Animal Planet

Send clients on a scenic safari in Anchorage

By: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

One of the major reasons people travel to Alaska is to view its legendary wildlife. They spend plenty of money on photo safaris in search of specific animals, though there is no absolute guarantee of what they will actually see. And since the state is two-thirds the size of the continental U.S. (there’s an old Alaskan saying that if you cut Alaska in half, Texas would be the third largest state), tedious travel to remote destinations via uncomfortable transportation is sometimes required.

However, an exciting fact for all visitors is that throughout the state, some animals are spotted easily and regularly: ravens, which are the world’s largest songbird and believed by the Alutiq natives to bring the moon, stars and sun; bald eagles, which are more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the U.S.; and Dall sheep, which are usually seen from afar as small white puffs on mountainsides. Other native animals are spotted periodically from a train or car or in a park.

A visit to Anchorage will satisfy your daring clients with organized adventure tours out into the nearby wilderness to see bears, birds, whales and other wildlife. It will also provide guaranteed wildlife viewing to your less intrepid clients, who can stay closer in and opt for an easier, faster, less expensive way to get a close-up view of some of Alaska’s native animals by visiting wildlife parks.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Situated on 140 scenic acres at the entrance to Portage Valley on the southern edge of Turnagain Arm, the non-profit Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center provides refuge for orphaned, injured and ill animals that cannot survive in the wild. It is Alaska’s only drive-through wildlife park, but because the animals are penned, many people opt to walk.

The list of animals seen in the spacious habitats here includes grizzly bears, black bears, bald eagles, elk, moose, musk ox, bison, porcupines, great horned owls and red foxes. All go about their business in natural surroundings, living much as they would in their natural habitat. Photo ops are excellent.

Designed so that visitors can barely see the enclosures, this park-like center has a scenic range of mountains as a backdrop. It’s easy to get impressive, unobstructed photographs of the animals by just adjusting your camera lens through the wire fence. Because these animals are wild, visitors are warned not to try to pet or feed them.

Perhaps the most popular animal is a female grizzly bear named Hugo. Housed in her 18-acre enclosure the largest bear enclosure in North America she still has quills embedded in her skin from a tangle with a porcupine. A herd of nearly extinct wood bison also draws a lot of attention.

The center has programs to educate visitors about Alaska’s wildlife, and in the spring and summer, visitors can often witness the process of rehabilitating orphaned baby animals.

A well-stocked gift shop features made-in-Alaska crafts and wildlife art, as well as a large selection of shirts, postcards and jewelry. Proceeds support the animals.

Another good place to see wildlife is at the small Alaska Zoo. Located in the Chugach foothills, it displays Arctic and sub-Arctic animals along groomed trails in a natural setting. Native species include mink, lynx, arctic foxes, reindeer and wolverines; some exotics, including snow leopards and Tibetan yaks, are also displayed. Volunteer-led tours provide a fuller understanding of the animals.

Among the favorite residents are the polar bear Ahpun and the brown bear Oreo. As orphans, they once shared a den at the zoo. Maggie, an elephant that occasionally plays the harmonica, draws plenty of attention.

The zoo will also host groups sent there by travel agents, with fees dependent on the services requested. Interested agents should check its Web site.

For clients wanting to get farther out of the city, Chugach State Park is a vast wilderness existing in Anchorage’s mountainous backdrop and is home to moose, Dall sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, foxes, lynx, bears, wolves and many species of bird and fish. Consisting of a half-million acres, it is the third-largest state park in the nation. A visit here allows mixing wildlife viewing with hiking, skiing, camping, snowmobiling, rafting, climbing and more.

With even the simplest camera, any visitor to Anchorage can take a photo safari to these scenic, easy-to-reach sites and come home with an impressive wildlife album.


Alaska Wildlife
Conservation Center

Alaska Zoo

Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau

Chugach State Park