Alaska is the northern-most and largest USA state, and is located on the northwestern corner of the North American continent. It borders the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Yukon along its eastern edge, and shares a maritime border with Russia.


Many of Alaska’s human residents live in cities, with roughly half of Alaska’s total population living within the Anchorage metropolitan area, and it’s the most sparsely populated state in the USA.

Prior to colonisation, Alaska had been populated by indigenous people for thousands of years, who were thought to have originally settled in North America via the Bering land bridge. Over 20 native languages are spoken by indigenous people in Alaska.

As well as the mainland, Alaska has a lot of islands such as the Aleutian Islands. These are a chain of volcanic islands that extend into the Eastern Hemisphere and mostly belong to Alaska, although some of the western-most islands, known as the Commander Islands, belong to Russia.

Alaska’s Big 5 are the bear, moose, Dall sheep, wolf and caribou, but the state is also home to a wide variety of other impressive species including humpback whales, orca, grey whales, bison, and bald eagles.

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It is home to only three species of native frogs and toad: the Columbia spotted frog, the wood frog and the western toad. However, two species of frog have been introduced: the Pacific tree frog and the red-legged frog.

Wildlife to spot in Alaska

Alaska illustration. © Dawn Cooper

Moose, Denali National Park

The big open spaces of Denali NP don’t always make for easy wildlife viewing, but standing – as they can – up to 2.3m at the shoulder, moose (close cousins of our European elk) are hard to miss.

Caribou, Arctic NWR

With its famous Porcupine caribou herd some 150,000 strong, the Arctic NWR could justifiably bag the label as America’s Serengeti. Perhaps a little chillier, but you won’t see as many 4x4s.

Humpback whale, Chatham Strait

Humpback Whales lunge feeding near village of Angoon, Alaska, USA
Humpback whales feeding near village of Angoon, Alaska, USA. © Paul Souders/Getty

These are not just any humpback whales – they are bubble-netting humpback whales, and they have been the subject of a unique scientific study stretching back 20 years.

Brown bear, Katmai National Park

The sight of dozens of brown bears lining up for a salmon supper is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles – Brook Falls in September in Katmai is the place to go.

Bald eagle, Homer

Bald eagle in flight
Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet, Alaska, USA. © Getty

Bald eagles, it has been remarked, inhabit the small city of Homer in a density akin to the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. This is one raptor you won’t need the spotting scope for.


Spectacled eider, Yukon Delta NWR

You could go to Yukon Delta to get a glimpse of its millions of waterbirds, but the rarer spectacled eider duck – yes, a relative of our own common eider – would make for an unusual tick.