The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the best place in the world to watch polar bears and Arctic Wild’s guides are uniquely qualified to share the wonders of the Arctic with you. On our trip to the Arctic Coast this fall you can immerse yourself in the world of the polar bear, learn about modern Eskimo (Inupiat) culture, and experience wilderness at the end of the earth.
Each fall polar bears from the Beaufort Sea travel to Barter Island, sometimes in great numbers. They travel off of the pack ice to the shore seeking an annual food bonanza. Each fall, the Inupiat Eskimos of Barter Island continue their tradition of hunting for bowhead whales. When all of the parts of the whale fit for human consumption have been harvested, the carcass is given to the waiting bears. This situation provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to safely observe bears feeding and interacting at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Twenty to thirty bears are regularly on the island at this time of year. We will fly to the village of Kaktovik and stay in a local hotel, immersing ourselves in the exciting world of the Polar Bear.
The abundance of polar bears around Barter Island each fall is truly staggering. They tend to feed near town and rest on the barrier islands nearby. The best way to observe them and other wildlife is from a boat. We will charter a local guide for four separate boat trips including one full day out on the Arctic Ocean (weather permitting). When observed from a boat they seem totally unconcerned with our presence. This creates and ideal situation for observing polar bear behavior while minimizing our impact on the bears.
There is no other place that compares to Kaktovik for observing Polar Bears. With all age classes of bears congregated in one area we get to see the wonderful variety of bears. Interactions between mothers and cubs are complex and clearly intimate. We regularly see young bears “play fighting” on both the beach and in the shallows. And amongst the young bears and the sows there are often massive bears, with scars and other signs of the rigors of life on the sea-ice. It is truly humbling to see these enormous bears walking the beach, younger bears showing great deference and caution.
In addition to Polar Bears, on our boat charters, we often see ringed seals, king and common Eiders, several species of loon and a good variety of other arctic bird species. We occasionally see arctic fox and other terrestrial animals but the focus is on polar bears and the Arctic Ocean.
When not on the water watching the bears we can take a tour of town led by a charismatic and very knowledgable Inupiat woman who has spent her life in the community. We can explore a bit more of the island too, looking for the big flocks of snow geese and learning about the tundra. Some years we can observe polar bears at the “bone pile” when community permissions and tides allow access. Late at night, when it gets truly dark, we will point our gaze skyward and look for the Aurora Borealis. Kaktovik is a unique and interesting community. Many find it hard to believe it is part of the United States, so different is the culture. Bring an open mind and a thirst for adventure. This is a truly unique place.
While observing bears you will be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide at all times who can educate you about bear behavior, physiology, and ecology. The guide is also on hand to ensure your safety and the safety of the bears.
Last updated: February 19, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.
Fly from Fairbanks, over the mighty Yukon River, across the Arctic Circle, and over the Brooks Range. Then to the Arctic Coast and land in Kaktovik where we settle into our hotel.
Weather permitting, we will enjoy a 1/2 day-boat ride with a local guide. We will certainly see polar bears but we may also see bowhead whales, bearded seals and perhaps even beluga whales. Once back on shore and fed, we await evening and then will have the opportunity to watch bears on the beach.
Another full day in Kaktovik and we will spend all of it on the water with our local guide. With a full day to explore we can travel a bit further and take time to watch the bears interacting with each other.
A final trip out on the water to see what the bears are up to. Changing light, temperatures, and weather make each trip on the water unique. We will have the bulk of the day to watch loons, eiders, or polar bears, or do whatever suits your fancy. Weather permitting, we will fly back to Fairbanks in time for dinner.
The Arctic is an expensive place to work and live. Transportation costs are tremendously high. After years of relying on regularly scheduled air service to access Kaktovik, we have decided to only use chartered airplanes for this trip. We have found that charters are much more reliable when the weather is marginal, making it a better trip for you. We also don’t want to fill all the planes to this remote community with “tourists” when the locals rely on the plane for access to medical and other services.
I’m still in shock over the trip we had. The trip was way more than I ever expected it to be and I had high expectations thank you, thank you, thank you. Everything was very well organized and delivered very well. The hotel was great, the food was amazing, the people were awesome. Words just can’t describe the trip and I want to thank you for putting this trip together for us. I have told many people already that if they want a polar bear tour (or any tour that direction) to look up Arctic Wild.
Transportation to Kaktovik starting and ending in Fairbanks
Outstanding guide service
4 days/ 3 nights food and lodging in Kaktovik at Arctic Chalet (double and triple occupancy rooms)
Transportation in Kaktovik
Four 3-hour boat trips (weather permitting)
Lodging beyond the duration of the scheduled trip
Food beyond the duration of the scheduled trip
Warm clothing per our Equipment List
Gratuity for guides
(Should weather delay our departure from Kaktovik you will need to pay for additional nights of lodging.)
A variety of weather should be expected including foggy periods and sunny conditions. Temperatures will be cold (20 to 50). Snow is likely. Bring a good parka, hat, and gloves. The up-side is that mosquitoes will be nowhere in sight.