Wrangel Island: The Polar Bear Nursery

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Wrangel Island

Lying 140 km off the North Siberian coast, Wrangel Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famed for its large polar bear colony. 

The island is located in the Arctic Ocean between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. In 1976 the Soviet Central Government deemed the island to be a strict nature reserve. It now receives the highest level of protection and very few humans are allowed to visit. Four rangers live on the island all year-round, whilst a nominal number of scientists live on the island during summer.

Wrangel Island is roughly 145 km (90 mi) long from coast to coast and 125 km (78 mi) wide.There is a small east-west mountain range with the highest mountain - Sovetskaya - standing at 1,096 m (3,596 ft). 

Because Wrangel Island was not effected by the last ice-age, many of the plants on the island date back to the Pleistocene era. There is now over 400 species of plants here. Combine this with the many species of wildlife and it is easy to see why scientists value this region so highly. 

Wrangel Island is also known as being the last refuge of wooly mammoths. These huge and stoic creatures endured 6000 years after their mainland cousins, surviving on Wrangel Island until 1650 BC.

Below we provide more information on this magical island and how to visit.  

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How To Get To Wrangel Island

how to get to Wrangel Island

The good news is that Wrangel Island can now be visited by tourists. This is largely due to a thawing in both sea ice and Russian-American politics.  

The bad news is that it's expensive. Being so remote, Wrangel Island is not the easiest island to reach. In fact it's one of the least-visited and least-accessible places on earth. Not only are strict permissions needed (including visas), but you'll also need to take a journey by ship.

The only option for non-researchers to visit Wrangel Island is to take an expedition cruise. These cruises generally take less than 50 passengers and have a strong focus on wildlife watching.

Cruises depart from either Nome in Alaska, or Anadyr in Russia. All passengers departing from Anadyr can take a charter flight from Nome if they wish. Alternatively, direct flights from Moscow operate fairly regularly. 

Most cruises take just over two weeks and follow similar itineraries. You'll see the stunning Kamchatka region with its enormous volcanoes and large brown bears. You then sail to Wrangel Island where you'll make several shore visits. 

Prices for these expedition cruises start from about $11,000 per person. This price would be for a shared quad or triple cabin. For a suite you should expect to pay almost double. 

Best Time To Visit Wrangel Island

best time to visit Wrangel Island

Because Wrangel Island is located in the Arctic region, the island can only be visited by expedition cruises in the high summer period from July to September.

This is when the pack ice in the Chukchi Sea has retreated enough to allow passage through the cold region. This is also the period when the wildlife is most active on Wrangel Island, giving tourists the best chance of seeing polar bears, musk ox, seabirds, and walrus.

The Arctic tundra that permeates much of the landscape of Wrangel Island is in full bloom and the days are at their warmest with temperatures ranging between 5 °C and 10 °C. The colours are most vibrant at this time of year and the red grass contrasts nicely against the white of the polar bear. 

Even though you can only visit in summer, it's still very cold, especially when the wind is blowing. Make sure to bring appropriate clothing. Click here for a full Arctic packing list. 

Wrangel Island Wildlife

Wrangel Island polar bears

Wrangel Island is one of the most pristine nature reserves on the planet. Because of this, wildlife on the island thrives. There are so many polar bears here that the island is affectionately referred to as the 'Polar Bear Nursery'. 

Wrangel Island has the highest density of polar bear dens on earth. In fact, if a whale carcass washes ashore, it's not uncommon to see over 200 bears gather together on one beach. These beautiful bears are the highlight of most people's visit to the island and a favourite of photographers. 

Marine lovers will enjoy seeing spotting grey whales, orcas, bowhead,  belugas, and minke whales. On top of this, Wrangel Island also boasts the world's largest population of Pacific Walrus. These are great creatures to watch from your zodiac or ship. 

Further inland you'll see reindeer, Arctic foxes, snow goose and the mighty musk ox. These lovely creatures graze the open tundra in summer and make for perfect photos. 

Bird lovers will also love Wrangel Island. Over one hundred migratory bird species nest and breed here during the summer months. Highlights include puffins, snowy owls, guillemots, Arctic terns, skuas, and ivory gulls. During your zodiac tours you'll be completely surrounded by their loud squeaking as they fly all around you near the cliffs. ​​

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

​FAQ

If you have any queries or questions regarding Wrangel Island, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Thank you and happy travels!

Expedition Cruise Team

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.

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