Alaskan wildlife photography: Where to go and what to see

No place in the United States allows for the quality and quantity of wildlife compared to Alaska. The state is home to incredible diversity, from majestic whales and bears to curious sea otters and eagles. No matter where you are, Alaska wildlife photography possibilities are endless.

With its vast wilderness and abundant natural resources, Alaska is a prime destination for wildlife viewing. I’ve visited Denali, Lake Clark, Kenai Fjords, and Kenai Peninsula. However, as there are more places to view animals, I rely on researched knowledge and a basic understanding of the other destinations.

We’ll dive into some of the best places to view them. Unfortunately, these locations are not always easy to reach; many require flights or boat rides.

Alaska Wildlife Photography Opportunities

Most accessible National Park to view wildlife – Denali National Park

alaksa wildlife photography caribou denali

Denali National Park is home to various wildlife, including caribou, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Unfortunately, only the first 15 miles of Denali Road are driveable to passenger cars. To go further, you can hike or take the park bus. However, the road is closed past Mile 43 through 2024 due to landslides. (Learn more about the buses.)

This area can have plenty of wildlife, but the odds are that there will be fewer grizzly bears simply due to more car traffic. However, keep an eye out near the visitor center for moose. They like the protection it offers from other predators who don’t like all the human traffic.

Once away from the Denali visitor center, we saw caribou, multiple moose, and their babies.

Best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography: May through September is a great time to see Denali.

How to get there: The park is about five hours north of Anchorage and can be reached by car, train, or tour bus.

Most famous location for bear watching – Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park is known for its coastal brown bears, often seen fishing for salmon in the park’s streams. This can be visited as a day trip, but the ideal situation is to get overnight lodging and experience Brooks Falls for multiple days.

These reservations must be done at least a year in advance and are some of the most sought-after permits in the US.

Best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography: July and August are the best months to visit Katmai, as the bears are most active during this time.
How to get there: The national park can only be reached by plane or boat.

Best location for single-day bear watching – Lake Clark National Park

Alaska wildlife photography bear watching lake clark

We took a bear-watching trip from Home to Lake Clark National Park, which was unbelievable. We were the first plane to land at Chitina Bay and witnessed about a dozen bears mingling in the grass. This spot is a goldmine for Alaska wildlife photography, and I highly recommend it. Our entire trip was about eight hours, including the flight. If you have the financial ability to do one, I recommend it.

Best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography: The best time to visit Lake Clark National Park for wildlife viewing is after June 1, once the bears are out of hibernation and coming down to the coast to feed.
How to get there: Lake Clark National Park can be reached by small plane or boat.

Most affordable option for whales and other sea life – Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords Alaska wildlife photography

Two and a half hours from Anchorage lies Seward, the home base for exploring Kenai Fjords National Park. The best way to view wildlife is to hop on a boat and embark along the coastlines. Our Kenai Fjords boat cruise was one of the best experiences we had.

It was about six hours, and we saw humpbacks, orcas, stellar sea lions, birds, a puffin, and more! Plus, you had all the beautiful scenery around you as well. Compared to the other Alaska wildlife photography opportunities, this was very inexpensive.

The best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography is June through October, but always weather dependent.

How to get there: Easily accessible by car.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Kenai National Park

Most Remote Location – Old Denali State Highway – Paxson to Cantwell

alaska wildlife photography denali state highway

I’ll get this out early; not every rental car company allows you to drive this road. It’s a 137-mile road with a considerable amount of it unpaved. However, I will say that the stories they tell about the road conditions were not what we found. We drove it in late May and thought it was in fantastic shape and perfect for Alaska wildlife photography.

Now, to the good stuff. This unbelievably beautiful road cuts across the center of Alaska just south of the Alaskan Range. The beauty of this is unrivaled, and we saw maybe seven cars the entire drive. (Which took us all day as we kept stopping.) We didn’t see much wildlife as we only did a day drive, but with how remote this area is, it would be a perfect place to spend some days.

Best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography: Mid-May through September

How to get there: Accessibly by car, preferably with clearance.

Shortest and cheapest destination from Anchorage for Alaska wildlife photography – Kenai Peninsula

bald eagle cooper land alaska wildlife photography

Whether you’re short on time or are looking for a new area to explore, the interior areas of the Kenai Peninsula offer fantastic wildlife opportunities. The area around Cooper Landing is some of the best, including Russian River Falls and Skilak Lake Road, a dirt road in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge.

Unfortunately, my visit was too early for the bears to visit Russian River Falls, but this is supposedly breathtaking when the salmon are running.

Best time to visit for Alaska wildlife photography: Once the salmon are running, you’ll have all the bears and birds you can imagine.

How to get there: Easily accessible by car, south of Anchorage.

Related: What to do in Cooper Landing

The shortest flight from the lower 48 for Alaska wildlife photography – Juneau

The capital city of Juneau is located in the panhandle of Alaska and is home to various marine life, including whales and seals. I hope to visit in 2023 and soak up the incredible whale watching and bear photography opportunities. This guide is a great place to start if you visit Juneau.

Best time to visit: Juneau is a great place to visit year-round, but the best time for whale watching is from May to September.
How to get there: Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane.

Wildlife Safety

alaska bear watching lake clark

When photographing wildlife, please put safety above all other things. For bears and other predators, please leave 100 yards at a minimum. For nonpredators, 25 yards is a safe distance. Furthermore, regardless of whether it’s a predator, please do not get in between a mother and their children. This is a recipe for disaster.

Lastly, if you’re in bear territory, know how to be bear-safe if you encounter a grizzly at a close distance.

  • Make your presence known by speaking loudly yet calmly
  • Make yourself look big and pick up young children
  • Get your bear spray out
  • If a grizzly attacks, play dead. If a black bear attacks, fight back.

Related: Ultimate Wildlife Photography Guide

Commonly Asked Questions about Alaska wildlife photography

I want to book some tours. Where should I go?

Alaska wildlife photography tours

Check out more excursions here.

What is the best time of day to photograph wildlife?

Dawn and dusk are the best times to photograph animals, as that’s when they emerge before hiking during the warmer parts of the day. Additionally, some carnivores hunt during the day, so the early and late hours allow them to hide a bit more.

Furthermore, there’s less traffic (humans and cars) during these times, so they’re startled less. So plan to be up early or stay out late if you want to nail some good Alaska wildlife photography shots!

What is the best month to see wildlife in Alaska?

Summer is undoubtedly the best month to see wildlife in Alaska. This is when they’re out of hibernation and escaping the cold winter months. However, this is not a zoo, and animals are not constantly prevalent. For example, I went the first week in Alaska (mid-May) without seeing a single animal.

What part of Alaska has the most wildlife?

Honestly, Alaska has wildlife everywhere. We saw a black bear and cubs off the road in Anchorage, so they were all around. But, I will say, the further north you go, the better your chances of seeing them as it’s less developed. Denali is teaming with Caribou, Moose, Grizzlies, Big Horn Sheep, Wolves, and more!

What type of wildlife can you see in Alaska?

Oh boy, Alaska has so much diversity in it. You can see Steller Sea Lions, Orcas, Humpback Whales, Puffins, Otters, and Seals in the oceans. You’ll get Moose, Brown Bears, Wolves, Black Bears, Elk, Caribou, Big Horn Sheep, Eagles and Hawks, and Foxes on land. I’m probably missing some too! The Alaska wildlife photography opportunities are endless here!

Cameras and Lenses for Alaska wildlife photography

Take a look at what I use and recommend when tackling Alaska wildlife photography. These allow you to get great shots without getting close to the animals.

Camera Bodies:

Telephoto Lenses:

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Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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