Trip Report: Brown Bears of Katmai in Summer

This year our photography expedition to Brooks Falls was nothing short of phenomenal in terms of weather and photo quality. We were able to capture some outstanding images of Brown Bears including fishing bears, standing bears, wrestling bears and even fighting bears! The weather was about the most stable I’ve ever seen it at Brooks Camp with very little rain during the days (it rain most one night – but hey that’s great!) and it was even borderline too warm!

Weather is often a serious consideration when traveling by float plane in remote parts of Alaska as we often are delayed due to fog and lake conditions. Not on this trip! Everything went smoothly as we took off along the broad, deep waters of the Naknek River in King Salmon and made our way through calm skies.

“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.”

Upon landing along the shores of the massive Naknek Lake we unloaded our camping gear from the trusty Beaver Float-Planes and setup camp inside the electric bear fence. After lunch and “bear school” provided by NPS personnel we were off to look for bears.

There is quite a bit of walking on this trip but it is mostly along well traveled dirt pathway through the forest. It’s also at sea-level and mostly flat which makes breathing a bit easier! You can read more about this trip in a recent article by Kenton Krueger by clicking here.

This trip provided some of the most excellent image opportunities I’ve had in Katmai National Park. We had great lighting conditions most of the time – everything from beautiful, low angled sun to light overcast. We spent time on the platforms, on the sand spit and some of us even waded out into the Brooks River for eye-level shots of bears as they ventured & fished up and down Brooks River (please note that this activity is not for everyone!)

We were able to photograph sows with cubs, huge adult boars and a plethora of young sub-adult groups. It is always such a spectacle watching the bears of Brooks Falls as they vie for the best fishing spots along the river.

So…why are there so many bears congregated in the one area? One word. Salmon.

Bears begin arriving en masse twice a year for two major salmon runs. The first happens in July with a massive influx of Sockeye Salmon as they make their way home from their ocean journeys. The second major Salmon run happens in September as the Coho Salmon return to their fresh-water roots. Over the millennia the Coastal Brown Bears of Katmai National Park have learned that Brooks Falls is one of the prime fishing spots as the Salmon are vulnerable in their attempt to leap up the waterfalls to their spawning grounds. You can read about the Salmon of Bristol Bay / Katmai by clicking here.

See below for my first batch of images. Hopefully I can get some more out soon. If you would like to join us on this trip this year we have a few spots open in September. Click here to see a few images from last year’s September trip.

Until next time!

Russ Nordstrand







Russ Nordstrand is an award winning Landscape & Wildlife Photographer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in private collections throughout the world and he runs Photography Tours & Workshops in the most beautiful and inspirtational locations in the Western United States and beyond.

Russ has been hiking, backpacking, photographing and guiding people in the wilderness areas, deserts, canyons and mountains of the world since 1997. He has logged thousands of miles on the trail and for many years in the past decade over half of his nights were spent in a tent in some far flung outdoor destination.