Katmai National Park and Preserve
Located: Alaska - Established: December 2, 1980
The Park: On June 6, 1912, the volcano Novarupta began erupting with cataclysmic force sending a gigantic plume of smoke and ash into the atmosphere. The eruption was ten times more violent than Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and buried the surrounding area in up to 700 feet of volcanic matter. Remnants of the eruption were found as far away as the Mediterranean.
Shortly after the volcano settled down, people began exploring this area and found an otherworldly terrain that was aptly named the “Valley of 10,000 Smokes.” Katmai was made a National Park to preserve and protect the volcanism surrounding the Novarupta. Today, accessing the Valley can be achieved by taking a 23-mile bus tour from Brooks Camp. It is well worth the journey, as you will have the opportunity to explore a landscape created by the largest volcanic eruption of the 21st century!
Getting there: Getting to Katmai and Brooks Camp is an adventure in itself. From Anchorage, AK you’ll take a smallish aircraft into King Salmon. From there, you’ll load your gear into a floatplane, which will take off from the Naknek River and land on a nearby lake.
Once you’ve disembarked from the floatplane, you are immediately shuffled into the Brooks Camp Ranger Station to become thoroughly educated on bear safety. You WILL encounter bears! Once your bear orientation is complete, you are free to explore. Your senses will tingle with caution and delight with your very first bear encounter!
When to visit: Although the park is open year-round, most people visit Katmai between June and October when transportation to this remote location is available.
What to do: Visitors come to Katmai to either fish the world-class waters of the park for the chance of catching rainbow trout, arctic char, dolly varden, arctic grayling on any of the five species of Pacific Salmon or to observe the large population of brown bears (Grizzlies).
At Brooks Camp, there are three wildlife viewing platforms from which you can observe the savage beauty of seeing these majestic creatures as they swim about and feast on the Sockeye Salmon of Brooks River. However, to reach the platforms, you will need to cross the floating footbridge spanning the Brooks River. Occasionally, a bear or two will “camp” out near the entrance to the footbridge creating what the local Rangers call a “bear jam.” You will need to wait until the bears relocate before crossing the bridge!
Katmai has less than five miles of maintained trails so exploring this area is a true wilderness experience. No permits are required for backcountry camping; however, careful planning and wilderness camping experience is necessary for a safe journey.
If you opt to fish the waters of Katmai, you may be competing with the local bear population for the catch. You will encounter brown bears if you choose to fish the salmon rich waters of the Brooks River and the noise of that splashing fish you hooked will sound like food to a bear!
Where to stay: There are two Park Service sanctioned Lodges inside the park – Brooks Lodge and the Grosvenor Lodge, Additionally, there are several other private lodges scattered throughout the Alaska Peninsula area.
Memorable moments: Observing a Momma Grizzly and her two cubs wandering about the area. Watching a Bald Eagle swoop down and catch a salmon. Standing on one of the several Observation platforms within 10 yards of the action, we witnessed two male Grizzlies battle for territorial rights at Brooks Falls.
Trivia: It is estimated that 2200 brown bears inhabit Katmai, meaning there are more bears that people living on the Alaska Peninsula!
Banner: River Lethe running through the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.
Experience these Check List:
- Getting there is the first step!
- Stop by the Visitor Center (mandatory!)
- Enjoy the close proximity to one of Mother Nature's most majestic creatures: Ursus arctos - brown bear - a.k.a. grizzly bear
- Explore the Valley of 10,000 Smokes
- Shoot a grizzly (with your camera)
- Hike the Brooks Falls Trail