A visit to Katmai National Park is a bucket-list adventure to add to your list of things to do in Alaska. It’s most famous for up-close encounters with wild brown bears that feed on the abundant salmon in Brooks Falls.
A trip to see The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is another reason to visit this national park, which is located 260 miles southwest of Anchorage and can only be reached by boat or plane.
In this post, I’m going to share everything you need to know to visit Katmai National Park and Preserve.
- Katmai National Park Facts & Basic Info
- Katmai National Park Map
- How to Get to Katmai National Park
- Getting Around Katmai National Park
- Katmai National Park: Where to Stay
- Best Things to See and Do in Katmai National Park
- Other Things to See and Do
- Answering Your Questions
Katmai National Park Facts & Basic Info
Traditional Land: Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) (Visit Native-Land.ca to identify whose land you live, work, and play on.)
Size: 4,725,188 acres
Annual Visitors: 84,167 in 2019
Visitor Centers: King Salmon Visitor Center, Brooks Camp Visitor Center, Robert F. Griggs Visitor Center
Entrance Fee: None
Pets: Allowed in the backcountry under physical control at all times. Not allowed within the Brooks Camp Developed Area (BCDA), a 1.5 mile radius from the Brooks Falls Platform, from May 1 to October 31.
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The King Salmon Visitor Center is located next to the King Salmon Airport and is likely one of the first sources of visitor information you will come across. The Brooks Camp Visitor Center is located at Brooks Camp and provides information on bear safety, camping, and backcountry planning. The Robert F. Griggs Visitor Center overlooks the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and is only open during ranger-led tours.
There is NO entrance fee for Katmai National Park.
Weather in the national park is always changing and unpredictable. From spring to fall, conditions are often wet and cool. During summer, average temps range from 30 to 80 F. August and September are the rainiest months with nearly 3″ of rainfall.
During winter, expect cold temps from low -35 to 50 F. Expect snow cover in the higher elevations of the park until late May and early June.
Bear encounters are to be expected during your trip to Katmai National Park. If you visit Brooks Camp, you will have to complete Bear School upon arrival. Here are some helpful bear safety tips:
- Maintain at least 50 yards from any bear
- Give bears the right of way
- Travel in groups
- Talk to avoid surprising a bear
- Stay calm and do not run
- An electric fence around your campsite is recommended
What is the best time of year to visit Katmai National Park and Preserve?
Summer (June, July, and August) is the most popular time of the year to visit Katmai National Park. This is when tour operations are running. You’ll also get to experience better weather if you’re exploring the backcountry and have lots of opportunities to see brown bears.
July and September are the best months to see bears at Brooks Camp as they follow the salmon runs. If you visit in September, you’ll get to see the super chunky bears!
Keep in mind that many tour operators as well as Brooks Camp and Brooks Lodge close down in mid-September.
Winter is quiet in the park even though it’s open year-round. Spring brings daylight but many facilities don’t start operating for the season until June 1.
Katmai National Park Map
All access to Katmai National Park requires a boat or plane. Plan your trip with these maps.
How to Get to Katmai National Park
1) By Plane
Katmai National Park & Preserve is located in Southwest Alaska. Most destinations within the park, including Brooks Camp can be accessed via air taxi. Both Alaska Airlines and Ravn Alaska operate commercial flights from Anchorage to King Salmon.
You can also hire a float plane to fly you directly into Brooks Camp. These roundtrip flights cost $950+ per person. It’s sometimes cheaper when flying from Homer instead of Anchorage.
2) By Boat
If you want to visit the coast of Katmai, you can hire a boat. You can also hire a water taxi to travel from King Salmon to Brooks Camp.
If you want to see the brown bears at Brooks Falls, here are my tips on the best way to visit Brooks Falls.
Getting Around Katmai National Park
There is only one road within the national park and it leads to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Katmailand runs a bus that departs daily from Brooks Camp. The bus ride is 46 miles roundtrip and costs $96 per person.
Within the park, you will mostly travel on foot to get to where you need to go. You can choose to hike in the remote backcountry or travel on one of the few established trails within Brooks Camp.
To get from King Salmon to Brooks Camp, you can take Katmai Water Taxi. Once you arrive at Brooks Camp, check with the Brooks Camp Visitor Center for information on guides, whether for fishing, hiking or bear viewing. There are so many different operators within the park, view the Katmai services list here.
By Plane / Helicopter
There are many air transportation providers that will fly you in different areas within Katmai National Park. These flights cost $950+ per person.
Katmai National Park: Where to Stay
If you’re unable to reserve a campsite, you have to wild camp 1.5 miles outside of the Brooks Falls corridor.
Lodging within the park is limited. The closest lodge to Brooks Falls is Brooks Lodge, which is located in Brooks Camp. This lodge is only available on a lottery-based system.
- Brooks Lodge
- Katmai Wilderness Lodge
- Hallo Bay Wilderness Camps
- Battle River Wilderness Retreat
- Kulik Lodge
- Enchanted Lake Lodge
- Royal Wolf Lodge
- Grosvenor Lodge
Public Use Cabins
- Fures Public Use Cabin
Backcountry camping is a beautiful way to explore the park. A great place for backpacking and backcountry camping within Katmai National Park and Preserve is in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. You do not need a permit for camping. Contact the NPS if you need help planning a trip.
Best Things to See and Do in Katmai National Park
Popular Hikes in Katmai National Park
There are only 5 miles of maintained trails within the park boundaries. You can choose to hike on or off the trail. If you’re not comfortable hiking on your own, you can find a hike guided by a park ranger.
Here are some popular self-guided day hike options within the park:
Alaska Brown Bear Viewing
Katmai is world famous for watching brown bears feed on wild salmon at Brooks Falls. You may have seen the bear cams or voted in Fat Bear Week, an event that celebrates the chunkiest bears.
There really isn’t anything else that compares to the experience you’ll have at Brooks Falls. Even though it’s a popular tourist destination, it’s just amazing to watch more than 30 wild brown bears fishing right in front of you! They are very entertaining!
Of course, there are plenty of other areas in the park where you can see brown bears and each creates its own unique experience. You can see bears in places like Hallo Bay, Naknek Lake, Margot Creek, and along the coast.
Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a valley that was created during the volcanic eruption of Novarupta in 1912. The eruption created thousands of fumaroles and filled the valley with ash.
Today, you can hop on a tour bus from Brooks Camp to explore this unique landscape. Most visitors will take a day tour and hike with a ranger to Ukak Falls and the Windy Creek Overlook.
The valley also offers plenty of backpacking adventures. Some destinations to consider are the Buttress Range, Katmai Pass and the Southwest Trident Lava Flows, Knife Creek Glaciers and the Mount Katmai Caldera, Mageik Lakes, and Novarupta itself.
Make sure to book your tour in advance with Brooks Lodge.
Fishing Brooks River
I think the bears make it obvious that fishing at Brooks River is very good! There are opportunities to fish for rainbow trout, arctic char, and sockeye salmon.
Fly fishing is allowed at Brooks River as long as you have a valid fishing license. There are a lot of rules when it comes to fishing here due to the concentration of bears. Most people choose to go with a fishing guide but I have seen a couple of brave people fishing on their own down river.
If you like to fish and want an exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime experience then I would recommend getting a fishing permit (this is a new requirement as of 2022).
Kayaking Naknek Lake
Kayaking with bears is another unique activity to do in Katmai National Park. You can easily rent a kayak from the Katmai Trading Post, which can be found behind the Brooks Lodge check-in counter. Kayak rentals cost $15 per hour or $50 per day.
Kayaking is definitely worth it, especially when the weather is nice! I recommend going early in the morning or later in the evening when the water on the lake is the most calm.
Bring extra batteries and SD cards for your camera because there is no shortage of things to photograph. You can choose to capture the wild brown bears or other wildlife in the area such as moose, squirrel, Black oystercatchers, horned and tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, and more!
You may also want to take photos of the unique landscapes in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes or along the stunning coastline.
Other Things to See and Do
Katmai has something to offer everyone! Some other ideas of things to do are to listen to a Ranger Talk or join a Ranger Walk, plan a canoe or kayak trip around Savonoski Loop, take a flightseeing tour to see active volcanoes and Katmai Crater, or explore American Creek.
Answering Your Questions
How many days do you need in Katmai National Park?
You can visit the park on a day trip but If you want to visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, I suggest three days in Katmai National Park.
How much does it cost to go to Katmai National Park?
A trip can cost anywhere from $300 to $1350 depending on if you take a commercial plane or a small air taxi and if you’re on a guided trip.
Where do you fly into for Katmai?
You can fly from Anchorage to King Salmon on a commercial airline or you can fly directly to Brooks Camp on Naknek Lake.
Can you drive from Anchorage to Katmai National Park?
No, Katmai National Park is not accessible by car. You must take a plane or boat.
Are there grizzly bears in Katmai?
Since Katmai is on the coast they are called brown bears.
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