Spanning over 4 million acres across the vast landscape of the Alaskan Peninsula, Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to over 2,000 brown bears, abundant annual salmon runs, diverse marine wildlife, expansive coastlines, boreal forests, and rugged volcanic geology. This extensive, remote wilderness is only accessible by boat or plane, further protecting the environment home to such rich wildlife.
With some of Alaska’s best bear sightseeing, incredible fishing, various canoeing and kayaking opportunities, impressive backcountry camping wilderness, and a variety of plane tours to remote locations, there are countless ways for visitors to enjoy this remote US national park.
Where is Katmai National Park?
Katmai National Park and Preserve is located in Southwest Alaska on the northern part of the Alaska Peninsula. It is southwest of Homer and northwest of Kodiak Island.
Unlike most US national parks, Katmai is only accessible by boat or plane. It is a remote park with very minimal services. The closest grocery store and post office are located in King Salmon, outside of the park and near the park headquarters.
Native Alaskan Alutiiq People and Katmai National Park
For over 9,000 years, Alutiiq people called what is today Katmai National Park and Preserve home. These Native Alaskans resettled following the 1912 eruption of Novarupta. Many now live in villages in Southwest Alaska in the villages of King Salmon, Levelock, Naknek, South Naknek, Perryville, Egegik, Kokhanok, and Chignik.
A lot of Katmai descendants still practice subsistence activities like customary and traditional harvest and use of natural resources for shelter, food, clothing, handicrafts, and transportation. Trading is very popular. They also participate in the park management process through non-profit organizations.
Katmai National Park Facts
- Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to about 2,200 brown bears, the largest known concentration in the world. It’s estimated there are more bears on the Alaskan Peninsula than people.
- On June 6th, 1912, the newly formed volcano, Novarupta, erupted. Ash fell around the area for 3 days and left behind a valley of ash and wasteland, now called the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. This was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and one of the top 5 largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.
- The Katmai area became a national monument in 1918 to protect the unique volcanically-devastated landscape following the 1912 eruption. It also protected the habitat of salmon and bears. In 1980, Katmai became Katmai National Park and Preserve under the Alaska Native Interests Land Conservation Act.
- Today, the park focuses on the protection of wildlife habitats, the volcanic landscapes, as well as the coastal resources that exist in this vast wilderness.
Best Time to Visit Katmai National Park
For the best weather and accessibility, visit Katmai from late June to September. The salmon run from late June to the end of July up Brooks Falls is the best opportunity to see salmon and bears. Located between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it is a stormy area creating varying weather systems. Wet and cool conditions are most common in the spring, summer, and fall, while winters are drier but colder.
Katmai National Park Hours
The park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. However, boats and planes that want to access the park must be arranged ahead of time due to the minimal access. For daily updates, check out the National Park Service’s alerts and updates at Katmai National Park.
Katmai National Park Entrance Fee
There is no entrance fee for Katmai National Park and Preserve.
How to Get to Katmai National Park from Anchorage
Katmai National Park and Preserve is only accessible to the public by boat or plane. It’s about 260 air miles southwest of Anchorage. To access the park by flight, air taxi options are common from Anchorage, Dillingham, Homer, King Salmon, Kodiak, and a few other nearby towns. Both Anchorage and King Salmon have regularly scheduled commercial flights.
To access the park by boat, powerboats can be arranged from Naknek and King Salmon. Boats allow access to Brooks Camp and other spots along the Naknek River.
Hiking in Katmai National Park
There are minimal established hiking trails in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Aside from these popular hikes, most hiking options are off trail and require advanced hiking and backpacking experience, as well as following Leave No Trace Principles to minimize human impact while traveling in these environments.
- Brooks Falls Trail (1.2 mi)
- Cultural Site Trail (0.1 mi)
- Lake Brooks Road (1 mi)
- Dumpling Mountain (3 mi; 740 ft gain)
- Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Road (23 mi – access to make hikes and trails off the road)
Lodging near Katmai National Park
Katmai National Park Hotels
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Katmai National Park Camping
There is only one established campground in the park: Brooks Camp. There is also one national park cabin: Fure’s Cabin. Like the hiking trails, all the other camping is backcountry wilderness camping with no services or amenities.
Katmai National Park Tours
Because of the inaccessibility for travel in and around Katmai National Park and Preserve, there are plenty of commercial outfitters that take visitors into the park. Whether you want to travel by air or boat, there are plenty of options.
Outside of a visit to Brooks Camp, most visits in the park are guided. Some tours are day trips into the park to view the bears, while others are multi-day trips to a lodge with excursions. The tours regularly leave from Anchorage, Kodiak, King Salmon, and other nearby towns and villages.
Best Things to Do in Katmai National Park
View the Brown Bears at Brooks Camp
Brooks Camp is one of the best brown bear viewing spots in the park with easy accessibility. With a few trails and boardwalks near the camp, visitors enjoy their stroll with scenic views and have the chance of seeing bears the whole way. Prepare to yield for bears on the trail!
Watch the Salmon Run up Brooks Falls
Every year, between 200,000-400,000 salmon make their way up Brooks Falls. From the end of June to the end of July, and sometimes August, visitors will enjoy an experience of a lifetime watching the brown bears banquet on the continuous flow of salmon.
Hike the Dumpling Mountain Trail
This 3-mile trail gains 800 feet on the ascent up to Dumpling Mountain Overlook. Along the way, hikers pass through boreal forest, subalpine meadows, and end in the alpine tundra. At the summit, you’ll have picturesque views of the surrounding landscape.
Backpack the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
Formed following the 1912 eruption of the new volcano, Novarupta, the Valley of 10,000 Smokes was created by this eruption. Explore the Buttress Range and Katmai Pass, observe the Trident Lava Flows, check out the Knife Creek Glaciers and Mount Katmai. There’s plenty to see on a backpacking expedition out here.
Canoe on Naknek Lake
Naknek Lake is the largest lake in the park– 40 miles long and 3-8 miles wide. It’s a beautiful spot to canoe or kayak in Katmai with the chance to observe moose, wolves, and wolverines around the lake, as well as the famous brown bears and salmon.
Go Fishing at American Creek
American Creek is world famous for its fishing. This remote location is only accessible by floatplane or a long boat ride to reach the prime fishing spot for abundant amounts of trout and salmon.
Spend a Night at Fure’s Cabin
Fure’s Cabin is a public use cabin today. It’s a one-room house that has been beautifully constructed and is a common refuge for hikers, kayakers, and canoers, but was previously a house of a trapper and miner. The walls, roof, and floor are made of hand-hewn spruce logs. The cabin requires reservations, so book early!
Stop by the King Salmon Visitor Center
Located next to the King Salmon Airport, learn about the cultural and natural resources of the Katmai area at the King Salmon Visitor Center. With a variety of exhibits, visitors learn about the life cycle of salmon, the volcanic geology, the history of the Native people, and the variety of marine mammals, birds, and plants.
Paddle the Savonoski Loop
The 80-mile Savonoski Loop takes kayakers and canoers through the striking backcountry in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Starting and ending at Brooks Camp, this trip takes between 4-10 days. Intermediate experience is recommended based on the route taken and weather.
Go Flight-seeing Over Mount Katmai
There are a handful of flight outfitters that offer tours over Mount Katmai and Katmai National Park. Freshwater lakes, volcanoes, glaciers, forests, the tundra, and wildlife are all visible on these scenic flights.
Sign up for a Cultural Walk Along the Brooks River
Join a ranger-led cultural walk at Brooks River. Learn about over 900 traditional Native Alaskan homes, some of which have been partially reconstructed. Learn more about the Brooks Camp Visitor Center from mid-June to mid-September.
Take a Bush Plane to Hallo Bay
Hallo Bay is a sandy beach, different from the rugged coastline throughout Katmai National Park. It’s a great spot to observe the brown bears feasting on salmon while roaming the large tidal flats of the bay.
Take a Float Plane to Amalik Bay
Amalik Bay is well known in the park for its archeological history. Evidence of ancient villages over 7,000 years old is believed to be some of the first settlements on the Alaskan Peninsula. The surrounding landscape is stunning and today the area is a National Historic Landmark.
Spend a Night at Brooks Lodge
The Brooks Lodge is located right in the center of all the bear activity and salmon run. The lodge also has a restaurant for visitors and the best thing about staying overnight is you’ll get to enjoy the bears without all the daytime crowds!
Visit Nearby Kodiak Island
Located just southeast of Katmai, Kodiak Island is the largest island in Alaska and is also known for its bear viewings with the southern part of the island being located in the Katmai Wilderness Area. Explore beaches, alpine meadows, wetlands, spruce forests, and grasslands in the varying environments here.