black bear

Both Black and Brown Bears can be found on the Kenai Peninsula. To many people, bears are a most highly coveted wildlife that captures the wilderness spirit of Alaska. 

Black Bears are the most common species, found from the coastline up into the tundra. Their preference towards dark forested areas makes them somewhat difficult to observe, but perhaps that is part of the reason why residents and visitors alike welcome the chance to glimpse this "shadow of the forest". 

Black Bears can vary in color from light brown to black, though almost all Black Bears on the Kenai Peninsula are pure black. Most Black Bears weigh around 200 pounds (90 Kilograms) though a large male can potentially be double that weight.

Where to view Black bears

Black bears come out of their dens in April and start to be found on the south facing slopes as they feed on grasses. The avalanche chutes and patches of grass along the alder line on the mountains are good places to glass.

Later in the year, the best place for a glimpse of a Black Bear is near the town of Hope. The combination of dark forest with large berry patches and a nearby Resurrection Creek with salmon makes this area probably the highest density of Black Bears on the Seward Ranger District.

Black Bears are most active in early morning and evening. A drive along Palmer Creek Road will often reward the traveler with a view of a bear as they cross the road. 

A word of warning...
Bears are wild animals and potentially dangerous. Do not approach the bears - give them plenty of room. See the sites below for more information on traveling in Bear Country!

Hint: As you drive along the roads on the Seward District, watch for scars on the trunks of birch, cottonwood and especially aspen trees that were made by the claws of bears when they climbed the trees. 


brown bear (aka Grizzly Bear)

Brown Bears, also called Grizzly Bears, can also be found throughout most of the Kenai Peninsula. These bears can exceed 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) and are usually brown in color. They can be identified from Black Bears by their larger size, the claws which are nearly twice as long as Black Bears, the hump on the shoulder, and the "dished in" profile of the forehead.

Like the Black Bear, they are omnivorous and will eat almost anything edible they find or catch. In the spring, grasses are usually the first food, switching to winter killed moose or other ungulates when the opportunity presents itself. When the salmon begin to run up the streams and rivers, Brown Bears congregate along the waterways to take advantage of this highly coveted food source. 

Salmon have a very high percentage of protein and are very helpful in the bear's efforts at gaining weight before they reenter their dens in the fall. Brown Bears have been known to eat a dozen or more salmon a day during the peak of the run. 

Biologists have estimated that there are approximately 300 Brown Bears on the Kenai Peninsula. (Estimating the number of bears is very difficult however and scientists are attempting to improve their estimate with DNA analysis.) 

While the Brown Bears of the Kenai Peninsula are apparently not genetically distinct from mainland Brown Bears, researchers think that the population may be isolated from the mainland. A look at a map shows the peninsula being connected to the mainland at a very narrow isthmus - a place that is largely covered by glaciers and abuts Anchorage to the north. For this reason, the Kenai population of Brown Bears may not have much contact with the rest of Alaska.

Where to view Brown Bears

Brown Bears are unpredictable and safety must be foremost in the mind of anyone contemplating going out to view Brown Bears. 

The best and safest place on the Seward Ranger District to view Brown Bears is from the Russian River Falls Viewing Platform. This can be accessed from the Russian Lakes Trail that starts from the trailhead in Russian River Campground in the town of Cooper Landing. The trail to the falls is approximately 3 miles long and is engineered to allow wheelchairs.

The bears come to the falls in mid June to feed on salmon that congregate at the base of the falls as they attempt to swim up the swift waters to reach the lakes and headwaters of Russian River. The fish will remain available to bear until September when the last of the dead salmon are gone. 

The viewing platform is well above where the bears normally feed and travel, but there is always the potential of unexpectedly bumping into a bear on the trail or on the platform. 

Keep alert and enjoy the rare opportunity to observe bears in their natural habitat.



Most people relish the opportunity to glimpse a bear during their visit to Alaska. Anyone who travels in Bear Country should know basic avoidance and response procedures in order to minimize the chance of unwanted close encounters with bears.

Key Points:

  • Become acquainted with basic bear biology, habitat, diet, and annual changes as these will help you understand bear behavior.
  • Learn to identify the difference between Black Bears and Brown Bears by physical characteristics and tracks, and how they behave differently from each other.
  • Learn how to read bear sign, such as tracks, scat, bear trees, beds, etc.
  • Understand bear behavior so you can identify if the bear is becoming stressed or is acting aggressively.
  • Learn how to use aversion techniques - such as the use of bear spray, and what limitations there are with each tool.
  • The leading cause of bear attacks is the unexpected close proximity of people and bears. Bears may respond to this surprise by attacking. Therefore, the best bear deterrent is to make sure your presence is known. While hiking in bear country, make noise - talk, sing, attach a can with pebbles inside to your pack, whatever it takes to alert a nearby bear of your presence.
  • Whenever possible, travel in a group. There is safety in numbers!
  • Avoid traveling when bears are most active- in early morning or evening.
  • Where possible, avoid thick brush, or any place or time where visibility is poor.
  • When camping in bear country, NEVER, EVER HAVE FOOD INSIDE YOUR TENT!!
     This includes items with an odor - toothpaste, soap, suntan lotion etc.
  • Avoid camping near trails or wherever bears are likely to travel.
  • Food should be stored away from camp, ideally in a bearproof container or out of reach of bears. Remember, black bears can climb trees!
  • After meals, you should store food leftovers and wash dishes immediately. 
    Keep your camp clean.  The lack of cleanliness of your camp not only endangers you but also anyone else who camps there. If you arrive at a campsite and notice bear tracks, droppings, or garbage scattered around the site, try and find another site. These are all signs that a bear may have learned to associate humans with food.