The Bush: Places to Explore


Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai is the most famous of Alaska's remote parks for two simple reasons: bears and volcanoes. Although Katmai sees only a fraction of the number of visitors to Denali National Park, its name echoes with just as much mythical force. Remote and expensive (even by Alaska travel standards) to get to, Katmai is true wilderness Alaska, with limited visitor facilities (except for a few nice wilderness lodges)—but that's reason enough to go and have Alaska to yourself. These 4 million acres offer up plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing and an extraordinary perspective on the awesome power of volcanoes—still active throughout the park, echoes of the 1912 eruption sequence that was one of the most powerful ever recorded, covering more than 46,000 square miles with ash. Today in this wild, remote area at the northern end of the Alaska Peninsula, moose and almost 30 other species of mammals, including foxes, lynx, and wolves, share the landscape with bears fishing for salmon from stream banks and rivers and along the coast. At the immensely popular Brooks Falls and Camp you can see brown bears when the salmon are running in July and September. No special permits are required, though there is a $10 day-use fee at Brooks. Bears are common along the park's outer coast, where they graze on sedge flats, dig clams and sculpin on the beach at low tide (quite a sight!), and fish for salmon. But even on slow bear days it's a beautiful place to be. Ducks fill the park's rivers, lakes, and outer coast, arguing over nesting space with huge whistling swans, loons, grebes, gulls, and shorebirds. Bald eagles perch on rocky pinnacles by the sea. More than 40 species of songbirds call the region home during the short spring and summer, and if you fall back into big-mammal mood, Steller sea lions and a couple of species of seals hang out on rock outcroppings.

From Brooks Lodge a daily tour bus with a naturalist aboard makes the 23-mile trip through the park to the Valley Overlook. Hikers can walk the 1.5-mile trail for a closer look at the pumice-covered valley floor. (Some consider the return climb strenuous.)

No roads lead to Katmai National Park. To get to it, at the base of the Alaska Peninsula, it's easiest to arrange a flight from Anchorage, where you can take in the amazing scenery along Cook Inlet, rimmed by the lofty, snowy peaks of the Alaska Range (check out for fares and schedules). They land at King Salmon, near fish-famous Bristol Bay, where passengers transfer to smaller floatplanes for the 20-minute hop to Naknek Lake and Brooks Camp. Travel to Brooks from King Salmon is also possible by boat. You are required to check in at the park ranger station, next to Brooks Lodge, for a mandatory bear safety talk (for the safety of both you and the bears).