Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park

A Visitor’s Guide to Bear Watching & Volcanic Wonders at Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park is a stunning testament to nature’s power and diversity, covering over four million acres of remote Alaskan wilderness. It’s a place where one can witness geological wonders and one of the world’s largest concentrations of brown bears.

Katmai National Park and Preserve sits in the southwest region of Alaska. The area spans over 4,093,077 acres. That’s between the sizes of Connecticut and New Jersey! To put it on the map, Katmai is isolated, positioned far from Alaska’s major cities, offering unique remoteness that is both challenging and thrilling for visitors.

Established as a National Monument in 1918, Katmai became a national park to protect the area devastated by the Novarupta volcanic eruption. This significant event created the fascinating landscape known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. But Katmai’s story isn’t just geological; it’s also a place of human history, sheltering archaeological sites that reveal 9,000 years of human use.

They say diversity is the spice of life, and Katmai’s ecosystem is a perfect example. Home to North America’s largest protected population of brown bears, the park is a living exhibit of wildlife resilience.

Here, you can see these iconic creatures in their natural habitat—especially at Brooks River Falls. Apart from bears, Katmai boasts an environment teeming with various plant and animal life, contributing to Alaska’s ecological grandeur.


Top 3 Facts About Katmai National Park


Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Katmai National Park is home to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a vast area of volcanic ash flows and pyroclastic deposits created by the 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano. This eruption was one of the most powerful in recorded history, forming a landscape of deep canyons and towering ash deposits.


Remote Wilderness

Katmai National Park is one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the United States. Accessible only by boat or small aircraft, it offers visitors a chance to experience pristine wilderness far removed from the trappings of modern civilization. Its isolation contributes to its unspoiled natural beauty and sense of adventure.


Rich Biodiversity

Beyond its famous brown bears, Katmai is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including moose, wolves, eagles, and numerous species of birds and fish. Its varied ecosystems, ranging from rugged coastlines to dense forests and volcanic landscapes, support a wide range of flora and fauna, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Camping and transportation in Katmai National Park

info_iconBackcountry camping permits required for wilderness camping opportunities.

How to Get to Katmai National Park

Getting to Katmai National Park can be a bit challenging due to its remote location, but it’s definitely worth the effort for those seeking a pristine wilderness experience. Here are the main ways to access the park:

  • Fly to King Salmon: The most common way to reach Katmai National Park is by flying to King Salmon, Alaska. King Salmon has a small airport (King Salmon Airport – PANR) with regular scheduled flights from Anchorage operated by various airlines. From King Salmon, visitors can arrange for a charter flight or air taxi service to take them to Brooks Camp or other designated landing areas within the park.
  • Charter Flights or Air Taxis: Many visitors opt to charter a flight or use air taxi services from King Salmon to reach specific destinations within Katmai National Park. These flights offer a convenient and relatively quick way to access remote areas of the park, including Brooks Camp, where the famous bear viewing platform is located.
  • Boat Access: Another option for accessing Katmai National Park is by boat. However, this is more common for those who are already in the region and have access to boats capable of navigating the waters around the park. Boating can provide a unique perspective of the park’s coastal areas and may allow for exploration of more remote corners of the park.
  • Guided Tours: Many tour operators offer guided trips to Katmai National Park, which can include transportation from Anchorage or other nearby towns to King Salmon, as well as charter flights or boat transportation into the park itself. Guided tours can provide a convenient and organized way to experience the park, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the logistics of traveling in remote wilderness areas.

Places to Stay Near Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park itself is primarily a wilderness area with limited infrastructure for accommodations or camping. However, there are some options for lodging and camping near the park that visitors can consider:

  • Brooks Camp Campground: Located within Katmai National Park, Brooks Camp Campground offers a limited number of campsites for tent camping. Reservations are required and can be made through the National Park Service’s reservation system. This campground provides basic amenities such as pit toilets and food storage lockers, but there are no showers or other facilities.
  • Brooks Lodge: Also located within Katmai National Park, Brooks Lodge offers rustic accommodations in cabins and lodge rooms. The lodge provides meals for guests, and its location near Brooks Falls makes it a popular choice for bear viewing enthusiasts. Reservations are required well in advance, especially during the peak summer season.
  • King Salmon: The nearby town of King Salmon, Alaska, offers a few lodging options including hotels, bed and breakfasts, and lodges. While King Salmon is not directly adjacent to Katmai National Park, it is the primary gateway for visitors flying into the region. Accommodations in King Salmon provide a comfortable base for exploring the park, with options for both budget and mid-range travelers.
  • Camping and RV Parks: There are several camping and RV parks in the vicinity of King Salmon and along the Alaska Peninsula that provide options for travelers with their own camping equipment or recreational vehicles. These campgrounds typically offer basic facilities such as restrooms, showers, and sometimes laundry facilities. However, they may fill up quickly during the peak summer season, so reservations are recommended.
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Best Time to Go to Katmai National Park



Summer is the peak tourist season in Katmai National Park, and for good reason. July and August bring long days, mild temperatures, and abundant wildlife sightings. This is the prime time for bear viewing, particularly at Brooks Falls where brown bears gather to feast on salmon. Visitors can also enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and wildlife photography. The weather is generally pleasant, although rain showers are still common, so it’s essential to come prepared with waterproof gear.



Winter is a challenging but rewarding time to visit Katmai National Park for those seeking solitude and adventure. From November to April, the park is blanketed in snow, creating a pristine and serene winter wonderland. While most visitor facilities are closed during this time, it’s still possible to explore the park on snowshoes, cross-country skis, or by snowmobile for experienced travelers. Winter also offers unique opportunities for wildlife tracking and aurora borealis viewing, although extreme weather conditions and limited daylight hours require careful preparation and planning.



Spring in Katmai National Park marks the awakening of the wilderness after the long winter months. May and June offer a unique opportunity to witness the park’s transition from winter to summer. As the snow begins to melt, the landscape comes alive with vibrant colors and blooming wildflowers. This is also the time when wildlife, including bears, emerge from hibernation, making it an excellent season for bear viewing. Additionally, the rivers and streams swell with snowmelt, providing ideal conditions for fishing and rafting enthusiasts.

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Must-See Attractions

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Brooks Falls

Perhaps the most iconic attraction in Katmai, Brooks Falls, is famous for its spectacular bear viewing opportunities. During the summer salmon run, brown bears congregate at the falls to catch fish, providing visitors with unforgettable wildlife encounters. The park’s bear cams offer live-streaming footage of the action, allowing people worldwide to witness the bears’ fishing antics.

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

This vast volcanic landscape is a testament to the power of nature, formed by the 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano. Visitors can explore the valley’s otherworldly terrain on guided hikes or scenic flights, marveling at the towering ash flows, rugged canyons, and steaming fumaroles.

Alagnak Wild River

Flowing through the heart of Katmai National Park, the Alagnak River is renowned for its exceptional fishing and scenic beauty. Anglers come from far and wide to try their luck at catching salmon, trout, and char, while paddlers can enjoy multi-day rafting or kayaking trips through the river’s remote wilderness.

Helpful Tips: Making the Most of Your Adventure to Katmai National Park

Plan Ahead

Plan Ahead

Research the park’s attractions, activities, and facilities beforehand to ensure you make the most of your visit. Consider factors such as weather, seasonal variations, and wildlife viewing opportunities when planning your trip.

Pack Appropriately

Pack Appropriately

Dress in layers and pack clothing suitable for a variety of weather conditions, as temperatures in Katmai National Park can be unpredictable. Bring sturdy hiking boots, rain gear, sunscreen, insect repellent, and bear-resistant food containers if camping. Don’t forget essentials like a first aid kit, map, and compass or GPS device.

Respect Wildlife

Be Bear Aware

Katmai National Park is home to a large population of brown bears, so it’s essential to be bear aware at all times. Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols, such as making noise while hiking, carrying bear spray, and properly storing food and scented items. Keep a safe distance from bears and never approach them for any reason.

Stay Informed

Obtain Permits and Reservations

If you plan to camp, fish, or participate in guided activities within the park, make sure to obtain any necessary permits or reservations in advance. Popular activities such as bear viewing at Brooks Falls may require reservations months in advance, so plan accordingly.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Katmai National Park

To reach Katmai National Park, visitors typically fly from Anchorage to King Salmon and then take a floatplane to the park. Travelers are advised to book their transportation well in advance, especially during peak bear-viewing season, which is July through September.

They flock to Katmai National Park for its legendary bear-viewing opportunities. The park is home to one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in the world, with visitors witnessing their impressive salmon fishing techniques at places like Brooks Camp.

Lodging options in the park are limited, with some lodges like Brooks Lodge, and various campgrounds offering tent spots. Visitors should reserve accommodation early, as space fills up quickly during the high season.

Visitors can explore the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which was created by the Novarupta Volcano’s 1912 eruption. This event forms a significant part of the park’s natural history and offers a dramatic look at volcanic landscape transformation.

Yes, there are guided tours that often include bear-watching expeditions, walks to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and boating trips to various parts of the park. These tours provide a deeper understanding of the park’s ecosystems and history.

The cost for a trip to Katmai National Park varies greatly depending on the length of stay and the type of accommodation and activities chosen. Visitors should budget for airfare to Alaska, park entrance fees, guided tour costs, lodging or camping fees, and any additional gear rentals.

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