A Guide to Visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 2024

Nestled along the Turnagain Arm on the scenic Seward Highway, you’ll find the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center: a sanctuary that preserves Alaska’s wildlife through research, public education, and quality animal care.

Initially named ‘Big Game Alaska,’ the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center started its operations in 1993 thanks to its founder, Mike Miller.

Today the organization takes care of orphaned, injured, and endangered animals. And let me tell you- it’s a must if you’re exploring Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula!

You can see some footage from this location in my Alaska video here:

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The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center turned into a non-profit organization in 1999, and in 2007, the organization fully adopted the name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. 

They extend their services to wildlife by giving animals care in spacious, safe enclosures.

In essence, this haven gives refuge to animals that would otherwise be too fragile to survive in the wild. Here, the animals enjoy maximum protection from human dangers (ie. hunting, destruction of habitat, etc.), predators, and diseases.

Is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center worth visiting?

A resounding yes! The AWCC is a great stop for viewing wildlife in their near-natural habitat. In fact, I highly recommend stopping here on your Alaska itinerary! It’s the safest way to see these beautiful creatures up close! It’s quite remarkable to see animal behavior in environments that are as close to the real thing as they can be.

Additionally, as common as grizzlies are in Alaska, there’s still a (relatively good) chance that you’re not going to see them in the wild on your Alaska vacation. We sure didn’t! So going to the AWCC was a guaranteed way that we could see at least one grizzly bear on our trip!

How big is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center?

Spreading across 200 acres of land, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) provides plenty of acres of spacious habitats for their resident animals. Each sizable habitat accommodates different species of animals.

What types of animals can you see at the AWCC?

You can see animals year-round here!

There are hundreds of wild species that call this center home. This includes elk, moose, caribou, lynx, dall sheep, black and brown bears, and many more. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see a bald eagle land here for a visit (especially if there’s salmon at bear chow time!).

In the winter, you get a slightly different array of animals, like wolves!

Where is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center?

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center lies on the shores of the stunning Turnagain Arm inlet.

More specifically, it is located 11 miles from the Girdwood turnoff and roughly 45 miles from Anchorage.

As I mentioned earlier, if you’re driving from Anchorage to Seward or anywhere in the Kenai Peninsula, stopping here is a must! (Check out all of the best stops along the Seward Scenic Highway here!)

It’s nestled between snowcapped mountains that are home to numerous glaciers- you can just imagine the views that await you!

So, besides being an excellent spot to learn about Alaskan wildlife, you’ll also be treated to astounding views of the Alaskan wilderness in the surrounding areas, like the breathtaking Chugach mountain range.

Visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

A visit to this sanctuary is perfect for the whole family. This short adventure is entertaining for adults and kids alike!

You’ll find animals in different spacious enclosures throughout the area. You can choose to stroll around on foot or drive around the 1.5-mile loop.

Every habitat area has a sign with a detailed history that explains the animals’ history, species, and the conditions under which the animal was adopted.

As such, you can easily do a self-guided tour!

If you want to come up close with all the species in the center, you can easily take your time in the center. I’d say it takes 2 hours if you want to stop and watch and learn about all of the animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The whole non-profit sanctuary is a great place to spend a few hours, but if you have limited time, here are the two stops you won’t want to miss:

  • The Bear Education Awareness Research Sanctuary (B.E.A.R.S) – Here you can very easily spot black and brown bears. Also, there is an educational center that creates awareness for black, brown, and polar bears.
    • Within this area, the BEARS Boardwalk is a must!
  • The Wood Bison – you get a chance to see the biggest land animal in the western hemisphere up close!

When is the best time of year to visit the AWCC?

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is open throughout the year, though their daily times vary based on month. Check out their full schedule here.

In the winter season from November to January, the conservation center is open four days a week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday).

For the rest of the year, the center is open every day.

In the winter, the hours are from 10 am to 3 pm. Though you might not think an outdoor animal visit is as fun in the snow, you’d be wrong! If you’re up for more than just driving or walking, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center offers complimentary kick-sled rentals! Or, you can bring your own cross-country skis or fat bike to tour the place. If you do choose to walk, it’s always helpful to wear ice traction cleats like these in the snow.

If you want to know the classically best time to visit the AWCC, I’d have to say June through August.  

At this time of the year, the weather is surprisingly warm and you can comfortably explore the grounds. (However, there is something magical about viewing elks and moose with a snowy background!)

To avoid the crowds, you can plan to visit around the shoulder season or in the winter. Shoulder season in Alaska is typically between April to May and September to October.  

While it’s possible to book your visit at the entrance, you can book your tickets online if you’re visiting during peak season. (The good news is that general admission tickets do not sell out! However, you may encounter long lines if you don’t book online.)

When is the best time of day to visit the AWCC?

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center can get pretty busy in the summertime, particularly when cruise ships are operating.

If you’re driving yourself, I recommend visiting in the morning hours. From noon on, the center can get packed with tour buses ferrying cruise ship passengers.

How much does it cost to visit the AWCC?

Admission costs vary by age group:

  • Adults: $20 entrance fee per person
  • Alaska Residents with a Valid Alaska ID: $18 from September 1st – May 31st
  • Active Military with ID: $18
  • Youth ages 5-17: $16
  • Children 4 and under: FREE

There are also tours that you can sign up for- more about those in just a bit!

What should you bring with you?

Regardless of the season, be sure to check the weather forecast to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Additionally, dress in layers to be prepared for unpredictable Alaskan weather. (Check out my post on what to wear in Alaska in each season here!)

 Although this will largely depend on season, here are a few things you should bring along during your visit:

  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Layered clothes
  • Binoculars (optional- most of the animals will be relatively close by)
  • Camera
  • A good pair of walking shoes (preferably waterproof if you’re visiting on a rainy day). Note that the walking paths can be muddy after rainfall, so also wear shoes you don’t mind potentially getting dirty!

Also, be sure to save some spending money for their gift shop. It’s the perfect place to buy a souvenir for your friends and family while supporting a noble cause!  

Special Tours and Programs at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has great programs that give you an up-close-and-personal encounter with their incredible wildlife!

Bear Encounter

If I’m being honest, the bears are what I was most looking forward to while visiting the AWCC.

If you feel the same way, consider signing up for the Bear Encounter! This $125 30-minute tour is only available from June until August 15th on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3:45pm.

You’ll get to participate in the bears’ daily training and feeding! Obviously, you won’t be actually touching the bears, but you will learn all about them in a group of 10 or less!

Book ahead of time here to ensure your spot!

Moose Encounter

Also from June 1st until September 15th, you’ll have the option of participating in the Moose Encounter!

For $15 on top of the admission fee, you can hand feed, and of course, snap a photo with, a moose!

This thirty-minute tour is available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 10:30 am. All ages are welcome for this tour, and the group size is max 35 people.

Walk on the Wild Side Tour

This is a special tour with a personal guide who will share everything you could want to know about the furry residents at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The 90-minute session also includes going inside an enclosure to feed an animal (typically deer or porcupines).

It costs $125 per person at the time of writing (which includes admission) and is only available for ages 10 and up.

Reserve this tour here!

Free Educational Programs

These educational programs are available to all visitors. You’ll get to learn in-depth about the featured animals.

Any daily or yearly program happens outside the designated enclosure. You can check their full schedule here!

Virtual Tours

If you love the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center but aren’t able to visit soon, I have good news for you! The AWCC does Zoom tours! For $100 for 30 minutes or $200 per hour, you can chat with and learn about the AWCC animals from their naturalist staff. Learn more about it here!

How to Get There

There is more than one way to enjoy your visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

You can either do a self-guided visit, jump on the Turnagain Arm Shuttle, or book a tour.

If you want to dodge the crowds, I recommend doing a self-guided tour. This will not only allow you to walk around at a leisurely pace, but it also tends to be much cheaper than booking a tour.

By Car

The most common way to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is by car. This is how we visited, and it was the perfect stop on our way to Seward from Anchorage.

If you’re traveling to Alaska, chances are you’ll be renting a car anyway! This is a perfect way to get to and explore the center.

The Turnagain Arm Shuttle

Alternatively, you can board a Turnagain Arm shuttle to enjoy a guided drive along the spectacular Turnagain Arm.

There are multiple Turnagain Arm shuttle tours, but the specific tour that takes you to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is 5.5 hours long from Anchorage. You can expect dramatic scenery and amazing views along the way! 

As you proceed from Anchorage to the wildlife center, you will travel down the Seward Highway, which is arguably one of the most scenic byways in America.

This type of tour is great if you (a) are uncomfortable driving in new places, (b) want to do a day trip from Anchorage, and (c) want to let someone else handle the schedule/driving.

At the time of writing, the Turnagain Arm Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center tour starts at $159.00 per person and has terrific reviews.

The Alaska Railroad

A portion of the Alaska Railroad runs along the Turnagain Arm. It has a stop in Portage from which you can catch a shuttle to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

You can find more detailed information (including cost) here!

A Tour

If you’d rather have a tour guide handle all the planning and hassle, then there are plenty of full-service tours available. Most tours offer hotel pick-ups.

In most cases, such tours also offer other excursions alongside the Conservation visit.   

If you’re cruising, most ships offer their own tours. You can confirm if this excursion can be included in your cruise itinerary; your cruise port will most likely be Anchorage or Whittier.

Where to Stay

There are a lot of accommodation options that can cater to any budget or preference.

The center is within a couple of hours’ drive from towns like Anchorage and Seward.

However, if you’re looking for an even closer stay, the town of Girdwood is a perfect option. You may find that it has cheaper options as well.

Whether you want a luxurious hotel, cabins, or even a budget-friendly Airbnb, the options are limitless.

And if you’re a tent or RV camper, you’ll also find a lot of campgrounds along the Seward Highway.

What to Do Nearby

On your visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, there are quite a few things you can do in the area. It’s right on the edge of Portage Valley, which means a tour to Portage Glacier is just a short drive away. You can also visit the charming town of Girdwood, take the scenic Alyeska Aerial Tram, and visit Virgin Creek Falls. Check out our favorite stops on the scenic Seward Highway here!

Safety Guidelines

Before you visit, here are some helpful safety tips you should bear in mind (see what I did there?).

  • You should stay a safe distance from the fence.
  • You shouldn’t touch or feed an animal unless you’ve been given the go-ahead.
  • Be gentle with the vegetation.
  • I hope this goes without saying, but throw away your trash in the appropriate bins.
  • Pets aren’t allowed at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
  • It’s illegal to harass or taunt the animals.
  • The facility is a non-vaping or smoking area. 
  • No drones allowed.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, you’re ready to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center!

I hope you enjoy your time at this large nature preserve observing Alaska’s beautiful wildlife. If you’ve been, drop a comment letting me know your favorite thing about it!

Safe travels!

Jasmine

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Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.

2 Responses

  1. Well done, Jasmine! My husband and I live in Anchorage, Alaska, and are looking forward to a visit soon from our daughter, son-in-law and their five children (ages ranging from 2 to 10). They are coming up from east of Dallas and so when I saw that you are from Dallas, I just had to say something. We have lived in AK for thirty years, but our kids grew up in a more rural place, the Copper River Valley. They love animals, and having read your take on the AWCC, you’ve convinced me that this absolutely HAS to be one of our stops. Keep up the good work, Jasmine, and enjoy the journey! In Christ,
    ~Holly

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Hi, I’m Jasmine! I’m a nature-obsessed, beauty-finding, Jesus-loving dreamer with a serious case of wanderlust. I love to create photo-worthy travel content and hope to fill your travel plans with incredible beauty and breathtaking views! Thanks for following along on my adventures!

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