Where is Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve is located on the northern edge of the Alaska Peninsula, 290 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is situated northwest of Kodiak Island and southwest of Homer, Alaska. The closest town is King Salmon, which is also deemed the park’s headquarters. King Salmon is 5 miles south of the park, where the Naknek River connects the town to the park’s entrance area. Katmai’s main features include the long, 497-mile coastline, (which runs from the park’s entrance to Cook Inlet at Kamishak Bay), the Aleutian Range (a chain of fifteen different volcanic mountains along the southeastern area of the park), and a sequence of lakes, streams, and rivers, located in the western section.
How Big is Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai contains over 4 million acres of vast wilderness areas, including towering volcanoes, deep valleys, glacial moraines, and so much more. Of that, around 400,000 acres are labeled as preserved land, where any kind of activity, sport, or hunting is prohibited. Overall, the landscape contains hundreds of miles of remote, uninhabited terrain. In fact, the millions of acres within Katmai National Park and Preserve are often used to study things like volcanism and other large-scale landscape effects. The park is known for its untamed rivers and lakes, including the Alahnak River, which starts within the preserve of Kukaklek Lake, and the Naknek River which empties out into Bristol Bay. The Naknek Lake, Katmai’s largest and most accessible lake, spans over 150,000 acres. It can be reached by a road branching off of King Salmon.
Katmai National Park and Preserve Weather
The weather conditions at Katmai US National Park and Preserve can vary quite drastically. Because the park is between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, temperatures can change in a short period of time. For example, in the spring, summer, and fall months there can be highs up into the 80s and lows down into the 20s. The stark difference in temperature often depends on the time of day and whether the sun has set or not. Rain is much more probable during that time of year as well. The winter tends to be dry and very cold. Temperatures range from 50°F all the way down to -35°F. It’s safe to expect snow when venturing off to a higher elevation area during the winter months all the way through late May or early June. Along the coastline, temperatures tend to drop and the chance of rain increases. Strong winds are also prevalent year-round.
When did Katmai Become a National Park
Katmai National Park and Preserve was officially established in 1918 in an effort to protect the region of Novarupta and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes after a devasting volcanic eruption. The park remained largely unvisited until the 1950s when travelers began to discover the vast wildlife, including an abundance of sockeye salmon and brown bears. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conversation Act declared a series of additional boundary expansions for the park, which now encompasses over 4 million acres. The land within Katmai protects over 9,000 years of human history, where the remnants of cultural legacy are explored and told by resource professionals.
Things to do in Katmai National Park and Preserve
Visitors come to Katmai National Park and Preserve for a unique experience, unlike any other national park in the country. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy numerous outdoor adventures within this remote, vast landscape. Our National Park Visitors Guide has prepared a list of some popular activities to take part in.
Visitors and campers can join various ranger programs to learn more about the park’s history, ecosystems, and other interesting features within the area. There are different tours offered, like guided walks, campfire programs and live chats on bear cam, where rangers will share their historical knowledge with the participants. Some of the guided tours will take visitors through the Brooks River, Knife Creek, and along Katmai’s volcanic landscape.
Katmai is one of the best places to experience multiple brown bear sightings. Most people visit for that exact reason. There are around 2,000 brown bears inhabiting the park. In fact, it is estimated that more bears live on the Alaska Peninsula than people. Brown bear populations across the globe are decreasing, which makes Katmai the leading location for their preservation.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is the ideal spot for boaters looking to enjoy an isolated, remote experience with very little crowds. Many visitors choose to kayak or canoe around the Savonoski Loop. Other popular routes include Funnel Creek, Moraine Creek, and American Creek. Overall, there are hundreds of miles of rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds within the park, providing endless boating opportunities.
In addition to boating, many visitors will use the numerous waterways to fish. The Katmai region has a long history of sport fishing, with Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, rainbow trout, dolly varden, arctic char, lake trout, and arctic grayling all known as viable catches. There are quite a few fishing facilities specifically built to help tourists enjoy the various fishing opportunities.
Sport hunting and trapping is another popular activity within the preserve area of Katmai. It is not permitted within the park itself. Commonly hunted species include brown bear and moose. Hunting within the area requires extensive planning. You must apply for any required licenses and permits beforehand. Additionally, access to the designated locations typically require assistance from an air taxi service in King Salmon.
One of the best ways to take in the vast landscape and beauty of Katmai National Park and Preserve is from an aerial vantage point. Visitors can book a small airplane to experience the enormity of the park from above. The plane will fly over the many lakes, volcanoes, and miles of coastline. This experience will provide flight seers a more dramatic and all-encompassing view of the park and preserve.
Some visitors participate in float trips through the various lakes within Katmai. They typically take anywhere from 7 to 10 days to complete. The trip starts at Hammersly Lake and makes its way through various waterways. Higher water levels are typically met with a more challenging journey. Rafting tends to be a more difficult, technical activity. It’s best to come prepared and gain some experience ahead of time with an easier route.
Katmai is made up of mostly undeveloped terrain, with the expectation of under 6 miles of maintained trailheads. Though the designated paths are fun to stroll through, the backcountry areas are packed full of limitless adventure. Backcountry hikers need to carefully plan their trek and have significant hiking and camping experience. With the seeming endless acreage, it can be very easy to get lost. Always air on the side of caution if choosing to explore Katmai’s backcountry.
Wildlife Viewing Platforms
There are a total of three viewing platforms along the south side of the Brooks River – Falls Platform, Riffles Platform, and Lower River Platform. The Falls Platform is adjacent to Brook Falls and typically has a large line during peak season. The park limits it to 40 people at a time; once the platform has reached its maximum capacity, the rangers will compile a waiting list. Riffles Platform is 100 yards south of Brooks Falls and the Lower River Platform is at the start of the Brooks River.
Fire’s Cabin was built in the 20th century by non-native Alaskans. It is located in a remote location, off of Naknek Lake. The cabin is a prime example of the excellent craftsmanship and self-reliance of those who inhabited the area during that time. It is a significant landmark listed on the National Register of Historical Places and can be visited by travelers of the park.
When to go to Katmai National Park and Preserve
The park and preserve are open year-round. Camping within the park is only offered between June 1st through September 17th. As far as activities go, different seasons call for different things to do. Fall is great for fishing and hunting, while winters are the perfect time to experience flightseeing. Many visitors will enroll in a ranger program during the summer and spring is best for boating. That’s all to say, there is no right or wrong time to visit Katmai. It all depends on your interests and which activities you plan to take part in. The busiest, most-visited months are July and September when the bears come out to roam. They can be found at Brooks Camp, in the walking paths, along the river, and even on the beach. In July, most bears head to Brooks Falls to fish and during the month of September, they will make their way to the mouth of Brooks River. Keep in mind – in June and August there are hardly any bears to be seen.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Katmai National Park and Preserve
Here are the top ten essentials to bring on your visit to Katmai National Park and Preserve. As a uniquely remote location, it’s important to properly pack everything needed for a day visit or overnight stay. List of Parks outlines below items you should consider bringing to Katmai National Park.
The fishing opportunities within the park are endless. Anglers often encounter salmon, dolly varden, lake trout, and much more. Luckily, there are various fishing facilities near Brooks Camp and other areas. They provide visitors with the essentials in terms of fishing gear. Keep in mind, it’ll just be the basics. Pack anything extra you prefer to use.
Looking to hunt? Well, it’s a possibility in Katmai National Park and Preserve, but only if you obtain all the required licenses and permits. Hunters, ages 16 or older, must apply for an Alaska State hunting license through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. If you plan to hunt or trap on your visit, it’s important to apply for and ultimately bring all the required permits.
There are a ton of bears living in the park. Rangers, scientists, and visitors alike work to nurture the relationship between bears and people. Maintaining this balance can be difficult and there’s no guarantee how a bear will react when coming in contact with a human. It’s best to come prepared for any sort of situation. Read up on the park’s bear safety guidelines and bring some bear spray as an extra precaution.
Proper Boating Registration
All motorboats in Katmai National Park and Preserve must be registered in accordance with the state of Alaska. Additionally, all safety gear, i.e., a fire extinguisher, VHF radio beacon, navigation lights, etc., should be carried and used if necessary. Watercraft operating in the area should comply with all regulations set forth by both the United States Coast Guard and the state itself. All in all, remember to register the vessel and carry the documentation, as well as required safety equipment.
Personal Flotation Device
In addition to the required gear and equipment, all boaters are strongly advised to wear a personal flotation device when on board. Passengers under the age of 13 are required to wear one when on an open deck. It’s very important to pack or rent a PFD for every person on the boat. Waters within the park are very cold and the winds can pick up drastically at any moment. In the case of an accident, a personal flotation device can help significantly.
Katmai stands out among other national parks throughout the United States. Between the vast volcanic line-up, brown bear population, and uniquely autonomous ecosystems, you won’t want to miss a single thing. Binoculars are essential to taking in the visible details within the park. Though, it would be impossible to cover every square inch, the binoculars will give you a closer, more in-depth look for everything you are able to visit.
While the binoculars will give you a closer look, a camera will help to capture that photo-worthy moment, and trust us, there will be plenty of them. Many visitors will head to Brooks Camp, which is one of the more developed areas in the park. There are a few viewing platforms, with the opportunity to see bears and other sites. This is a great spot to pull out your camera and start snapping away.
As mentioned earlier, the temperatures can drop quickly. One second you could be heating up in the blazing sun, and the next you could be getting chilly with strong winds headed your way. Come prepared and bring high-quality, warm clothing to layer in case something like this happens. Bonus points if the clothes are waterproof as well.
Food and Water
Katmai National Park and Preserve is in an extremely remote location. There are no concession stands or other opportunities to buy food or water within the park. That makes it all the more important to bring enough for your stay. Pack a bag filled with food and water to help keep you nourished, hydrated, and energized for whatever you have planned in this magnificent park.
While there are restrooms available for use by Brooks Camp, you never know what you might find once in there. Come prepared with your own roll of toilet paper. Additionally, if you plan to venture outside of Brooks Camp, there will be no bathrooms around, making toilet paper all the more important in these situations especially. Whether staying for just a few hours or several days, toilet paper should be an essential packing item on your list.
Where to Stay in Katmai National Park and Preserve
There aren’t any recreational vehicle campgrounds or facilities within Katmai National Park and Preserve. Brooks Camp, on the shore of Naknek Lake, is the only camping area in the park. Although, it does not have any designated campsites; visitors can simply pitch a tent wherever there is enough space. The area can generally accommodate around 60 campers total. There are a few amenities at Brooks Camp, including cooking facilities, toilets, and fire rings. Visitors should plan to make a reservation before arrival.
Food Nearby Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve is in an extremely remote location. It is not connected to any major town or city, with the exclusion of King Salmon. A trip inside Katmai or any of the surrounding areas requires transportation by boat or plane. That’s all to say there aren’t many food and restaurant options near the park, with the exception of a few in King Salmon, Naknek, and Kodiak. Some good options in these areas include Eddie’s Fireplace Inn, D&D Restaurant, Kodiak Hana Restaurant, Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant, and Noodles in Kodiak. There are no places to eat within the park itself.
Airports Near Katmai National Park and Preserve
Unlike many other state and national parks, there is limited access into Katmai. Most people get there via air taxi flights out of Anchorage, Homer, Dillingham, King Salmon, Kodiak, and other nearby towns. There are also a few commercial flights into King Salmon from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Boats out of these Alaskan towns can also access areas like Brooks Camp and others from the Pacific Coast.