Alaska Wildlife: Where to Find the “Big Five”

View of caribou in red-colored meadow in Alaska.

When it comes to larger-than-life wilderness adventures, it’s hard to compete with Alaska. Home to a diverse array of animal species, Alaska is literally where the wild things are, including the famous “Big Five” – bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and wolves.

When you cruise to Alaska with Holland America Line, you can have more access to Alaska wildlife than with any other cruise line. Here’s where – and how – to find some of them on your Alaska cruise:

View of bears coming face to face in water in Alaska.

Brown, Black and Grizzly Bears

Alaska is home to three species of bear: black, brown and polar, as well as a few unique subspecies, like the Kodiak brown bear. Grizzlies also are a subspecies of the brown bear, getting their name from the white-tipped fur on their heads and shoulders that give them a “grizzled” appearance. They’re also the fastest bears – able to reach top speeds of 35 miles per hour.

While black and brown bears can be found across nearly the entire state, black bears are typically found in forest areas, with brown bears more commonly spotted in coastal regions. Grizzlies are commonly spotted in Denali National Park.

Catch a glimpse of these bears by taking a Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali National Park, or on one of the bear viewing tours that depart from Anchorage, Kodiak and Juneau.

Polar bears are far more difficult to spot, as they don’t tolerate higher temperatures and roam farther north on the ice.


Moose are the largest member of the deer family and, in Alaska, they’re a pretty impressive sight. Males can stand upwards of six-and-a-half feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 1,600 pounds. Their antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds.

View of moose in Alaska forest.

Moose have massive appetites and can consume up to 73 pounds of vegetation in a day. They’re also excellent swimmers, so don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of one in, or near, the water.

With more than 200,000 moose roaming freely throughout the state, chances are good that you’re going to see one. Prime viewing areas include Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula or Denali National Park.

View of caribou on ridge in Alaska.


There are 32 distinct caribou herds in Alaska, with some herds numbering in the hundreds of thousands of animals. One of the best places for visitors to catch sight of these impressive animals is Denali National Park, home to the Denali caribou herd.

Caribou are the only member of the deer family in which both the females and males grow antlers. They also have the widest and roundest hooves of all deer species – enabling them to easily travel across ice, snow or grassy tundra.

If you’re thinking that caribou look a lot like reindeer, you’re correct. Reindeer and caribou are indeed the same animal. In Alaska, however, caribou are only referred to as reindeer if they are domesticated.

Dall Sheep

Dall sheep are Alaska’s cliff-hanging daredevils. They get their name from William Dall, one of Alaska’s earliest explorers, and are famous for hanging out – literally – on precarious ridges with steep slopes.

View of two Dall sheep in Alaska.

Dall rams have the equivalent of airbags in their skulls. Their adapted air sinuses absorb the impact of what could otherwise be a potentially skull-crushing encounter when they come into contact with each other, especially during mating season. Great places to see Dall sheep are Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

View of wolf splashing in water.

Gray and Black Wolves

Gray wolves are the largest canines in the world, and they are the more common variety of wolf found in Alaska. Traveling in packs of six to 30, wolves hunt moose, caribou and sheep, as well as rodents, rabbits and even birds. Although 7,000 to 11,000 wolves roam the Alaskan wilderness, wolf spotting can be challenging, as wolves avoid people as much as possible.

If you have your heart set on spotting a wolf, Denali National Park is considered one of the best places to catch a glimpse of one. In fact, Denali wolves are some of the longest-studied wild wolf populations in the world.

If seeing all five of the “Big Five” is on your bucket list, check out our Alaska wildlife tours to discover the world of wildlife awaiting you. And don’t forget about the magical marine life in Alaska, too. From whales and sea otters to harbor seals and salmon, there’s nothing quite like experiencing wildlife on an Alaska cruise.

Article by Lori Wildrick


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