Polar Bears of Barter Island

Winters are long here.

At this high latitude the sun does not rise far above the horizon at any point during the winter, leaving only twilight as the source of light for Kaktovik, a small Inupiat village located on Barter Island on the northeastern corner of Alaska. This Arctic location means the dark days of winter are also bone chilling cold.

While this may be winter’s reality here, visitors from across the globe descend upon this remote village between August and October because it is simply one of the finest locations on Earth to view Arctic Polar Bears in their natural habitat.

If you’re bucket list or photographic portfolio is screaming “must have polar bears,” this is the perfect place to satiate the need. And Backcountry Journeys would love for you to join us, and other like-minded adventurers/fellow photographers on a tour of a lifetime where we’ll set off to photograph the Polar Bears of the Alaskan Arctic in September.

On this tour we’ll travel to remote Barter Island, located within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Arctic Ocean, in search of  Polar Bears. We’ll have eye-level access as we frame our shots from a small boat. We’ll be joined by our Inupiaq boat captain, and a professional photographer who has been living with and photographing the bears here for decades!

All below images by Steven Kazlowski

This trip will also take us to the isolated Inupiaq Eskimo Village of Kaktovik, which is situated on the shores of the Beaufort Sea. Kaktovik’s isolation has helped the village to maintain its Inupiat traditions. Subsistence is highly dependent upon the hunting of caribou and whale.

Until the late nineteenth century Barter Island was a major trade center for the Inupiat and was especially important as a bartering place for Inupiat from Alaska and Inuit from Canada.

Kaktovik was a traditional fishing place—Kaktovik means “Seining Place”—that has a large pond of good fresh water on high ground. It had no permanent settlers until people from other parts of Barter Island and northern Alaska moved to the area around the construction of a runway and Distant Early Warning Line station in the 1950s. The area was incorporated as the City of Kaktovik in 1971.

Each day – while on this 6 day tour – we will head out in our privately chartered boat to photograph Polar Bears as they swim, play, wrestle and forage for food along the icy shores. Phenomenal close-up images are possible with focal-lengths of 300mm to 400mm as we will often get as close as 90 feet in our boats – photographing Polar Bears at eye-level!

The Northern Lights are usually visible at night (pending clear skies) along the Arctic Coast – if they are out we will photograph the Aurora as well.

The polar bear is the world’s largest carnivore, and has taken its place as the symbol of the Arctic. Many thousands of years ago, Ursus maritimus, or the sea bear, evolved from its brown bear ancestors. Its white, water repellant hair, serves as camouflage and acts to reflect sunlight to the bears black skin. Its large paddle-like feet, with their fur covered pads, are well suited for swimming and for dispersing the weight of the bear when hunting, which they do on sea ice of the vast frozen Arctic Ocean.

Nineteen polar bear sub-populations can be found throughout the Arctic. While the status of some sub-populations of polar bears is well documented, that of several others is unknown; the world-wide population estimate of the total number of polar bears is thought to range between 20,000 and 25,000 bears.

Fall is the optimal time of year for photographing Polar Bears in the Alaskan Arctic as they are waiting for the ice which then will allow them to begin their migrations across the vastness of the frozen Arctic Ocean. Often we will be able to photograph between 20-30 different bears on this trip.

What are you waiting for? Come with us on what is sure to be an incredible, once in a lifetime, adventure to photograph Alaskan Polar Bears up close and personal. Trip dates for 2018 are September 25th – 30th and September 28th – Oct 3. Only a couple spots remain on either tour so make your reservations soon!

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.