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Katmai National Park – A Visit to Remember

One of the most iconic yet least visited National Parks in the U.S.A….Katmai!

Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA.

 I can be a bit of a cheapskate! I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true!

Well then, why, you might ask, why would you visit Katmai National Park? The reason there are so few visitors to this remote beauty is the fact that being so far off the beaten path is….yep! Expensive!

Getting to Katmai, though, really is half the fun!

Getting on a float plane to get to Brooks Lodge.

First off you need to get yourself to Anchorage, Alaska. Then you must fly a pretty big plane to King Salmon, Alaska. Well, no. You aren’t finished yet. You then have to charter a small plane to Naknek Lake, yes, Alaska!

Then when you land, you are all excited about seeing bears and pitching your camp. You are, but you can’t. First you have to go to Bear School.

Bear School is really fun. Well, except for the part that they tell you there are a lot of bears, big bears, grizzly bears. Baby bears, mama bears, papa bears, and juvenile bears. Juveniles and mamas can be the most unpredictable, the most scary.

Catching and eating dinner at the falls.

Bear School teaches you how to walk in the woods, clapping, singing, whistling, talking. “Make lots of noise!’ they said. “You don’t want to startle a bear,” they said.

Normally people are telling me to do the opposite, to be quiet. That’s hard. But talking, laughing, clapping, and being LOUD…that I can do! I’m a pro at it.

So the four of us went to Bear School. We passed with flying colors, and to prove it were awarded a nifty little blue badge. So then we went out to pitch our tent and put our food away.

Additional Reading:
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It’s All About the Fish: Stranded in Akutan
Yosemite National Park, California

Camping in Katmai National Park.

Being bear country, the park let us use their food cache. A food cache is a little log house on stilts. The reason you put your food in there is because all the bears come wandering through, night and day, during supper time, during sleep time. The cache keeps the food smells away from your tent and you, so the bears are not interested in going in your tent. The cache is difficult to maneuver for a bear, so pretty much your food is safe, too.

I went to Katmai to see bears. I’m riding on this tiny plane with the rest of my family and some random wildlife photographer and his girlfriend. As we’re approaching Naknek Lake, I’m thinking, “Will we even see any bears?” As we were landing, we counted…1, 2, 3……14! Fourteen bears on the rim of the lake, and our floats hadn’t even hit the water. That made me very happy…and a little scared.

Grizzlies walking on the beach in Katmai.

Then for the next four days, Jim, my girls, and I walked from bear-viewing platform to bear-viewing platform. We  didn’t bother counting the bears any longer. There were a LOT! There were bears everywhere you turned. Even making lots of noise, we encountered bears a little too close for our comfort, but they really weren’t interested in us. They were interested in the fish.  Salmon. In all fairness, it’s my favorite fish, too.

The salmon, themselves, were fascinating to watch. Swimming upstream to mate and die is a pretty trying task. Only the strongest make it. We watched fish try over and over again. They would definitely win the perseverance award at my school! And you know, jumping up a waterfall comes with other hazards besides the bears…there are rocks underneath the water.  Some fish had bloody foreheads from repeatedly trying to get over a particular stone. Amazing!  I watched this for hours.

The Land of 10,000 Smokes.

So, we had a fabulous time watching bears. We watched them walk, dance, follow, run, fish, eat, roll their eyes, fight, mate. We watched them do things that bears do. It was very educational.

One thing that people do not realize about Katmai National Park is that it was established to preserve the Land of Ten Thousand Smokes.

You see, back in 1912 there was a little known volcano who blew its top. Novarupta erupted with a huge bang, leaving 40 square miles of beautiful earth covered in ash.

The land of 10000 smokes is part of Katmai National Park.

It’s not an easy trek to get there to see the valley, but you can take a day tour from Brooks Camp, which is what we did. To get there, we had to ford a river in our Suburban. That was the first time I had done that. Too much fun!

We saw a couple of bull moose wading through a lake. Cool!

We walked around and marveled at fossils, plant life, the scenery. The Land of Ten Thousand Smokes was nothing like we had ever seen before, or since.

If you are interested in visiting Katmai National Park and all of its wonders, you really have to plan ahead. Camping is the most economical way to visit the park, but no matter what, getting there will cost you a pretty penny.

Rock formations.
Lupine in Katmai NP.

Katmai National Park is by far the park that I’ve loved visiting the most! I mean who could ask for more?

The question you might ask is whether or not it is dangerous. It could be. But that is why the park rangers put you through their school. Learning bear behavior, being aware of your surroundings, and most importantly following the rules. This will keep you safe. We were.

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

What national parks have you visited in the U.S.? Which is your favorite? Did you see grizzly bears? I’d love to hear about your adventures in our comment section below.