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Want to see the famous McNeil River brown bears this year? The application deadline is coming up.

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: February 25
  • Published February 22

The application deadline to view brown bears at Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is fast approaching, but the partial federal government shutdown has delayed reservation sign-up at another popular bear-viewing area, Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

At McNeil River State Game Sanctuary

Wildlife watchers will have until March 1 to sign up for the lottery and 185 spots to view bears at the McNeil sanctuary, said Ed Weiss, refuge coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The last couple of summer seasons at McNeil River have offered “really good” bear viewing thanks to a rise in the number of bears, and the always-photogenic sows with cubs, Weiss said Friday.

The viewing season runs from June 7 to Aug. 25, he said. The bear gathering is what the state calls the largest in the world, and a highlight is watching the bruins fish for salmon at the word-class McNeil River Falls, about 100 air miles west of Homer.

Over the course of last year’s season, about 53 bears gathered daily on average, with fewer bears beginning to gather early in the season. The seasonal average was far higher than the long-term count of 40. Strong salmon runs seem to have helped, Weiss said. At least 110 brown bears sauntered through the area for repeated visits last summer.

Ten families of mothers and cubs have also gathered in recent years, about double from earlier years, Weiss said.

Applications cost $30, nonrefundable. Alaska residents who win the lottery pay a $225 permit fee, and nonresidents pay $525. About 900 people applied last year.

Online applications and printable application forms are available at Look for the “Permits” tab and “Viewing Permits” link.

At Katmai National Park and Preserve

Reservations for permits to stay at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve, more than 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, usually open in early January.

But last month’s partial federal government shutdown and changes to a reservation website have pushed that date off until March 2, at 8 a.m. Alaska time, said Pete Christian, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Alaska.

Planning on camping at Brooks Camp this summer? Get ready! Reservations for Brooks Camp campground and Fure's Cabin...

Posted by Katmai National Park & Preserve on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Campsite reservations go quickly, and can be made at the website.

A new elevated boardwalk and bridge system is being built, and should open by this summer, to improve safety for bear viewers at the Brooks Camp site, he said.

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