Home of the Kodiak brown bear, this refuge provides important habitat for wildlife both large and small.
The 1.9-million-acre Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which covers much of the southern two-thirds of Kodiak Island, plus all of Ban and Uganik Islands and a small section of Afognak Island, is home to about 3,000 Kodiak brown bears.
Things to Do
The refuge is renowned for bear viewing and hunting while the Karluk River and the Ayakulik River offer world-class fishing opportunities for salmon and steelhead. Other recreational opportunities include kayaking, rafting, photography, and camping.
The vast majority of visitors view brown bears on bear-viewing flightseeing trips that are offered by air charter companies and tour operators in the city of Kodiak. The average tour is a four-hour trip that includes two hours on the ground to view bears at top viewing areas such as Frazer Lake, home of huge sockeye salmon runs where visitors often end up watching a half dozen bears feeding at once. For those looking for a multi-day experience, several remote wilderness lodges are located in and around the refuge, which offer accommodations, meals, and excursions into the refuge. Nine rustic public use cabins are also located in the refuge, accessible by float plane from the city of Kodiak.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center can be found in the city of Kodiak, with exhibits primarily on the Kodiak brown bear along with a film about the refuge, a bookstore, and a friendly staff that can assist with trip planning.
The Kodiak brown bear, a distinct subspecies of brown bear, is the largest land carnivore in the world. Males normally weigh in at more than 800 lbs. but have been known to exceed 1,500 lbs. Females usually weigh in at 400 lbs. to 600 lbs. An estimated 3,000 bears reside in the refuge, making it one of the world's highest densities of brown bears. From mid-July to mid-September the bears congregate at streams to gorge themselves on spawning salmon. The runs are so heavy that the bears often become selective, and many feast only on female salmon so they can eat just the belly portion containing the eggs.
The bird life is also prolific in the refuge. More than 250 species of birds live in or migrate to the refuge, while more than 1.5 million seabirds winter in near-shore waters surrounding Kodiak Island. Nesting within the refuge are 600 breeding pairs of eagles. Flowing out of the steep fjords and deep glacial valleys and into the sea are 117 salmon-bearing streams that support all five species of Pacific salmon and account for 65 percent of the total commercial salmon harvest in Kodiak.
Other wildlife native to the refuge include red fox, river otter, tundra vole, little brown bat, and ermine. Eight species were introduced to the refuge and now have thriving populations: snowshoe hare, beaver, mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, pine marten, mountain goat, and reindeer.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge provides diverse habitats that encompass 117 salmon-bearing streams, 16 lakes, riparian wetlands, grasslands, shrub lands, spruce forest, tundra, and alpine meadows. No place on the refuge is more than 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, where mountains rise 4,000 feet from a shoreline accented with misty fjords, deep glacial valleys, and lofty mountains.
The climate of Kodiak Island is dominated by a strong marine influence and characterized by moderately heavy precipitation, cool temperatures, and cloudy days. This makes hypothermia for visitors on the island a concern year-round.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 “for the purpose of protecting the natural feeding and breeding range of the brown bears and other wildlife on Uganik and Kodiak Islands, Alaska.” About 1.987 million acres were included within the refuge boundary. A one-mile coastal strip of refuge remained open to public land laws. The Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act of 1980 added 50,000 acres of land on Afognak and Ban Islands to the refuge. Through the 1990s, nearly 275,000 acres of valuable wildlife habitat were reacquired through purchase or donation of fee title, conservation easements, and limited development easements.
Facilities, Camping, and Lodging
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is a remote wilderness refuge with few visitor services. It can only be reached by boat or floatplane. The Visitor Center is located in the town of Kodiak.
Scattered within the refuge are nine public use cabins accessible by float plane. The Uganik Lake Cabin and Veikoda Bay Cabin are the closest cabins to the city of Kodiak. Also located within and around the refuge are several remote wilderness lodges. These all-inclusive lodges can be reached by boat or plane from the city of Kodiak and typically include accommodations, meals, transportation, and activities such as bear viewing, fishing, and kayaking.
The refuge has no roads and no maintained trails. Access into the refuge is by charter plane or boat out of the city of Kodiak, and most of the refuge lies at least 25 air miles away. Kodiak Island is accessible by commercial airlines from Anchorage or ferry through the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Learn more about bear viewing in Alaska.
For more information, visit the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge website.