Spotlight: Katmai National Park and Preserve
Whether watching brown bears during the salmon run, hiking and camping in rugged wilderness, fishing for trout, or viewing the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, an amazing experience awaits in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Even though the Katmai National Park and Preserve is the site of the 20th Century’s largest volcanic eruption—in fact, in 10,000 years since the last Ice Age, at least seven minor eruptions have exploded within the Katmai volcanic cluster— most people come here to see the bears. The park was first established in 1918 as a means to protect the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, which is filled with ash flow from the 1912 aforementioned Novarupta eruption. Now its biggest attraction is the many brown bears that infiltrate the area of Brooks Camp especially July through September, with its close proximity to Brooks Falls, a major point in the salmon run from the Bering Sea.
"There’s no better place for the average person to see a lot of bears in one place," says Roy Wood, Chief of Interpretation and Education at Katmai. He assesses that the area probably holds the densest population of bears anywhere—especially during peak salmon season.
For that reason, Brooks Camp is usually completely full during the month of July. Reservations are available starting January 5th and they fill up fast. According to Wood, September takes a close second for bear viewing. For those who aren’t into the bears, there’s plenty of other stuff to do from the camp opening on June 1 until closing in mid-September.
"Hop in a canoe, paddle across the lake, explore the 100 miles of shoreline, hike Dumpling Mountain which overlooks the entire area or take a ranger guided tour of 10,000 Smokes," he says. Fishing enthusiasts can’t wait to get in on June 8, as soon as fishing season starts, because “the rainbow trout is phenomenal,” says Wood. Most fishermen who come at this time are interested in catch-and-release.
But if the bears are your thing and you’re a little timid, you can opt to remain in an area with a ranger on duty or travel in a group. Camping in the rugged wilderness or reserving space at the lodge are options for staying in the area.
"It’s not your typical campground," says Wood. "And you’re right on the shore of Naknek Lake in a Balsam Poplar forest. It's a really beautiful setting."
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