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Experiencing Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park and especially its most visited area, Brooks Camp, is primarily known today as a wonderful place to see bears, in person, on explore.org’s webcams, or on the many TV shows that have been filmed the area.  But going back just over a century, Katmai first came to public notice when residents of this northern Alaska Peninsula experienced one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.

Following the 1912 eruption of Novarupta volcan, a scientific team discovered the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in 1916 and realizing this was an area worth protecting, helped to establish Katmai National Monument two years later. In 1980 Katmai became a national park.

Facilities in the Brooks Camp area were established for the visitors who were mainly interested in fishing. There are pictures in the Brooks Lodge from the 1950s that show fishing at the falls where there now could be up to 15 or 20 bears trying to catch salmon during July. As the bear population increased, the bear watching increased the number of visitors to the area. But the park is more than just fishing, volcanos and bears, there are thousands of years of human history in this park; each step you take may be the same as a step taken 1,000, or 3,000, or even 9,000 years ago.

National Park offices and concessioner services, such as the lodge, buffet restaurant and bar, and gift shop are open from June 1 to September 17. While you can visit the area at other times, you would be pretty much on your own.

Brooks Camp in August is quite popular for fishing – most of the bears have gone off to other areas to look for salmon and other food so it makes fishing a little bit easier.

Most of the visitors to Katmai go to Brooks Camp.  They go for just the day, for an over-night, or for several days. For a day trip, it is recommended to fly in to King Salmon for the night and then fly to Brooks Camp the following morning.  That would give more time at Brooks Camp than flying in from Anchorage.  And, given Alaska weather, flights can get delayed and/or canceled and if you are already in King Salmon, you’ve eliminated part of the problem.  Directions and Transportation information for Brooks Camp.

The flight to Brooks Camp from King Salmon takes about 20 minutes and is on a float plane that takes off from the Naknek River and usually lands on Lake Naknek.  The NP Ranger offices, the lodge and cabins, and the campground are along the side of Lake Naknek.  However, if the wind is blowing strongly in the wrong direction on Lake Naknek, you may land in Brooks Lake and then be driven by bus or van to the lower platform area, and then you can use the bridge to cross the river to get to the Brooks Camp lodge, campground area, and Park Service offices.

Some visitors who can’t get reservations at the lodge at Brooks Camp or in the campground make a hotel reservation in King Salmon for a couple of nights and then do day trips to Brooks Camp, trying to get an early flight to Brooks and a late afternoon flight back to King Salmon.

Booking a cabin in the lodge requires planning.  Reservations typically open about a year and a half in advance and fill quickly.  There are cancelations so if you have some flexibility, you can check to see if a cabin becomes available.  The cabins are basic, one large room with two bunk beds and a bathroom.

The other option for staying at Brooks Camp overnight is camping. The campground reservations open in early January every year and popular times, such as July and September, often fill up very quickly. However, there may be cancelations so it pays to check back. The campground is about a quarter of a mile walk from the main lodge area.  It has an electrified fence around the area to help keep bears out, storage buildings for food and other items, covered eating areas with benches, running water, and outhouses.  Camping is limited to 14 nights for the season and limited to seven nights during the month of July. In the main lodge area there is a public restroom building with showers and a token can be purchased at the lodge gift shop.

The electric fence around the campground has been a welcome addition.  Before it was installed I was making oatmeal one morning and a sow and two cubs started walking towards the table where I was cooking.  I wondered if my little one-burner stove could protect me.  Fortunately, she kept going and they walked down to the lake – she was more interested in fresh fish than my cooking.

Besides the campground, it is possible to camp in the woods in Katmai, but you need to be at least a mile or mile and a half from the Brooks Camp Developed Area and there are no facilities such as electrified fences, storage buildings, or outhouses.

Upon arriving at Brooks Camp, whether you are visiting just for the day or for longer, the first thing you MUST do is attend Bear Orientation where you view a video about the rules of the park for being around bears and then answer questions that a ranger asks.

After completing Orientation, if you are staying in the lodge you usually go to the lodge office to check in and if you are staying in the campground you get your permit in the same building as the orientation.

In the main lodge, there is buffet dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  You can choose a lite portion and save some money, such as soup and salad for lunch, or you can eat all you want.  There is also a bar in the lodge that is open during lunch and then from the late afternoon through the evening.  In the central area, there is a large round open fireplace that is quite popular to sit around, especially when it gets cold or rainy or while waiting for the buffet to open. The lodge also has some electrical outlets for charging your camera batteries, laptops, etc.

The building across from the main lodge is the lodge office where you check in for the cabins, confirm your flight reservation out, book a trip by bus to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, hire a guide, get fishing equipment including poles, waders, etc., or even rent a canoe. The other side of the building is a gift shop where they sell t-shirts, jackets, souvenirs, soft-drinks, snacks, etc.

Webcams

Dumpling Mountain Webcam

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