Moving to Alaska comes with a ton of perks: plenty of wide-open spaces, vast swaths of wilderness to explore, and an incredibly diverse roster of wildlife to spot. If you’re considering a move to the Last Frontier—or just a visit—we’ve put together a selection of Alaska’s most intriguing animals for your must-see list.
We’ll start with Alaska’s “big five.”
Alaska’s Big Five #1: The Grizzly Bear
You’ll hear Alaska referred to as “bear country” – and with good reason. In some areas, such as the Alaska Peninsula where food is abundant, bear density has been measured at as much as one bear per square mile. i
Within the brown bear category (Ursus arctos), you’ll find the bear that most commonly qualifies as one of Alaska’s big five: the grizzly bear. Scientists have given grizzlies an impressive and intimidating name, Ursus arctos horribilis, likely because they can be more aggressive than other bear species. Grizzly bears primarily live inland. As a result, their diet involves more plants than that of their coastal-dwelling brown bear cousins, who primarily dine on salmon.ii
Alaska’s Big Five #2: The Alaskan Moose
We owe the word “moose” to the Algonquin Indians. They called these animals mooswa, which means “twig-eater” or “the animal that strips bark off of trees.” As the largest member of the deer family, moose are also the tallest mammals in North America. In fact, they can reach as much as 6.5 feet, when measuring from the base of their hooves to their shoulders. You’ll find these up-to-1,600-pound giants all over Alaska, with population estimates as much as 200,000. (That’s about two-thirds of the population of Anchorage!)iv
Alaska’s Big Five #3: The Caribou
If you live in Europe, you might know the caribou (Rangifer tarandus) as a reindeer. However, in Alaska, the name “caribou” is saved for the wild version of the animal, while the domesticated ones are known as reindeer.
The ~750,000 caribou in Alaska live and travel in herds. These can be as small as 10, or as large as the Western Arctic Herd, estimated at about 325,000. Because Caribou are often on the move, it can be hard to find a reliable spot in Alaska to see them. However, Denali National Park is a good bet for spotting these creatures, especially if you go early and drive deep into the park.vi
Alaska’s Big Five #4: The Grey Wolf
While gray wolves are relatively common in Alaska, it can be tough to spot one. Although population densities in wolf-friendly areas are estimated at as much as one wolf per 25 mi2, they can be somewhat elusive—the hardest of the big five to view. Like caribou, Denali National Park is one of the more likely places to see one of these mysterious animals.
As you may know, wolves live in packs, organized by social hierarchies. However, what you might not realize is that these packs roam over a significant amount of territory, as much as 1,000 mi2. Individual wolves may also travel as many as 30 miles a day. Like caribou, their movements make it difficult to predict exactly where you’ll see a wolf—but you’ll never forget your first sighting!viii
Alaska’s Big Five #5: The Dall Sheep
You’ll find Dall sheep clinging to cliffs all over Alaska‘s mountainous areas. There, they search for food and stay out of the reach of potential predators. The Dall sheep attract many spectators and photographers with their distinctive horns. The males of the species sport thick, distinguishing horns that grow in a spiral. Female Dall sheep also have horns, but they’re smaller and shorter, with less of a dramatic curve.x
We’ve now covered Alaska’s big five—your definite must-sees while you’re in the Land of the Midnight Sun. However, these five are just the start of the incredible wildlife you’ll encounter in the state.
As a bonus, we’ll include eight others to keep your eyes out for. We’ll also suggest a spot for viewing each of these fascinating creatures. Just remember, this list is by no means inclusive. There are plenty more animals to discover in Alaska—and plenty more places to locate them!
Keep Your Eyes Out for These Magnificent Eight
Found in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge
Found in Kenai Fjords National Park
Found in upper Northwest Alaska, along the coast
Found during summer along Alaska’s coast
Found in Kenai Fjords National Park
Found in Seward, especially near the harbor
Found on Nunivak Island, as well as near Nome
Found in Alaska’s forested areas
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what’s waiting for you in Alaska, are you ready to make the move? If so, we’d be happy to help! Just get in touch with our Anchorage-based team for a free quote for your move.
Tell us about your move!