Imagine watching brown bears catch salmon over the iconic Brooks Falls while you stand just yards away. Visiting Katmai National Park allows you to experience these amazing creatures up close! It should be on the top of everyone’s Alaska bucket list.
Brooks Falls is world famous 🌎 for having the most incredible bear sightings, which you can witness firsthand. Brown bears come to these falls to feed on salmon as they swim upstream. It’s truly the best wildlife viewing you can experience! There’s nothing that compares to exploring and being surrounded by bears in their natural habitat.
My husband and I spent summer in Alaska and this was top of our bucket list. We spent months planning our trip to Katmai and then finally, we got to go. It was truly the ✨ best thing ✨ we did the entire summer. We fell in love with the bears and as soon as we left, we started planning a return trip!
Below you’ll find an in depth guide to visiting Katmai National Park. It includes details on how to get there, when to go, and what you need to know about seeing the bears. I hope you’re able to go to this magical park!
You Might Also Like These Posts:
- Camping at Katmai National Park 101
- Complete Guide to Driving the Alaska Highway
- Guide to Visiting Port Alsworth- Lake Clark National Park
Disclaimer: I may get a small commission if you use the links in this article at no extra charge to you. Thanks for your support!
Table of Contents
Katmai National Park Guide
Katmai National Park Location
You’ll find Katmai National Park on a peninsula in the Southern part of Alaska 📍. Brooks Falls is located in Brooks Camp, which is the main destination in Katmai. It is an hour’s flight from Homer and a few hours of travel from Anchorage. It’s remote location allows for the bears to truly act naturally in their own habitat.
Things to Know Before You Go
💵 There is no site fee to enter Katmai National Park. However, getting to the park and staying there can costs upwards of thousands of dollars.
☀️ It can be very rainy and cold in Alaska during the summer. Make sure you pack plenty of clothing and gear to stay warm.
⛺️ There is only one campground and one lodge in Katmai. You have to book these months in advance, but you can read more about that below. If you’re more adventurous you can camp in the backcountry.
🐻 Katmai is home to the bears and it’s their home first. So, make sure to follow all regulations and guidelines when visiting this magical park.
📵 There is no cell service around Brooks Camp. So, prepare to be cut off from the outside world for a bit!
🦮 Pets are not allowed in the Brook Falls area, but are allowed in the backcountry. However, it’s not recommended to bring them.
⚠️ Most lodging and visitor facilities are closed outside of the major visiting season from late May through October. So, plan accordingly.
🍔 The only place that sells food in Katmai is Brooks Lodge, but it’s very expensive. Otherwise, you can bring food and cooking needs, but they must be kept in the food lockers.
🦟 Katmai is very buggy, make sure you’re prepared with bug repellant and mosquito nets!
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
How to Get to Katmai National Park
Getting to Katmai National Park and Brooks Camp is a difficult and costly 💸💸 endeavor, but it’s totally worth it to see the bears!
The cheapest way to get to Katmai National park is to take an Alaska Airlines Flight to King Salmon and then get the Water Taxi or float plane to Brooks Falls.
- Take a float plane ✈️ from Homer (950+) or Anchorage (1000+) to Brook Falls
- Fly Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to King Salmon (350$ RT)
Best Time to Visit
You can see the bears during the summer 😎 anytime from June through September. There are plenty of bears wandering around Brooks Falls and the weather is usually warmer to enjoy them.
The best time to see the bears is during the salmon run in July or September.
Salmon try to swim up the river in July and you can see hundreds of fish 🐠 jumping in Brooks Falls. During the peak salmon run, up to 30 bears may be at Brooks Falls trying to catch the food.
In September there are plenty of dying salmon around to feed on. In both September and October the bears are chunkier as they prepare for their winter hibernations. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite bear ⭐️ in Fat Bear Week in October!
Bear Viewing Guidance
You’ll attend a mandatory bear orientation when you get to Katmai, but here are some important guidelines to remember:
🐻 When possible keep 50 yards of distance away from the bears. Slowly back up, never run if you notice a bear near you.
🗣 While on the viewing platforms, keep your voice low so you do not disturb the bears. Do not cheer or yell if they catch a fish.
🚶When you are on the platforms, you should keep walking. Only stop in the designated areas.
🥪 You cannot keep any food on you while in Katmai. All food must be stored in the food caches and eaten in the designated picnic areas. Also, never feed the bears!
🎒 Keep your gear with you at all times, so bears don’t mess with it. If you need to leave something it has to be in the gear cache.
Camping & Lodging at Katmai
There are two options to stay near Brooks Falls if you are visiting Katmai National Park:
If you can’t get a reservation at these two spots, you can choose to do a day trip or book a place to stay in King Salmon and pay to get to Katmai. We found multiple people doing this for a few days, which is pricey!
Brooks Falls Campground is just a mile from viewing platforms of Brooks Falls. You can book a campground here from May through October. However, there are only 60 spots a night, which are $12 a person per night.
Campgrounds open on January 5th at 8 am (Alaska Time) and sell out immediately for the peak times of year. You can go on recreation.gov for your chance at a spot.
The campground 🏕 is fenced in to keep the bears out. It has pit toilets, unassigned tent spots, and picnic areas to eat. Once you get there, you can choose a spot and then store your gear & food in the lockers.
Brooks Lodge is the only lodge and accommodation besides camping in Katmai National Park. Because there is such high demand for rooms at Brooks Lodge you have to enter a lottery system 😱 to get a room.
Applications for the lottery open in December and are open the entire month until 5 pm Alaska time on December 31st.
In the application you can put down all the dates that you would be free to go to Katmai 📆. If you’re more flexible then you have a better chance of winning.
Then, individuals find out if they got a room or will be added to the waitlist at the end of January. Unfortunately, reservations are not transferrable and you cannot change dates once you get them.
Brooks Lodge Rooming Details
All the rooms in the lodge are the same with two sets of bunk beds, so four beds in total. There is also a bathroom in each room.
During your stay, you can relax in the lodge around the shared fireplace, get a cocktail at the bar, play games at the tables, or grab food there as well. There is a buffet served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 🍝. However, meals are fairly pricey with dinner costing up to $45.
Even if you aren’t staying at the lodge, you can use their facilities. We spent a lot of time in the lodge hanging by the fireplace and eating there to escape the cold rain.
Katmai National Park Day Tours
If you are unable to get lodging at Brooks Camp, then you have the option to take a flightseeing tour over Katmai or take a tour to see the bears. These tours can cost up to $2000, but many people choose to do it to see the bears.
Here are four options for Bear Viewing tours:
- Regal Air– They offer tours from Anchorage starting at $975 a person to get to Brooks Falls or Lake Clark. I highly recommend Regal Air, we had a flight booked with them to go to Denali and we had to cancel because someone got COVID. They gave us a full refund with no questions!
- Brooks Lodge– Brooks Lodge offer day tours that are some of the most popular. They’ll take you from Anchorage on a couple flights to see the bears. These tours are around $1350 for a trip.
- Rust’s Bear Viewing– Flights leave from Anchorage and also start at $975 a person. There tours usually run from 6 to 10 hours to see the bears.
- Alaska Bear Adventures– If you’re coming from Homer, this is a great option for a day trip. Tours start at $985 a person and will allow you to see the bears up close!
Packing Guide for Katmai
No matter if you are visiting Katmai for the day or longer, you’ll need to be prepared. The most important things to have are layers for the weather, a camera 📸 (or a phone) for photos, and bug repellant and bug nets for the bugs!
Katmai Packing Guide
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Day Pack
- 2-3 Liters of Water
- Snacks and Food (with a bag to store away)
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray (very buggy!!)
- Bug Nets
- Rain jacket or light winter jacket
- Satellite phone
- Camera Gear and Extra Batteries
- Chargers for Electronics
What to Do at Katmai National Park
Visit Brooks Falls
No trip to Katmai is complete without spending time at the Brooks Falls viewing platform. Brooks Falls is the spot where salmon jump of the water in their hopes to go upstream. Bears wait around the falls to catch these fish and grub.
In the peak of July, you can see up to 50 bears 🐻🐻 hanging in Brooks Falls trying to catch fish. However, there’s plenty of excitement up at Brooks Falls all summer long. We saw bears hanging, catching fish, and even fighting!
You’ll have to walk 1.2 miles to get to the viewing platform. During crowded times, you may have to wait for a spot on the platform because it can only hold 40 people. Then, you’ll be limited to an hour at a time up there. But, whatever you see will be magical!
While the bears may get a lot of the hype, fishing 🎣 is the other popular reason people descend on this area. In fact, Katmai was first developed as a world class sports fishing area.
Casters and fishermen from all over the country fly to this area for the amazing fishing opportunities. You can try your luck at catching rainbow trout, arctic grayling, arctic char, Pacific salmon, and so many more species of fish.
You must obtain an Alaskan sport fishing license and follow all the area’s regulations. Because you’ll be competing with the bears, it’s important to know how to interact around them. Anglers can visit on their own or book a tour with one of the great operators.
Valley of 10,000 Smokes Tours
The Valley of 10,000 smokes is home to the largest volcanic eruption 🌋 site in North America’s history! It’s crazy because most people have never even heard about this incredibly devastating volcano.
If you visit Katmai, then you can go on a day tour to the Valley or take a flight above it to see the large area around it.
We did the day tour and really enjoyed it despite the weather being awful! It consists of a 2 hour bus ride there and back, a sandwich lunch, and a guided hike 3 mile (6 total) down to the river. This landscape is incredibly unique and all of our minds were blown 🤯!
Take a Hike
There are only a few official trails in Katmai National Park, but they offer ample opportunities to see bears or beautiful landscapes. If you’re more experienced you can also for for a hike 🥾 in the backcountry.
Just remember to be aware of wildlife and follow all the park guidelines.
Trail in Katmai:
- Dumpling Mountain (3 miles, 800 feet)- Get great views over Brooks Falls and the surrounding area.
- Lake Brooks Road (2 miles)- Walk past Brook Falls to see the glacially carved lake just beyond.
Fly Above Katmai
There are numerous flightseeing tours 🛬 that will take you above Katmai to see what it looks like from the sky! It’s a very popular way to see many areas in Alaska and you’ll get the chance to fly over the volcanic site of the Vally of 10,000 smokes.
You can find numerous flightseeing operators here.
Wildlife photographers from near and far descend on Katmai to get their chance to capture the beautiful creatures on camera. You can explore the area on your own to try and get the best shot or go with a guide to get even closer.
Instead of fishing, you can take a tour where guides will take you into the rivers for close ups of the bears. Next time I visit, I am definitely going to splurge on one of these tours. The photos people get are incredible!
Final Tips on Visiting Katmai National Park
Katmai is one of the most expensive parks to visit, but it’s so worth it. If you want to go there, then the best thing to do is plan far in advance. Make sure that you have enough money set aside to go and do your research 💻.
I’m sure you’ll fall in love with this incredible park and the bears that call this place home! Now don’t mind me I’ll just be watching the live feed of the bears until I can go back.
Let me know if you enjoyed this guide in the comments!
📍 Pin Complete Guide to Visiting Katmai National Park to Pinterest