Katmai National Park and Preserve

By: Freelance Contributor
ALASKA, UNITED STATES - 2015/08/30: A Brown bear (Ursus arctos) is carrying a salmon ashore at Brooks Lake in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images) LightRocket via Getty Images / © 2015 Wolfgang Kaehler


Fish the Brooks River with over 2,000 Brown Bears

Located on the Alaska Peninsula almost directly across from Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park and Preserve is famous for its large population of brown bears and its stunning Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The park is named for Mount Katmai, a  stratovolcano that last erupted in 1912, collapsing its summit and creating a huge caldera lake that exists today.


Activities in Katmai National Park and Preserve

Aside from perennially popular activities like day hiking, backpacking, and camping, Katmai National Park and Preserve is well-known for its unique bear-watching opportunities, as well as superior sport fishing. If you’re planning a backpacking trip, be advised that there are few marked trails. The most popular backpacking destination is the fumarole-laden Valley of Then Thousand Smokes.

There are more than 2,000 documented brown bears living in the park, and they can often be seen gathering at Brooks Camp to fish for sockeye salmon. Other good places to see brown bears are along the coast. Several commercial operators offer bear-viewing trips in the park. These are a great way to enjoy these majestic beasts in a way that is safe for visitors and for bears.

Coho and sockeye salmon fishing have drawn anglers to the park for decades. Alaska fish and game regulations apply to sport fishing in the park. Since the fish are popular among both humans and bears, they are vulnerable to overfishing and their numbers must be appropriately managed.


Visiting Katmai and National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is open all year, but visitor and concessioner services are only offered during the peak summer season, from June 1 through September 17. There are no fees for park entry, but camping at Brooks Camp and commercial filming and photography incur respective fees.


Wildlife in Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve are well known for their brown bears, but there are many other mammal species that visitors may see in the park. These animals range from commonly sighted caribou to elusive lynx and wolves. Some 40 songbird species call Katmai their summer home, and a rare few of them even stick around all year. The white-winged crossbill is one of these. Other birds that can be seen in the park include the arctic tern and various marine birds.


History of Katmai National Park and Preserve

The oldest archeological sites in Katmai National Park and Preserve date back 7,000 to 9,000 years and belong to the Paleoarctic tradition, which suggests that ancient inhabitants of these lands crossed over from Asia on the Bering land bridge during the last ice age. Later cultures represented include the Arctic Small Tool and Thule traditions, as well as historical era sites like old cabins. Some cabins, like Fure’s Cabin, are open for public use, whereas others are ruins.

The eruption in 1912 was a life-changing event for communities that lived in the area that is now Katmai National Park and Preserve. Prior to the eruption, there were villages in the region that had year-round inhabitants. The ash that fell during the eruption displaces at least four villages whose population resettled elsewhere on the Alaskan Peninsula.

Most people who live in the park today claim Alutiiq descent and still practice subsistence activities such as fishing in the park’s waters.

Important Dates in Katmai National Park History:

  • 1912 –  Mount Katmai erupts, collapsing its summit and forming a caldera that later became a crater lake.
  • 1980 – Katmai National Park and Preserve established.
  • 2006 – Fourpeaked Volcano becomes active after more than 10,000 years of dormancy.