Katmai National Park Preserve Alaska Bears
Photo Credit: Iain Tall,

Katmai National Park & Preserve

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.

Bear Viewing in Katmai National Park

The hub of bear viewing and other activities in the park is Brooks Camp, the park's summer headquarters on the shores of Naknek Lake. 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 or boat from from King Salmon, or floatplane from Anchorage, Homer, or Kodiak. Floatplanes and boats 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 bear viewing platforms overlooking the Brooks River. The 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 when the bears are active during the summer months.

The Brooks Falls viewing platform can be busy at times, though it's the worth the wait to get a front-row view of the action. Don't forget to check out the other platforms for additional viewing options - and keep an eye out for bears wherever you go! You can see bears along trails and even right at Brooks Camp when you step off your boat or float plane. The floating bridge adjacent to Brooks Camp is another prime bear viewing area, with bears fishing in the river and on the shores of Naknek Lake in nearly every direction you look. Brooks Falls is the most iconic bear viewing spot in the park but make sure to give yourself time to watch bears in other areas.

Bear viewing tours to the park, including one-day flightseeing and walking tours at Brooks Falls, are available from KodiakHomer, 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 or a 45 minute boat ride to Brooks Camp.

When Can I see Bears in Katmai National Park?

Bears are viewable from June through September, though the amount of bears fluctuates during the summer based on the salmon migration and spawning cycle. Bears begin to arrive in the area in mid-June along with the salmon. Late June through the late July sees the highest concentration of bears in the area, when you can see up to 10 - 20 bears at Brooks Falls at one time. In August, the fishing is not as good on Brooks River and less bears are viewable. As salmon become weaker at the end of their spawning cycle in late August through the end of September, many bears return to Brooks River for a final feeding frenzy before winter. 

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.

Fat Bear Week

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 burley bruin named as the Fat Bear Week Champion.


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. While Katmai is best known for its iconic brown bears, the park is also home to a diverse array of other wildlife species including wolves, lynx, caribou, wolverine, and a a wide variety of year-round and migratory birds. 

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.


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. 


The Sugpiaq people called the area home for nearly 9,000 years and established several villages, including one at the present-day Brooks Camp. You can view some of this history for yourself at the Cultural Site just a short walk from Brooks Camp. Here, you can view the recreation of a prehistoric Alaska Native house that was excavated at the site, along with interpretive displays about the history of people who lived in the area. 

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 many of the traditional Sugpiaq communities.

Four years later, explorer Robert Grigg climbed Katmai Pass and viewed 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 present-day development.


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.

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, the closest community to the park, can be reached by commercial airline from Anchorage. From King Salmon you can take a 30 minute floatplane ride or a 45 minute boat trip across Naknek Lake to reach Brooks Camp. Bear viewing day trips are available by float plane KodiakHomer, 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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