Broad river flats, looming mountains, and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes -- the stunning, desolate remains of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption: That's what you'll find in Katmai National Park.

Alongside the park's famous brown bears gorging on floods of incoming salmon, visitors also come here for the paddling, backcountry hiking and fly fishing, although some of the fishing is catch and release only.


Bear catching fish in Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park highlights

Katmai is renowned for its bear watching -- the National Park Service estimates that the park is home to around 2,200 bears. One of the best bear viewing locations is at Brooks Camp. Other good backcountry bear spotting locations include Hallo Bay, Geographic Harbor, Swikshak Lagoon and Moraine Creek/Funnel Creek.

You’ll be blown away by the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the site of the Novarupta eruption in 1912 - -the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption.

Don’t miss the excellent paddling in Katmai's rivers and lakes, or along the park's 400 miles of coastline. Popular inland routes include the 80-mile Savonoski Loop for canoes and kayaks (plan at least four to 10 days), and American Creek (class II to III+ rapids in places), Moraine Creek and Funnel Creek for rafting.

For backpacking and hiking, keep in mind that Katmai National Park has just five miles of maintained trails, the rest is pure backcountry adventure. Navigation and survival skills for rapidly changing, often stormy conditions are essential. Consider visiting with a professional outfitter.

How to get to Katmai National Park

Park headquarters are located in King Salmon, which is 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. You can get there from Anchorage on Alaska Airlines or PenAir.

Brooks Camp is by far the most popular destination in Katmai. From June to mid-September, the National Park Service maintains rudimentary services here: A visitor center, ranger station, campground and auditorium. Meals and lodging are available at Brooks Lodge.

When you arrive, you will be required to attend a short bear safety talk that also outlines park regulations.

Most locations in Katmai are accessed by float plane air taxi from nearby communities like Anchorage, Dillingham, Homer, King Salmon and Kodiak.

Weather in Katmai National Park

Katmai is located between two stormy weather regions (the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea), so be prepared for variable weather all year long. Typically, the weather is wet and cool with strong winds; the Pacific coast is wetter, colder and more prone to storms than the inland parts of the park.

Summer temps range from -1 to 26 C (30 to 80 F); winters are dry and cold, ranging anywhere from 10 to -37 C (50 to -35 F).

Katmai NP travel tip

The National Park Service have a number of webcam installations and automated weather stations offering live condition reports in and around Katmai. You can view them here.

Wildlife in Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park remains an active volcanic landscape. The southwest portion includes the Bristol Bay coastal plan: relatively flat, with lakes, kettle ponds and a number of low ridges and sand dunes. Other portions of the park are a rugged mix of bays, beaches, coves and thick vegetation along the coast. The highest peaks rise to about 7,000ft (2,100m) and the easiest-to-see glaciers are on the eastern coast. The northern and northwestern parts of the park contain many lakes surrounded by mountains that rise to around 3,000ft (915m).

Grizzly bear-viewing is the biggest wildlife draw, but you can also see wolves, caribou, porcupines, beavers and marten.

It's fish that draw the bears here -- and humans come here to enjoy the stellar fishing, too. You'll find five species of Pacific salmon plus rainbow trout, Arctic char, Dolly Varden and Arctic grayling. Check Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations for Bristol Bay, Kodiak/Aleutian and Lower Cook Inlet, and know how to handle bear encounters while fishing. There are also special regulations for Brooks River.

Katmai National Park facts & figures

  • Katmai National Park covers more than 4 million acres (almost 6,400 square miles), most of which is designated wilderness.

  • The park was established in 1918, 6 years after the Novarupta eruption to preserve the resulting "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes," a smoking, steaming landscape covered in ash. Although it no longer smokes, people still come to marvel at the radically altered landscape.

  • So few people visited Katmai National Park after its creation that rangers were not posted there until 1950.

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