Few visitors ever make it to Katmai National Park each year, only about 40,000. However you can be assured they know this park is something very special. With an area that rivals the size of Wales, Katmai is spread out along the Alaskan Peninsula, about 270 miles south of Anchorage.
Katmai is one of the more challenging National Parks to get to, but it’s certainly worth it. Daily flights and seaplanes are available to King Salmon, the town which serves as the basecamp for the park and surrounding areas.
There are two main attractions to Katmai, beyond of course the rugged natural beauty, bears and volcanoes. It’s really what makes this park so special.
Bears Up Close and Personal
In and around the park you’ll find the biggest population of protected brown bears in all of North America, right around 2,200 of them. The protection has allowed the bears to come back from the brink and flourish.
It’s rare for anyone to ever encounter a bear “up close” so to be able to come in contact and observe so many bears from afar is something truly unique.
That’s why most visitors will go to Katmai at a very specific time of year, late June to mid July. This is when the bears spend their days at Brooks Camp standing in the icy waters trying to catch fresh salmon.
Valley of Volcanoes
The other main attraction to Katmai National Park for most visitors is seeing the volcanoes. You might not associate Alaska with volcanoes, but just inside the park there are just under 20 of them, both dormant and active.
The park was actually first formed as a National Monument after a volcano eruption in 1912. This violent eruption created the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a 40 square mile region covered in ash and hundreds of feet of lava flow.
Although it takes a hike out to the backcountry to truly explore the Valley (as it’s called by Rangers), you’ll encounter a beautiful and barren landscape unlike many other places in the world.
Where to Stay
There are two places to camp inside the park, at Brooks Lodge and Grosvenor Lodge during the most trafficked times of year, the summer months. There is also lodging available in King Salmon as well.
For the experienced and adventurous, there is plenty of backcountry camping available at Katmai National Park. Because the park has been left wild, there are very few hiking trails, it is open to campers without a need for permits.
However, keep in mind, you will be camping not only in the backcountry but in bear country as well, so it’s only recommended for experienced campers.
Have you been lucky enough to visit Katmai National Park? Let us know your thoughts and experiences!