Alaska Department of Fish and Game
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McNeil River — State Game Sanctuary and Refuge
Fish and Wildlife
McNeil River originates from glaciers and alpine lakes located high in the mountains of the Aleutian Range. As the river makes it way toward the shores of lower Cook Inlet in southwestern Alaska, it provides sustenance to an array of fish and wildlife, most visibly salmon and brown bears. Although all five species of Pacific salmon are present in the sanctuary, it is the calico-colored chum (or dog salmon) that primarily attracts bears to McNeil River in early July through mid-August. About one mile (1.6 kilometers) upstream from its mouth, a series of rocks and boulders forms McNeil River Falls. Salmon are slowed in their movements by the falls and they congregate there during their upstream migration to their spawning grounds. Since there are few rivers in the area with similar fishing sites, bears congregate at McNeil River Falls in numbers that have brought McNeil River worldwide fame.
During June, a smaller number of bears (generally 15 – 20) are attracted to nearby Mikfik Creek by migrating sockeye (or red) salmon. During this period, visitors observe bears from a variety of sites on or near the creek while the bears catch fish and graze on tidal vegetation.