McNeil River Game Sanctuary (By Permit Only)

Getting There

Access is by floatplane, and landing depends on time and weather. Most people arrive from Anchorage, but the cheapest, most direct flight is from Homer. You want to arrive before 9 a.m.; some people come the night before their permit begins.

The Bears

This could very well be the crown jewel of Alaska bear viewing. More than 70 bears have been spotted here, gathered around the falls fishing, and nearly 150 frequent the area throughout the summer. Because of abundant food gathered and restricted human activity (the area’s been protected since 1967), bear viewing here is great. It’s all brown bears: females with cubs, adolescents, and some large males. They gather by this falls to feast, catching salmon pooled below this natural obstruction. Because the bears are so full of fish, they tolerate each other, so the congregation is large and unusual.

The Viewing Situation

Here’s the catch: you need a permit to see bears here, and they’re not easy to come by. Names are drawn via a lottery system, and many people apply for years without getting drawn. The state department of Fish and Game limits the number of visitors to 13 per day, with four-day visits allowed between June 7 and August 25. Once you get that permit, you have to be ready for backcountry camping, so you’ll need good gear (including hip waders) and wilderness skills. There is a campground with a cook cabin, but not much else. To apply, visit the state’s webpage. And if you’re lucky enough to get a permit, that page has loads of information.


June 7-August 25




Getting There

Latitude: 59.125
Longitude: -154.246944