2 Brown Bear
RANGE: Some 200,000 brown bears live across North America, Europe and Central Asia.
THE EXPERIENCE: Alaska’s famous brown bears descend on its rivers in late summer for one last big feed before hibernation, and here they jostle for the best fishing positions, trying (and often failing) to catch their slippery prey. Watching from secure viewing platforms and surrounded by a sea of brown fur, it’s a sight like nowhere else. NEED TO KNOW: Bears are not something you want to encounter alone. Many parks have viewing hides and platforms, or drives where you can stop by the roadside ( just look for any gathering of vehicles) and catch one ambling along. But mostly you’ll be out in the wild and vulnerable; for that you need an expert guide/tracker who can recognise prints and knows how to stay safe.
BEST PLACE TO SEE… In the US, Alaska’s Katmai National Park is justly famous, with three bear-viewing platforms within a couple of kilometres’ walk of its fly-in camp (Jun–sept), as you spy bears fumbling with their prey during the salmon run (July). Glacier NP in Montana is another regular stomping ground for bear-spotters, as is Waterton Lakes NP over the border in Canada.
In Europe, northern Greece’s Pindus Mountains, the Carpathian Mountains (particularly Romania), the Western Tatras of Slovakia, and even up in northern Sweden (May–sept) are all good locations. The rarest sightings are found in Spain’s Asturias region, where tours in late spring and summer set off in search of its few-remaining Cantabrian bears, of which approximately 250 still survive in the wild.
Furry foraging A brown bear rummages around the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, on the Seward Highway, near Portage