Urban wildlife-spotting in Alaska

At first look, Anchorage’s cityscape could be from Anywhere, USA: strip malls, stoplights, town homes. But there’s something different about Anchorage - the wilderness. Backed by the nation’s third-largest state park, the Chugach, which in turn borders the New Hampshire-sized Chugach National Forest, Anchorage literally sits on the brink of wilderness. And the borders of this city of 300,000 are a permeable membrane for the wild animals who call both town and country home.

Many travellers visiting Alaska pay for an expensive bush trip where they’re guaranteed to spot bears or moose, but you can also save your money and simply visit the state’s largest city. Here, wildlife wanders the city streets and trails in a tenuous relationship between greenbelts, parks, and urban sprawl.

Here are a few animals you might spot in Anchorage’s neighbourhoods.

Moose

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports 1500 moose in the Anchorage Municipality. As big as a horse but with long, spindly legs, these hedge-munching creatures wander through neighbourhoods and along Anchorage's two main creeks, Chester and Campbell. Their tell-tale excrement - piles of perfectly oval 'nuggets' - spatter sidewalks and front lawns alike. Though they always seem to be moseying along somewhere, the best time to spot them is around dusk.

Salmon

One of Alaska’s greatest natural resources, wild salmon swim in droves up streams and rivers across the state. But you don’t need to find a wild river to catch a giant: with downtown buildings blocks away and the railroad station nearly on its banks, Ship Creek is host to king and silver salmon, as well as pink and chum. The method of catching these fish is also incongruous with typical ideas of fishing: down the hill from a busy weekend market, hundreds of fisherfolk line shoulder-to-shoulder in a style known as 'combat fishing', reeling in salmon after salmon.

Black bear

Black bears are one of two types of bear seen in and around Anchorage. With namesake dark fur (though it can also be brown) and a relatively small size, black bears seek salmon and berries in Anchorage’s parks and greenbelts. The bears are so numerous - the Department of Fish and Game estimates around 250 in the Anchorage Municipality - that in some neighbourhoods they’ve become pests, raiding garbage containers and running off with small pets.

Brown bear

The monster of bears, brown bears (also called 'grizzlies') are carnivores that enter Anchorage along stream belts where salmon swim. There aren’t too many grizzlies - between 55 and 65 in total - but there are enough to cause trouble. Along one city park that borders Chugach State Park, the threat of grizzly attacks has officials closing creek-side trails during the summer salmon-running months. Brown bears are best seen at a distance, or not at all!

Beluga whales

Just outside of Anchorage proper, but still in the Anchorage Municipality, is Turnagain Arm. This muddy body of water connects to Cook Inlet and is famous for its bore tides, which are some of the biggest in the world. And during spring and fall, Turnagain Arm hosts small, pure white belugas as they fish in the Arm’s waters. The best time to view them is at high tide, when they feed at the mouths of rivers and streams. Pull into aptly named Beluga Point for the best photo opp. This population of Cook Inlet belugas is listed as endangered, so seeing them is a treat.

Other beasts

Plenty of other wildlife make their home in and around the Anchorage Municipality. In Chugach State Park, right along Turnagain Arm and the Seward Highway, are Dall sheep. Bald eagles are a common sight in the sky. Fox, lynx and loons all call the city home, though they are a bit more elusive than the moose.