given.

So grab your camera and let’s go on a bear watching expedition in Alaska!

Top Spots for Viewing Bears on an Alaska Cruise

For our cruise, we did 7 days on the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska. I found a cruise with Royal Caribbean that hit as many bear-viewing spots as possible. I’ve listed those ports first, along with other possibilities below so you can plan your perfect bear-watching cruise!


Black bear mom and cub at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary at Herring Cove, Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is known as The Salmon Capital of the World, so it’s no wonder that this would be a great Alaska cruise port for seeing bears.

From Ketchikan, you can see wild Alaska black bears feeding on salmon at spots like Neets Bay, Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory, the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary at Herring Cove, Margaret Creek Wildlife Observation, Traitor’s Cove, and Polk Inlet on Prince of Wales Island.

We did a bear expedition to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary at Herring Cove. This is the closest bear viewing site to Ketchikan and is accessible by road. It’s also a great spot because of the fish hatchery on site, so black bears flock here to catch the salmon as they attempt to return upstream to the hatchery.

Ketchikan Bear Tours

Icy Strait Point / Hoonah

Brown bear along the Spasski River, Icy Strait Point,, Hoonah, Alaska

Located on Chichagof Island, Icy Strait Point in Hoonah is an Alaska Native owned-and-operated private port for guests of available to guests of Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Chichagof Island is known as “Bear Island” for having the highest concentration of bears per square mile of any place on earth (1-2 brown bears per square mile).

So you’re almost guaranteed to see a bear during bear season!

Bears make their way to the Spasski River to feast on salmon. During our bear excursion, we saw two bears on the river and were even told that a bear had made its way onto the path behind us (but our diligent bear officers were there to keep us safe and keep us moving on ahead, so most of our group was none the wiser that a bear crossed where we had just been).

Icy Strait Point / Hoonah Bear Tours


Brown bear at Fortress of the Bear, Sitka, Alaska

Located on Baranof Island, Sitka is smack-dab in the middle of protected forest just teeming with abundant wildlife, like brown bears.

The Fortress of the Bear is the most popular place to see bears in Sitka. This non-profit rescue center for orphaned bear cubs takes in animals that otherwise would have been euthanized. Since Alaska laws don’t allow rescued bears to be released back into the wild, the Fortress of the Bear is these cubs’ only other option.

At the Fortress of the Bear, there are 5 brown bears and 3 black bears. I loved my time at Fortress of the Bear and would have happily stayed there all day watching the bears!

For seeing bears in the wild, head to Starrigavan Recreation Area where salmon returning to Starrigavan Creek attract brown bears.

Sitka Bear Tours

Seward & Anchorage

Brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage, Alaska

Seward is usually either the end point of a northbound cruise or the start of a southbound cruise, with travelers coming to or from Anchorage (since cruise ships cannot make it up Turnagain Arm to dock in Anchorage).

Departing from both Seward and Anchorage, you’ll find many opportunities for reaching Alaska’s best wild bear viewing spots, like Chinitna Bay in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve at the world-famous Brooks Falls, Redoubt Bay Lodge, and more.

The bears you’ll find in these areas will mostly be brown bears with some black bears.

You can also easily reach Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center between Seward and Anchorage, which is what we did on this Seward-to-Alaska transfer bus. This conservation center takes in orphaned and injured animals and rehabilitates them. Since Alaska laws don’t allow rescued bears to be released back into the wild, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center becomes their new home.

At the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, you’ll find both brown bears and black bears.

Seward Bear Tours

Anchorage Bear Tours

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Alaska Brown Bear

While cruise ships do not dock anywhere in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, many do spend a day cruising through the area to take in the spectacular scenery, wildlife, glaciers, and icebergs.

Some ships offer additional excursions off the ship that allow you to get an up-close look at the glaciers.

But even if you stay on the cruise ship, you’ll have the chance to see brown bears foraging on the rocky beach or in meadows near the shore, especially when the tide is low.


Two Alaska Brown Bear

Juneau is a great Alaska port for seeing bears, thanks to the Tongass National Forest and its abundant black bear and brown bear population.

In Juneau, you can see black bears along the trails at Mendenhall Glacier where they’ve come to feat on the salmon at Steep Creek.

From Juneau, you can reach Admiralty Island National Monument, home to more than 1,600 brown bears and the highest brown bear concentration in the world, and the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area. You can also reach Chichagof Island (where Icy Straight Point and Hoonah are located).

Juneau Bear Tours


Alaska Brown Bear

Haines is a great Alaska cruise port for seeing bears as all of the town is bear country.

Chilkoot Lake State Park offers ample opportunity to see brown bears, as does Chilkoot River where it flows into Lutak Inlet and the Chilkat River.

Haines Bear Tours


Alaska Black Bear

Though Skagway is known for being the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush, you can still see bears at this port.

Hike the Chilkoot Trail along the Taiya River where you might encounter brown bears and black bears fishing for salmon. Driving the Klondike Highway also affords some roadside bear-viewing opportunities.

And if your cruise docks in Skagway instead of Haines, you can still get to bear country and see brown bears at Chilkoot Lake State Park.

Skagway Bear Tours

When is the Best Time to See Bears on an Alaska Cruise?

Black bear mom and cub at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary at Herring Cove, Ketchikan, Alaska

The best time to view bears in Alaska is July through early September. We went at the end of July/first week of August and saw 15 bears!

This is when bears head to the streams to feast on spawning salmon. This abundance of fish brings the bears toward the coast as they fatten up for winter.

Bears are most active closer to dawn and dusk, when they’re actively searching for food. Since most cruise ships dock in the morning, you’ll want to be sure to book the earliest bear viewing tour possible for the best chance of seeing bears!

Bear Safety in Alaska

Brown bear along the Spasski River, Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Alaska

Since you’re going out into the bears’ home, you need to be alert and safe at all times during your excursion. Most wild bear excursions will have bear safety officers armed with bear spray and guns, which they hopefully will never have to use. Since you obviously can’t bring these things on your own on the cruise, here are a few bear safety tips to follow:

  1. Stay Alert & Stay Together: Pay attention to your surroundings, and keep kids close by. Making some noise will let the bear know you are there, but too much noise will scare the bears away, which you don’t want when safely viewing them from a distance but is helpful to keep in mind if a bear approaches you.
  2. Leave No Trash or Food Scraps: Leave No Trace is essential in bear country. Don’t leave food or trash along the trails or give food to the bears. Leaving scraps teaches bears to associate trails and humans with food.
  3. Keep Your Distance: Give wild bears plenty of space. Getting close-ups is what you brought your binoculars and telephoto lenses for!
  4. Know What To Do For Each Type of Bear: Bear safety is different for different bear species. You need to know how to de-escalate an encounter with a black bear vs. a brown bear.

What To Do If You Encounter a Black Bear

Black bears are a less aggressive species, and you may see a bear before it notices you; stand still and don’t approach, enjoy the sight, then move away quietly.

If a black bear sees you, you want to back away slowly, never run.

Hold your ground if a black bear approaches and make a lot of noise, waving your arms slowly to make yourself seem bigger.

If a black bear makes contact wit you, fight back aggressively.

Brown bear along the Spasski River, Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Alaska

What To Do If You Encounter a Brown Bear

For brown bears, you should still stand your ground even if it approaches. If it’s not approaching, you can back away slowly, never run.

If a brown bear approaches you, slowly wave your arms and talk to it in low tones so it knows you are human and not prey.

Brown bears may bluff an attack by charging then turning away at the last second.

If a brown bear makes contact with you, play dead by laying flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Make it hard for the bear to turn you over, and remain still until the bear leaves the area.

If the bear does not leave after a few minutes, then you should fight back vigorously, aiming for the face.

Bear attacks are rare. Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are the best ways to stay safe in bear country.

More Things to Do in Alaska

Make the most of your vacation to Alaska! Check out these other Alaska travel guides to plan your perfect trip:

Ready for an Alaska cruise vacation? Plan your trip with these tips.



Where to View Bears on Your Alaska Cruise

Are you ready to see bears on your Alaska cruise? Comment below!

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  1. Thanks for this article!
    I knew that handling bear encounters is different according to the species, but I forgot what you need to do with which one.
    There’s some mnemonic technique with it, isn’t there? Something like, with black – you fight back, with brown – you get down?
    I guess with white ones, the polar bears, you just say goodbye to the world :/

    1. Haha yes, the rhyme goes “If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lie down. If it’s white, say goodnight.”

      But in all seriousness, the actual advice for a polar bear encounter is to back away slowly and find safe shelter (a car or house) if it hasn’t noticed you. And if it has noticed you and approaches, to use deterrents (firearm or bear spray), and to fight back if it makes contact, aiming for the nose and face. Unlike brown bears, they don’t bluff attacks, so if a polar bear starts to attack, you should be ready to fight back.

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