Get Wild in Alaska: Five spots for viewing animals in the Last Frontier

Hooray for springtime in Alaska!

Springtime in Alaska means the arrival of youngsters; human or otherwise. Our large animals, particularly bears and moose, are popular attractions for visitors of the 49th state, and we are constantly asked about the best places to view both. Who doesn’t love baby animals? Whether furred or feathered, most of us have a soft spot for newborns, and an Alaska spring is full of opportunities to show kids how life begins in the Last Frontier. Here are four excellent places to take the family for a little wildlife exploration.

"Pardon me, sir, but would you have any fish, today?"

Fortress of the Bear, Sitka. A unique facility housing orphaned brown bears in two, 3/4-acre tanks just outside town, Fortress of the Bear offers visitors a bird’s eye view of these entertaining bruins from atop a viewing platform. While not unlike a zoo in that the bears know people as a food source and thus, peform accordingly, the owners do make a concerted effort to talk about brown bears in Alaska, their natural habitats, and conservation thereof. My son enjoyed seeing the bears frolic in their pool of water one sunny afternoon, and we did appreciate the attention to stewardship. Open April-September, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., by donation. A shuttle is available on cruise ship days for $3, leaving from the downtown docking area. Open on Mother’s Day!

Jack the Moose says hello at the Alaska Wildlife Center in Portage.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage. Celebrating 20 years of showing off Alaska’s wild creatures, AWCC is offering FREE admission all day on Mother’s Day (as they usually do, but this year is special). Meet a young author, take a tour, and spend a few hours walking around the grounds, meeting Jack the Moose, Snickers the Porcupine, and Joe Boxer the bear, among other animals. We love the approach to conservation at AWCC; the facility is known for its care and feeding of orphaned animals, too, and young visitors can learn how to be good stewards of Alaska’s critters. The center is located along the Seward Highway at Mile 79.

Yes, you can pet a reindeer at the Williams Reindeer Ranch!

Williams Reindeer Farm, Palmer. The Williams family farm is truly becoming one of the hottest gathering places in southcentral Alaska. With 150 reindeer, 35 elk, 13 horses, 1 moose, and 1 bison, it’s a menagerie of Far Northern proportions, and we love to visit. Open May 1-late October, the farm is a great way to introduce kids to the critters who are both domesticated and wild, and it’s a nice spot for a family picnic, as well. New this year is the “Fuzzy Farm,” where kids can cuddle chicks and rabbits, a big hit, indeed. Also consider a one-hour trail ride for $60, awesome on a sunny day with Pioneer Peak as a backdrop. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; $7/adult, $5/3-11, under 3 is free. Visit on Mother’s Day!

The Musk Ox Farm is situated in the beautiful Matanuska-Susitna Valley.

The Musk Ox Farm, Palmer. Make it a two-fur (get it) by visiting The Musk Ox Farm on Mother’s Day, after the Reindeer Farm. After almost 60 years of project-raising musk ox in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the farm offers tours to learn about these amazing animals whose hair is the softest, thickest, warmest stuff in which you’ll ever stick your hands. Open daily from Mother’s Day to mid-September, the farm is a great place to picnic, play, and visit the herd. Oh, the babies are the cutest little bugs you’ve EVER seen. Truly. $11/adults, $10/seniors, $5/6-17, 5 and under are free. Mother’s Day will bring music, crafts, tours, and lots of family fun. We’ll be there, too!

A visit to LARS means great scenery and interesting facts about Alaska's creatures.

Robert G. White Large Animals Research Station, Fairbanks. Known locally as “LARS,” this facility sits on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in Fairbanks, nestled at the foot of a hill next to the UAF Botanical Garden (another great place to visit). Known as one of the best research facilities exploring the tolerance of large animals to frigid northern climates, the LARS farm is full of musk ox and caribou, and both species have babies right now. The latest attraction to open of our four listed here, LARS begins tours on June 1, and carries on through August 31, 2013. Plan on an hour or so to walk the facility with a guide, and there is plenty of time to take photos. The facility is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., with tours taking off at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m.; large groups can certainly be accommodated. Admission is $10/adults, $9/seniors, $6/students, with 5 and under, free. Parking is pretty limited at the farm, so consider a free shuttle from the UAF campus, proper.

Go get wild this summer!

~EK

 

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