Due to the popularity of the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducts a lottery to select visitors to the sanctuary. Anyone may apply to the lottery provided you did not win the preceding year. You may apply online or with a mail-in application (PDF 24 kB).
Guided Viewing Permits allow you to visit the sanctuary and the bear viewing sites in the sanctuary (McNeil River Falls or Mikfik Creek) during the specified time period. A Camp-Standby Viewing Permit allows you to visit the sanctuary, view bears and wildlife in the vicinity of the campground and along a limited portion of the coast, and to go to the bear viewing sites (McNeil River Falls or Mikfik Creek) when a Guided Viewing Permit holder does not utilize their permit. Please note that while possible, it is rare that a Camp-Standby Viewing Permit holder is unable to visit the bear viewing sites at least once during their visit.
There is a $25.00 application fee for each person on your application. If selected in the lottery, each Guided Viewing Permit holder is assessed a permit fee of $150 for each Alaskan resident and $350 for each non-Alaskan resident. Camp-Standby Viewing Permit holders are assessed a permit fee of $75 for each Alaskan resident and $175 for each non-Alaskan resident.
Please refer to the Lottery Rules prior to completing your application.
The 4-mile round-trip hike to the falls is not particularly hazardous, but it does involve slogging across mud flats. It can be strenuous for those who are not in good physical condition. There are no age restrictions for visiting the sanctuary, but we do NOT recommend bringing young children. A typical day at the falls involves 6-8 hours of confinement on a 10' by 10' gravel viewing pad. If you bring a child and it becomes necessary for department personnel to return you and your child to camp, all permit holders will have to return with you, and only one trip is made per day. No permit holder is allowed to move through the sanctuary or remain at the viewing site without a department personnel guide.
Please refer to the "Guided Dates" and "Camp-Standby Dates" pages when selecting the time period for your visit. These pages also provide information on the viewing areas, bear behaviors, and probability of being selected during each time period. (Probabilities are based on the number of applications received per time block over the past five years; and may change each year depending on the number of applications received.) The chart of bear observations is also helpful, showing the average number of bears observed in each time block and viewing area between 2008 and 2012. Please be advised that in the past few years, the number of bears observed in late August (time blocks S and T) has been relatively low. While some bears are typically observed during this period, bear activity and photographic opportunities are much lower than in earlier periods.
Remember these important dates:
Applications must be submitted online or, if mailed, must be received in the ADF&G office
Permit winners selected by random lottery
Permit winner notification begins
Permit payment is due
Last day to request a refund for permit payment