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Hike-in Required
No
Open Year-round
No
Guided tours
No
ADA accessible
No
Please respect the outdoors and leave no trace. One tip how to dispose of waste properly: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. For more information, visit https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

Katmai National Park is one of those places that will enchant you so much that the experience will be vivid even years after your visit. Brooks Falls is the photo-famous location in Katmai where grizzlies congregate to catch salmon as they migrate upstream. A unique place, salmon return to Brooks Falls every year to spawn, and grizzlies throng to the area to catch them where they are most vulnerable.

Despite the presence of predators and natural obstacles to their path, the salmon push forward to complete their life goal—to get back to where they were born. They come in such high concentrations that the bears do not have to go anywhere else to look for food. Visitors can see them fish from three viewing decks: one near the bridge in the river, and two others, Brooks and Riffles viewing decks, about a mile or so from the bridge.

June to the end of July is typically when the salmon runs are highest, but the dates are unpredictable and vary year to year. The bears do not necessarily arrive concurrently, and peak season for grizzlies typically occurs between mid-July and August. During peak season, there could be as many as 20 to 25 bears in the falls—a spectacular sight. Park rangers limit the number of people at any given time at the Brooks Falls viewing deck, resulting in long wait times. Also, they limit how long one can stay there to give everyone a chance.

Logistically, getting to Katmai is challenging and costly. There are no roads to the park. From Anchorage, one needs to take a flight to King Salmon and book a seaplane to Brooks Falls. There are no roads. One needs to ensure that you have a seaplane ticket to get to Brooks Falls on the same day as you get to King Salmon. Similarly, for the return to Anchorage, the seaplane back from Brooks to King Salmon and flight from King Salmon to Anchorage have to synchronize. You will have to test various combinations to get the itinerary right and book tickets concurrently. There are operators who can manage this for you, but we did it ourselves and it was not that big a deal. Roughly, the airfare is around $800 per person to travel back and forth from Anchorage if you book yourself. The operators charge a premium, so expect to pay more if using their services.

There is a campground in Katmai and a lodge run by the Brooks Falls with a restaurant, bar, and gift shop. The campground reservations are available at Recreation.gov and might even be available in short notice, up to two weeks in advance. It is protected by an electric fence. (The Brooks falls area is such a concentrated food source, the grizzlies may even outnumber humans.) The lodge bookings usually sell out a year in advance and are available via a lottery system.

During the summer in Alaska, there is sunlight until midnight, and you can easily walk to the campground after having dinner at the lodge. It is about a half-mile walk. Everything to see and do in Brooks Falls is concentrated in a 3-mile radius.

Hikes are available in the area. A day-long tour to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, site of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. A bus leaves at 8 a.m. and gets back at 4:30 p.m., in time for anyone in the tour to catch the seaplanes back to King Salmon. A hiking trail to Dumpling Mountain providies a commanding view of the entire area. This trail starts right from the campground.

The weather can play spoilsport, and plans can go haywire at times. If visibility is low, the flights to King Salmon might get canceled or delayed. At the Brooks Falls, typically the seaplanes depart back to King Salmon at around 5:00 or 5.30 p.m. Bears may also climb up to the bridge, during which times the rangers close the bridge. If the bears don't leave, the bridge remains closed and you cannot get back in time to catch the plane back. Leave yourself enough time to get back to the visitor center in the event of a bear traffic jam.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

Park entrance fee

Open from

Saturday, June 1, 2019 to Thursday, August 15, 2019

Pros

100% chance of seeing Grizzly bears. Iconic landmark.

Cons

Very costly to get to. Could get crowded.

Pets allowed

No

Address

Katmai National Park, AK
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Waterfalls
Geologically significant

Location

Field Guide

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