Katmai National Park & Preserve
Come for the bears, stay for a true wilderness adventure.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is approximately 260 miles southwest of Anchorage and is a true wilderness destination. Some come for the otherworldly volcanic landscape of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, but most come for bears. About 2,200 brown bears inhabit the park and many congregate on the Brooks River to gorge on summer salmon runs, making this one of the best spots for bear viewing in Alaska.
THINGS TO DO
In addition to bear viewing, Katmai National Park offers opportunities to raft, hike the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, camp in the backcountry, kayak the chain of lakes and rivers known as the Savonoski Loop, or explore the more remote coves and bays along the park’s coastline.
Brooks Camp, the park's summer headquarters on the shores of Naknek Lake, is the hub of activity at Katmai and its most developed area. The camp features a lodge and restaurant, a campground, a store, kayak rentals, and the Brooks Camp Visitor Center, where visitors can sign up for daily ranger-led tours in the park. Unconnected to any town by road, most people come to Katmai via floatplane from the nearby town of King Salmon. Floatplanes load and unload passengers right along the shore at Brooks Camp.
Visitors to Brooks Camp are required to check in at the visitor center for a quick bear safety orientation. From there, a trail and floating bridge leads to the most popular attractions in the park: a series of four bear viewing platforms overlooking the Brooks River. The last deck, at Brook Falls, is the prime viewing area, where visitors can photograph salmon making spectacular leaps with 900-pound brown bears at the top of the waterfall waiting with open jaws. Thanks to an incredible sockeye salmon run, there might be a dozen bears fishing in the area at the same time. Wolves sometimes stop by to fish, too. Want to check out the action right now? You can view Brooks Falls from a live webcam.
Bear viewing tours to the park, including one-day flightseeing and walking tours at Brooks Falls, are available from Kodiak, Homer, and Anchorage. Some tours and packages depart from King Salmon, which can be reached by commercial airline from Anchorage, followed by a 30-mile floatplane flight to Brooks Camp.
If you’re looking for a multi-day trip, camping and lodging are available at Brooks Camp. Accommodations and camping at Brooks Camp book up very quickly so it’s best to make your reservations as early as possible. Scattered throughout the park and on the outside coast are a number of fly-in lodges that offer all-inclusive package trips. Some are designated exclusively for bear viewing, and some cater to sport anglers and include boats for traveling on the large lakes and up rivers.
Bears aren’t the only ones fishing in the park. Katmai is also home to the Alagnak Wild River and Naknek Lake, the largest lake in the park, supporting all five species of Pacific salmon as well as rainbow trout, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and northern pike, making the park a famed destination for sport anglers.
VALLEY OF 10,000 SMOKES
Departing from Brooks Camp is the Valley of 10,000 Smokes Road, the only road in Katmai. This 23-mile dirt road winds past wildlife-inhabited meadows and river valleys and ends at Three Forks Overlook, which has a sweeping view of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. This harsh but spectacular landscape was created by the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. On June 6, 1912, the Novarupta Volcano spewed ash and volcanic matter for 60 hours, blanketing the mountainous landscape in ash.
The Valley of 10,000 Smokes is now a popular destination for hiking and camping for those with backcountry and route-finding experience - there are no designated trails in this section of the park. Daily bus tours from Brooks Camp head to Three Forks Overlook and back, stopping along the way to pick up hikers and backpackers.
Home to wolves, lynx, and other wildlife, Katmai is best known for its iconic brown bears. While bear viewing season along the park’s famed Brooks River peaks in July as the salmon start running, fall is the time when bears really up their feeding game. To celebrate a successful summer, the Katmai Conservancy hosts Fat Bear Week. This fun contest – held in early October – offers Katmai bear fans a chance to weigh in on which of the park’s more than 2,000 bears was most successful packing on the pounds prior to the start of hibernation. This online competition allows fans to vote on their top pick for fattest bear, with one portly bear named as the Fat Bear Week Champion.
Bears hibernate during the winter and will not eat or drink for months, losing nearly one third of their body weight. When they emerge from hibernation in the spring, they will start the feeding frenzy all over again to build up enough fat to get through another long winter.
Holy Smokes! In 1912, Novarupta Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula violently erupted and rocked the area now known as Katmai National Park and Preserve. The wilderness was turned into a dynamic landscape of smoking valleys, ash-covered mountains, and small holes and cracks fuming with steam and gas, forcing the resettlement of traditional Alutiiq / Sugpiaq communities who called the area home for nearly 9,000 years.
Four years later, explorer Robert Grigg climbed Katmai Pass and became the first person to see the valley floor with its thousands of steam vents. He named it the Valley of 10,000 Smokes and led the effort that turned Katmai into a national monument in 1918.
In 1980, the monument was enlarged to 4.2 million acres and designated a national park and preserve. Today, Katmai National Park and Preserve remains a wilderness landscape with little development.
FACILITIES AND CAMPING
Brooks Camp, the park's summer headquarters on the shores of Naknek Lake, 35 miles from King Salmon, is the hub of facilities and activities in the park. The camp features a lodge and restaurant, a campground, a store, kayak rentals, and Brooks Camp Visitor Center. The King Salmon Visitor Center is located in the small town of King Salmon and also provides information on Katmai National Park and Preserve. There are less than 5 miles of maintained trails in the park. Backcountry hiking and camping are permitted.
A campground at Brooks Camp can accommodate up to 60 people. This unique campground has no designated campsites but is a communal area for visitors to camp safely among the bears, with designated shelters for eating and storage caches for food, gear, and fuel. An electric fence surrounds the campground. Campsites fill up very quickly, so it’s advised to reserve as early as possible.
The park is open year-round but the concessioner services at Brooks Camp, the main access point for the park, are offered only June through mid-September. King Salmon can be reached by commercial airline from Anchorage while Brooks Camp, 30 air miles away, is only accessible by small floatplane. Bear viewing tour packages to the park, even one-day tours, can be arranged from Kodiak, Homer, and Anchorage.
View the live webcams of bears fishing in Katmai.
For more information, visit the Katmai National Park and Preserve website.
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