Bear Viewing in Alaska. An incredible thing to do.
Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory
The Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory is a spectacular place to visit in Southeast Alaska, especially for travelers who are looking for an authentic Alaskan experience.
Anan offers a first-rate, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view and photograph Alaskan wildlife in their natural habitat. A permit system limits visitors to 60 per day. Of the 60, 30 are reserved by tour operators, 18 are made available for public reservations online, & the final 12 passes become available for reservation 3 days prior to the visiting date, to accommodate last minute planning. Tourists arrive via float plane or private/commercial boat. Once in the harbor, a small boat or dingy is needed to get to the Anan trailhead. There is no sign or grand entrance. The Forest Service has kept the attraction as natural as possible.
It is important to make reservations ahead of time if coming in by private boat like I did. The cost to get in is $10.00. If you come with a tour company, the cost is around $350.00 which includes a guide and transportation. Wear study waterproof shoes. You will be walking on a combination of wood, gravel, dirt and roots. The trail is fairly narrow with up and down steps.
Anan creek,is part of this attraction. It is the draw to get the bears to show up. It is one of the earliest & largest pink salmon (also called (humpys or humpback) runs in Southeast Alaska & provides ideal habitat for over 250,000 of them. That means the Anan Bear & Wildlife Observatory is a paradise for bears. It is also one of the few places in the world where black and brown bears share the same fishing spot. Anan is located within the Tongass National Forest and has special protected status for two miles on either side of the creek.
Anan Bear & Wildlife Observatory is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and is regulated as I said before on a permit basis limited to 60 visitors per day July 5 – August 25. Reservation availability for Anan Observatory is extremely limited after March 1st. The idea is to provide peace and quiet for both the bears and the tourists. This place is particularly famous for viewing both black and brown bears and is also home to seals, otters, and eagles.
Upon arrival at the observatory trailhead, guests are greeted by USFS interpreters who give a quick talk about proper visitor behavior in bear country. Once you agree to the terms it is an easy to moderate, often single file, half-mile undulating 30 minute walk from the beach to the viewing platform. The trail to the observatory winds through the rainforest, along a lagoon on a boardwalk with steps. It’s not unusual to see bears on the trail as I did. Once you are waved on to the viewing platform you will see bears galore foraging for food from the fast moving creek waterfall.
The bears carefully wade into the water where the fish pool together attempting to leap over the falls. During the salmon run, more than a hundred bears may come to the cold waters of the creek to eat as much as they can, and because the bears are interested only in the fattiest parts of the fish, there’s plenty left for other animals: bald eagles, ravens, otters, harbor seals, and more. The bears have adapted to a human presence on the viewing platform, so they simply go about their business of eating, getting ready for the winter. Bears wade into the stream, grab a fish, and then come back ashore.
The viewing “Platform” is just that: a wooden platform, surrounded by a waist-high fence that bears could easily climb across or squeeze through if they really wanted to. These are not tame bears, but hungry ones there to stuff themselves with as much salmon as possible. At times, bears come so close to the fence that a person could reach out and touch them. Rangers quickly move people — and their cameras — back from the fence if bears approach.
About 25 steps straight down from the observation platform there is a photo blind which gets tourists very close to the gushing water and the hungry bears. This is where the real pulse of the observatory is found and the best videos or pictures can be taken. It is an extraordinary experience for the senses. As you hear the roar of the waterfall in the background you are up close to bears catching and eating fish. The interchange between the bears, eagles and salmon bring a cacophony of wildlife spirit like nothing I have experienced before. There is a maximum time limit of 30 minutes inside the photo blind to allow everyone the opportunity to use it.
Each bear has its own preferences and ways of doing things. One may grab a salmon, take a couple of big bites, dip into the creek a few times, then nosh on it again or take it into a nearby cave. Another brings his catch up to a small knoll overlooking the creek and eats the entire fish while keeping an eye out for stronger bears who would steal his food. Other bears bite their fish in the water, take it to a nearby flat rock top and gorge without restraint.
Anan is the only bear viewing place in Alaska where visitors can see both brown and black bears feeding in the same location at the same time. However, when I visited, when the brown bears arrived, the black ears scooted quickly away. Although the brown bears and the black bears co-exist, they do it from a sizeable distance.
From Ketchikan, Anan is accessible by flightseeing tours only because of the distance from Ketchikan (45 minutes by air). It’s a 45-minute boat ride or quick floatplane trip from Wrangell. By private boat, just make your reservation and map out your course. Latitude: 56.179023 / Longitude: -131.883574.
You can now take a virtual tip to the site via the Anan NatureWatch Story Map.