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McNeil River — State Game Sanctuary and Refuge
During Your Stay

What to Expect

The following bullets summarize some important aspects of visiting McNeil River. Additional details can be found in a series of video shorts which will take you on a short trip to McNeil River and provide a number of tips and answers to the most often ask questions.

  • McNeil River is a remote, low impact camping experience. You should have complete camping gear and come prepared to be self sufficient as there are no accommodations available. The ADF&G does provide some support facilities at the site, see Facilities and What to Bring below for a description of facilities available and gear to bring.
  • Weather at McNeil is typical of coastal Alaska Peninsula and can vary from clear with temps in the 60’s to cold rainy conditions (temps in 40’s) with wind driven sideways rain. Note: Wind is common at McNeil - Clear and sunny does not necessarily mean warm and cozy. Bring outdoor apparel suitable for layering and cool wet fall weather. Good rain gear is critical as the area is subject to storms. If rough weather sets in, it may be necessary to remain a few additional days at McNeil River until your air taxi can pick you up. Make your plans with this possibility in mind.
  • To reach the viewing areas you will need to complete a 4-mile round-trip hike to and from the falls. While this hike is not particularly hazardous it does involve slogging across mud flats and wading across Mikfik Creek or McNeil River Lagoon. Hip boots are essential.
  • Portable stools are provided for your use while at the McNeil River falls viewing area. While in the field elsewhere at McNeil, visitors sit on the ground or they stand.
  • The Bears Come First At McNeil River. The McNeil River area was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1967 (and enlarged it in 1993) to protect the world’s largest concentration of wild brown bears. As many as 144 individual bears have been observed at McNeil River through the summer with as many as 74 bears observed at one time! All human use in the sanctuary is managed for the continued protection of this bear concentration. The goal of the permit program is to provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph bears while minimizing their impact to bears and wildlife habitats.
  • You are required to sign a liability waiver because there are inherent risks anytime one travels in brown bear country. We have an excellent safety record at McNeil River Sanctuary and no one has ever been injured by a bear at the sanctuary. Armed department personnel accompany visitors in the bear viewing area and are readily available should a bear wander into base camp. Therefore, we advise against carrying personal firearms.


As noted above McNeil River is a remote camping experience, however, some facilities are provided to support visitors and staff. The following is a brief summary of the facilities available at the McNeil Camp. The layout of the facilities in relation to each other and viewing areas can be seen through the overview map (PDF 212 kB), overview sketches (PDF 57 kB), aerial view of camp (PDF 529 kB) and camp site sketch (PDF 37 kB).

  • Campsites: There are 14 gravel pad campsites within the McNeil River camp. These are clustered in the campground area near the Cook Cabin
  • Cook Cabin: There is an approximately 16’ x 24’ (5m x 7.5m) public use cook cabin at the McNeil campground. All food and scented items (toothpaste, lotions, etc.) are stored in the cook cabin. All cooking is done in the cook cabin, six propane burners and basic cookware are provided for visitor cooking needs. Visitors do need to bring their own food and personal utensils and any specialized cook gear. The cook cabin also acts as a community gathering place and has a wood stove that will allow you to warm up and dry gear. The cook cabin has tables, benches, and a collection of natural history literature.
  • Restroom facilities: Two pit type outhouses are provided at the far end of camp.
  • Washhouse: A small individual use washhouse is provided for guest and staff personal cleanliness.
  • Utilities: Untreated fresh water is available from a nearby stream and is gathered by visitors in 5 gallon jugs and stored in the cook cabin and used on a community use basis. Visitors will need to filter or treat their own drinking water and should bring water filters or other water treatment methods to purify drinking water. There is no electricity or power access for visitors.
  • Staff Facilities: Two staff cabins and a combination tool shed / cabin exist on the site to provide staff with office space, living quarters and camp maintenance equipment during their 3 month stay at McNeil.
  • Emergencies: Staff have emergency medical supplies on site and are trained in first aid and in responding to emergencies. Additionally, they are equipped with emergency communications including satellite telephones and VHF, SSB and Marine band radios to communicate emergency response needs with the USCG, local hospitals and emergency response. Satellite telephone use is limited to State business and visitor emergency response. If you believe that you will need communications while at McNeil, you will need to arrange to bring your own satellite telephone. You should bring personal physician and emergency contact information with you in case there is a need for staff to contact them in an emergency. There are no cell phone or internet capabilities.