Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Alaska Bears
Photo Credit: ATIA, Chris McLennan

Becharof National Wildlife Refuge

Becharof National Wildlife Refuge

This remote refuge in Southwest Alaska features an active volcano, unique geological features, and important wildlife habitat.

Protecting a 1,157,000-acre slice of some of the finest salmon spawning grounds in Alaska, Becharof National Wildlife Refuge lies due south of Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula. This vast refuge encompasses a range of terrains, from rugged coastlines and the 4,835-foot summit of the Mt. Peulik volcano to tundra uplands, braided rivers, and saw-toothed mountain ranges.


The Becharof Refuge offers a variety of recreational opportunities with the most popular being sport fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, photography, flightseeing, backpacking, boating, and camping. The lakes and streams draw anglers to fish for all five species of Pacific salmon along with Dolly Varden, trout, northern pike, burbot, and arctic grayling. The abundance of fish also attracts a large population of brown bears, offering remote bear viewing opportunities that are more off-the-beaten-track than the famous Brooks Falls at nearby Katmai National Park and Preserve.

The Kanatak Trail is a historic Alaska Native route connecting the Pacific Ocean to Bristol Bay that has been in use for over 1,900 years. The 5 mile trail is now a National Recreation Trail that can be explored by experienced backpackers or on guided trips. Most visitors to Becharof arrive as part of a guided multi-day trip or for fishing, bear viewing, hiking, or hunting daytrips from lodges in and around the town of King Salmon.


Like its northern neighbor, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Becharof is famed for large populations of brown bears whose rich diet of salmon allows males to reach 1,400 pounds in size and stand more than 10 feet tall. As many as 300 bears congregate in the eastern portion of the refuge when the salmon run begins in June. All five species of Pacific salmon spawn in the refuge. Other wildlife includes moose, caribou, wolf, wolverine, fox, river otter, and beaver, while along the coast are sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and migratory whales.


The refuge contains virtually the entire watershed surrounding Becharof Lake, the second largest lake in Alaska and the largest in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Spread over 300,000 acres, the lake is 35 miles long, 15 miles wide, and serves as a nursery for the world's second largest run of sockeye salmon, with an estimated six million adult salmon returning to Bristol Bay each year.

Becharof Refuge contains many unique geologic and scenic features. Mount Peulik is an active volcano that emerges from a landscape of volcanic flows, old craters, and hot springs. Nearby Ukinrek Maars are two craters created when groundwater met magma in 1977, causing an 11-day steam eruption.

The tilted layers of the coastal mountains tell silent stories of tectonic activity and ancient life over eons. Glaciers have left their mark in gravelly moraines and scoured mountain basins, while scarps in the lowlands show changes in enormous Becharof Lake’s level over time. From brushy wetlands to alpine tundra, the refuge provides pristine habitat to many significant fish and wildlife resources and offers many subsistence and recreational opportunities.


There are no roads, campgrounds, or visitor facilities within the refuge. The 5 mile long Kanatak Trail is the only trail in the park. The King Salmon Visitor Center in the town of King Salmon provides information on Becharof including trip planning, exhibits, and interactive programs.


Becharof National Wildlife Refuge is a remote area accessible by boats and small planes only. Air charter operators in King Salmon and Naknek offer flights into the refuge, and wilderness lodges in the King Salmon area also provide daytrip options.

Explore more bear viewing in nearby Katmai National Park and Preserve.

For more information, visit the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Website

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