Seeing wildlife in Alaska

Tobi lives at the Fortress of the Bear rescue center in Sitka, Alaska. (Terry Gardner / August 5, 2012)

If you visit Sitka and Juneau, Alaska, this month, it's often easy to spot bald eagles, ravens and black and brown bears on your own. (I expected to have the same luck in June and got skunked, except for the raven I photographed in a Foodland parking lot.) Timing is everything with wildlife watching and opportunities increase when berries are ripe or fish are running or spawning.

Here's a look at when and where to see bears, eagles and whales inexpensively in southeastern Alaska. If you visit at other times, you'll see plenty of wildlife but you may need to pay experts to take you there.


When: Late May-June 15; mid-July-August (salmon run)

Where: Glacier Bay and Gustavus (the gateway to Glacier Bay,

Glacier Bay National Park (;

Bartlett Cove beach; the Bartlett River; campgrounds and the area near Glacier Bay Lodge (especially the dining room). Brown bears are spotted more frequently than black bears.

Gustavus: Bear Track Inn (, surrounded by a creek on three sides, visitors primarily see black bears); backyards; and wooded areas

Haines (brown and black): Haines Highway and Lutak Road (

Ketchikan (brown and black): Herring Cove beach (

Sitka ( (brown only): Fortress of the Bear (year-round, rescue center for orphaned brown bears, $10 admission); Indian River Trail in Tongass National Forest (

Admiralty Island National Monument (near Juneau, at Pack Creek (more than 1,600 brown bears, among the largest populations in the world). Admiralty can be reached only by floatplane, boat, canoe or kayak, and a visiting permit is required.

Petersburg ( (black only): Blind River Rapids (14 miles from Petersburg); Crystal Lake Hatchery (18 miles from town,

Juneau (black only;

Mendenhall Glacier (13 miles from downtown Juneau) overlooks provide great views of black bears fishing for salmon in Steep Creek near the Visitor Center (; Mt. Roberts (trails and viewing overlooks). Just above downtown Juneau. Most visitors take the Mt. Roberts tramway up (

Bald eagles

When: March and April (when herring and the eulachon, a smelt-like fish, spawn, especially in Wrangell; June-August (when king, chum and silver salmon begin spawning). September-mid-November in Haines during final salmon run.

Where: From Petersburg to Ketchikan, almost every town has resident eagles on rooftops, treetops, light posts and buoys. Here are a few top spots:

Haines (the resident eagle population swells from 400 to 3,500 in the fall; Haines hosts an eagle festival every November). Among prime places:

Chilkoot State Park,