They may as well have called it “See Brown Bears Fish for Salmon” National Park,” am I right?
It’s what we all envision when we hear the name “Katmai.” Especially those of us who list: “see brown bears fish for salmon in Alaska” on our bucket lists. Indeed this is the signature at Katmai National Park and Preserve, one of a plethora of ‘America’s Best Ideas’ located in ‘The Last Frontier.’
As many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai still provides an unaltered habitat. Because of this, the Park is the world’s premier brown bear viewing area, boasting an estimated 2,200 of these majestic creatures calling the area home.
Katmai National Park, and it’s 4 million + acres, is situated on the Alaskan Peninsula some 300 air miles to the southwest of Anchorage. It is best known for Brooks Falls and its viewing platform where sightseers, lookie-lous and photographers alike line up daily to watch -and shoot (with a camera)- brown bears in action as they fish for abundant sockeye salmon.
The salmon -which draw the bears- arrive early at Brooks Falls compared to other streams, and between 43 and 70 individual bears have been documented at the falls in July and an equal number of bears are seen in the lower river in September. Which is exactly why Backcountry Journeys would love for you to join us at the strategically scheduled tours running in…you guessed it! July and September.
The vast majority of Katmai visitors come to Brooks Camp, which is where we’ll camp. If you’ve ever seen a photograph of a bear catching a salmon from a waterfall it was most likely captured right here.
We’ll spend three nights camping right in the thick of it all in order to maximize peak lighting conditions. Being right there gives us excellent access to the action, so don’t forget your long lenses because they’ll work best to capture fantastic, full-frame images of the bears.
The bears are indeed the centerpiece, but did you know that Katmai National Park was actually set aside to protect something quite different?
The story here is in the stone, but its not an especially gneiss one (pun intended).
The Park is named after Mount Katmai, its centerpiece stratovolcano (think Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Fuji, or Blofeld’s evil hideout in the James Bond thriller “You Only Live Twice).
Standing at 6,716 feet, Katmai is 6.3 miles in diameter with a central lake-filled caldera about 3 by 2 miles in area. It was formed during the Novarupta eruption of 1912, which also formed the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes which is a 40-square-mile, 100-700-foot-deep pyroclastic flow, which is a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter that moves away from a volcano reaching speeds of over 430 miles per hour! Devastating! In fact, the park boasts as many as 18 volcanoes, seven which are still active.
This area was first designated a national monument in 1918 to protect this volcanism. After a series of boundary expansions, the present National Park and Preserve was established in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Today, Katmai National Park and Preserve remains an active volcanic landscape, but it also protects thousands of years of human history in addition to the bears and salmon.
Prehistoric artifacts have been found dating to about 6,000 years. Some of these archeological sites provide evidence that folks lived in the area up to the eruption of 1912. Brooks Camp itself is a significant archaeological site dating to about 4500 BP. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
So, embark on a journey of a lifetime to the remote wilderness of Katmai National Park, arguably the single best place on Earth to photograph brown bears, to do just that!
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.