There are two major Polar Bear viewing destination options in North America: Churchill, Canada and Kaktovik, Alaska. Kaktovik is an Eskimo village located on the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean), near the Canadian border. It is the cheaper, less touristy option but is not otherwise a tourist destination. There is not much else to do here for a tourist and the accommodations are geared towards oil worker/man-camp needs. See the many postings on Tripadvisor for more information and reviews of lodging. The village is a typical North Slope community, is dry (no alcohol) and a bit impoverished. There are two ways to travel here, you can book a same-day flight & guide package out of Fairbanks or arrange for your own air travel via RAVN Alaska and stay at one of the two hotels. Either way, you’ll need a guide with a boat to get you out to where the bears are, which is generally the sand bar that forms the barrier to the town’s bay. The bay is calm and the guide boats do not go out in the open ocean.
The Eskimos here are allowed to hunt and kill three Right Whales and the Polar Bears start arriving in late August in anticipation of the scraps, staying until the ice flows appear in early fall. I was able to see a dozen or so bears over the course of two days at the end of August, a week prior to the first whale kill of the season.
Our travel guide was a Norwegian transplant named Ketil Reitan, who resides here with his native family. Ketil is a master outdoorsman and has not only competed in the Iditarod dogsled race many times, but has travelled to the South Pole using turn-of-the-century dogsled equipment in a recreation of Scott and Amundsen’s 1911 trek for the BBC called Blizzard: Race to the South Pole. This guy is the real deal and you’re in good hands with Ketil.
Unless asked, the hotel staff at the Marsh Creek Inn do not provide much information, safety or otherwise. Be advised that Brown Bears come into the town at night from the Tundra, seeking out a few select trash dumpsters, as do, of course, the Polar Bears sometimes (mostly at night). Needless to say, walking around outside the hotel at night is dangerous and not recommended. Also, we were not given hotel room keys for locking the room door but they are available upon request. Be sure and ask about meal times since your guided tour may overlap that window.
Kaktovik Tours, LLC
Marsh Creek Inn: $285/per night per person, including meals.