Berry Picking and Bear Awareness

It’s late August, the time when people go out in droves to pick berries in Alaska. There are over 50 types of berries in Alaska, most of which are edible, and some are downright delicious (not to mention extremely nutritious, especially wild blueberries which are an anti-oxidant powerhouse!). Make sure you know what you are picking, as some Alaskan berries are poisonous. As far as I know, all white berries up here are poisonous, so don’t eat them.

Blueberry picking in Alaska

Blueberries picked in Alaska

The most popular wild berries in the Anchorage area are blueberries, high bush cranberries, salmonberries, crowberries (not that tasty off the plant, but they make great jams & pies), currants, and raspberries.

Berries grow best above the treeline on South or Southwest facing moderate slopes (steep enough for good drainage, but not too steep). There are a number of popular berry picking spots around the Anchorage area. These include Flattop, Hatcher’s Pass, Arctic Valley, Bear Mountain, Alyeska, and Eklutna Lake.

Berry picking is much like fishing in Alaska. The spots that are easy to access and don’t require a lot of hiking are very crowded (or picked over). If you want to get to more berries with fewer crowds, you’ll want to spend a little time hiking.

Another similarity to fishing is the fact you will often run into bears, as salmon and berries are some of their favorite foods. Make sure you are prepared when berry picking, not only with berry containers but also with protection. Bear spray is sold in many places around Alaska, and is a great thing to take with you when hiking or berry picking. Carrying a firearm is also quite common, just make sure you carry something you are familiar with, as bears won’t give you much time. .44 Magnum revolvers and shotguns are popular for bear protection.

No matter where you are in Alaska, make sure to keep an eye out for bears. Make noise as you walk through the woods to ensure you don’t startle a bear. Most of the recent bear encounters in the Anchorage area have been between bears and cyclists, since bicycles are fairly quiet. If you see a bear kill, leave the area, as bears will defend their food.

Be prepared for mosquitoes, which are abundant in areas where you find berries. Bug spray or bug netting can be a real lifesaver! You also want to make sure to carry layers of warm clothing, as the weather can change very quickly.

Have fun, collect lots of berries, and please share with me some of your favorite berry picking locations or recipes!

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