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Where Are The Bears?

Trying to get a glimpse of animals in their natural environment can be a challenge for those of us unwilling to hang out in a tent for weeks and eat trail mix. There are still many wild places where bears roam, but these few places are where you might reliably view a bold, beautiful bear.

Search by State: Alaska, California, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming

Alaska

Anan Wildlife Observatory, Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest (USFS)
Tongass National Forest (USFS)

Wrangell, Alaska is the jumping off point for the Anan Wildlife Observatory in the Tongass National Forest, one of the best places in the world to view and photograph bears. The Anan Wildlife Observatory provides a wonderful opportunity to see bears up close catching and eating salmon. Anan Creek is staffed by US Forest Service personnel at the trailhead and at the bear viewing platform. The viewing platform includes a photo blind just a few feet from the feeding bears. Plan your trip early—a reservation is required and available through Anan Wildlife Observatory.

Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve (Ian McDonald/Share the Experience)
Katmai National Park and
Preserve (Ian McDonald/Share
the Experience)

If you want to photograph grizzly bears in the wild, Katmai National Park and Preserve is the place for you. It requires advanced planning to travel to this remote location, which cannot be accessed by car but offers a unique opportunity to view grizzlies safely on foot. Some of the biggest grizzlies on record have been sighted in Katmai, and between July and September you have the opportunity to see both adult bears and cubs fishing the rivers. Photograph big bear brawls breaking out over “fishing rights” and mothers and cubs foraging, trying to keep a low profile. For a truly unique experience, camp at Brooks Camp, try Fure's Cabin or stay at the park lodge. Not planning a trip to Alaska anytime soon? Be sure and check the park’s live Brooks Camp Bear Cams.

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Joseph Classen)
Kodiak National Wildlife
Refuge (Joseph Classen)

People travel to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on Kodiak Island from around the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “enormously” famous Kodiak brown bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi). Seeing bears along the road system is uncommon and the refuge does not offer tours. For your safety and the safety of the bears, guided options for bear viewing off the road system are advisable, either through extended stays at remote lodges and camps or flight-seeing trips for a half day or full day. Popular destinations for guided bear viewing day trips include Frazer Lake, at the south end of the refuge, and the Katmai coast, across the Shelikof Strait from Kodiak. Both trips require a 45-minute flight in a float plane. For complete details, download the refuge’s "So You Want to See a Bear..." (PDF) guide.

Pack Creek, Admiralty Island, Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest (USFS)
Tongass National Forest (USFS)

Located in the Tongass National Forest, Pack Creek on Admiralty Island is one of the most amazing bear viewing sites in Alaska. The salmon, which the bears eagerly seek, spawn July through August. The beach viewing site at Pack Creek Viewing Area is approximately 60 yards (54m) from the creek where you may see bears fishing and... just being bears. Maintaining this distance is important and allows bears to freely access their vitally important food source without being displaced by you. Access to the site is by floatplane, boat, kayak or canoe. A Pack Creek permit is required to visit Pack Creek between June 1 and September 10 and allows you to visit from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.


California

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park (NPS)
Yosemite National Park (NPS)

If you spot a bear while in the park, it is a black bear, not a brown or grizzly bear. The last known grizzly bear was shot outside the Yosemite region in the early 1920s; the species no longer exists in California despite its presence on the California state flag. Yosemite's black bear is commonly spotted eating berries in the summer or acorns in the fall. Yosemite's largest mammal, the male black bear weighs an average 300 to 350 pounds (136-158 kg), and smaller females weigh 150 to 200 pounds (68-91 kg). The biggest black bear ever captured in Yosemite weighed 690 pounds (312.97 kg).


North Carolina

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS)
Alligator River National Wildlife
Refuge (USFWS)

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has one of the largest populations of black bears on the east coast. As you drive west on US 64 from Manteo, to the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot, you'll see many signs warning you not to feed the bears. Murphy Peterson Wildlife Drive offers a fairly reliable opportunity to view bears safely from your car. The refuge is open year-round during daylight hours and also offers paddling trails and all types of wildlife and habitat for you to discover.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NPS)
Great Smoky Mountains
National Park (NPS)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few places east of the Mississippi River where you can easily see black bears. The best chance is at the Cades Cove loop in spring to fall around dusk or dawn. Bears found in more populated regions tend to become desensitized to human presence, but this is by no means a reason to be less wary. Check out the Great Smoky Mountains Association’s Day Hiking: Wildlife video, or one of the other videos to learn what to do if you see a bear. And as always, please don’t feed the bears!


Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park (Steve Perry/Share the Experience)
Yellowstone National Park
(Steve Perry/Share the
Experience)

Grizzly and black bears are just some of the wildlife visitors come to Yellowstone National Park hoping to see. Bears are typically seen in the park from March through November. If you're planning a trip to Yellowstone, or even if you're not, be sure to watch "Bears, A Yellowstone Love Story" for the history of Yellowstone’s bears! Looking for more bear information? Check out the new National Park Service bear information website.