Being located in the midst of the Tongass National Forest, Alaska’s Rainforest Islands are home to over 400 species of terrestrial and marine wildlife. Some species, such as the bald eagle and the brown bear, are endangered in other parts of the United States, but thrive here along with a variety of other wildlife, including deer, moose, wolves, and porcupine.
The Tongass National Forest has one of the highest densities of brown and black bears of anywhere in the world. During the summer months, bears can often be seen along streams fishing for salmon, or eating berries. These large mammals are fascinating to observe. The US Forest Service maintains two bear viewing areas within the Rainforest Islands: Anan Creek near Wrangell and Dog Salmon Creek on Prince of Wales Island. In addition, there is a black bear viewing area at Gunnuck Creek Hatchery in Kake.
And just as bears are the terrestrial kings, humpback whales are their equivalent in marine habitat. The rich waters around Alaska’s Rainforest Islands are abundant summer feeding grounds for humpback whales, making Alaska’s Rainforest Islands a premier spot to glimpse one of the world’s largest creatures. Frederick Sound, around Kake and Petersburg, and Clarence Strait, adjacent to Prince of Wales Island, are prime locations and easily accessible from Wrangell. It is even possible to see humpback whales from shore or from an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. However, your best bet is taking a guided charter trip, which you can find in all regions of Alaska’s Rainforest Islands. In addition to humpback whales, other marine mammals frequent the region, such as killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, Stellar sea lions, and harbor seals.
Located outside Wrangell, Alaska, the Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory is a premier location to view brown and black bears feeding on spawning pink salmon in July and August. A half-mile trail leads to the observation deck circling the small estuary where seals, eagles and other wildlife gather to feast on the bounty. Tongass National Forest interpreters are stationed at the trailhead to provide current information on bear safety, trail conditions and bear activity. You can go independently (make a reservation before you go) or visit with a guided tour that will transport you to the site and escort you to the observation area. Learn More.
The Stikine River Delta, located outside Wrangell, Alaska, is a haven for over 120 species of migrating birds in the spring and fall. Some of these migrating species include tundra or whistling swans, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, mergansers and other waterfowl and over 150,000 shorebirds. In April, the second largest concentration of eagles in the world occurs when as many as 1,600 arrive to feast on the annual hooligan run. In late April, 8,000 to 10,000 snow geese stop on their migration northward. The Stikine River Birding Festival is a fun time to celebrate the arrival of spring and birds!
During the summer months, upwards of 500 humpback whales enter the waters of Frederick Sound where it meets Stephens Passage (north of Kake and Petersburg by boat). Here, you will find some of the best humpback whale viewing in North America. Humpback whales are just one of the many marine mammals to be found in these waters. Charter tours are available from Petersburg, Alaska but call ahead to reserve.
Located northeast of Hydaburg, Dog Salmon Fish Pass is the most popular bear viewing site on Prince of Wales Island. Between mid-July and early September, bears and eagles are attracted to the thousands of salmon moving up the stream. Watch the salmon jump up the falls or use the fish ladder. Tongass Forest Service Interpreters are onsite July through August.
Wildlife Viewing Guide
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has produced a wildlife viewing guide for each of Alaska's Rainforest Islands. Trails and viewing ares are identified for various types of wildlife.