Guest writer, Jonathan Black, describes his visit to Katmai National Park and Preserve in 2022.
The famous brown bears of Katmai National Park & Preserve gave us a warm welcome before we could even set foot on land. Three bears roamed the shores of Katmai as our seaplane descended into the park, blocking our path to deboard.
Our group of seven all stretched our necks to see the animals slowly mosey about the shore. It was an important reminder. We were merely guests in the untouched wilderness. Here’s how The Lodge at 58 North helped us enjoy it.
Day 1: The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
We left the roaring falls of Katmai behind shortly after we arrived. Our destination was the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The area is home to one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions, which lasted from June 6 to June 9, 1912. The event caused steam to blast from the Earth’s surface, giving the region its current name.
The Lodge at 58 North booked us a bus tour of the valley through the National Parks Service. The tour begins at Brooks Camp, the main hub when you visit Katmai. A park ranger joined to add historical and ecological information about the park and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. A grizzly guide with decades of knowledge about Katmai drove the bus and told plenty of hilarious stories.
On the 23-mile drive to the valley, we stopped at two viewpoints overlooking lush meadows and misty mountains. Slowly, spruce trees gave way until we reached the barren valley. There, you’ll find an incredible vista filled with thin canyons, small patches of green and rugged terrain.
We had a few hours to spend in the valley and were lucky enough to join a ranger for a three-mile hike to Ukak Falls. She shared dozens of stories about her camping excursions in Katmai while we hiked through pink bushes of fireweed. We also admired the fast-flowing waterfalls and lounged on a beach in front of a towering wall of volcanic ash.
Once the hike was over, we took a few more photos at the visitor center and returned to Brooks Camp for our flight back to King Salmon.
Day 2: Bear Viewing
I felt like Laura Dern seeing dinosaurs for the first time in “Jurassic Park.” My jaw dropped as I stood on the viewing platform overlooking ten bears fishing for salmon in Brooks Falls. But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly.
Our second day started with another seaplane ride—organized by The Lodge at 58 North—to Brooks Camp. Once there, we participated in mandatory bear school. A quick course in which a ranger instructs guests how to share space with the many brown bears at the park.
I’d like to say I calmly walked the half mile to Brooks Falls after bear school, but it was more of a forceful powerwalk. I was determined to see the bears. (At this point, we had seen plenty of bears around Katmai, but there was some extra excitement about seeing the animals at the iconic waterfall.)
I spent most of my time at the closer of the two platforms at the Brooks Falls overlook. We saw a mother teaching adolescent bears how to catch salmon flying up the river and two bears on their hind legs pawing at one another. And we saw the 2022 winner of Fat Bear Week, an annual competition in which people vote for their favorite large bear.
Brooks Falls is a tremendous place where you can spend hours watching the bears, but it’s not the only spot near Brooks Camp to see the animals.
At the North and South Platforms, which are closer to Brooks Camp, my group saw endless rows of salmon resting in the water. There were a few bears snacking on them. This is a quiet area of Katmai. With no rushing water nearby, we could hear the bears rip the skin off the salmons and crunch down on their pink flesh.
After about five hours at Brooks Camp, including a delicious buffet lunch at the mess hall, we boarded our last seaplane of the weekend to King Salmon. It was cocktail hour at The Lodge at 58 North! For a luxury lodge experience and world class guided fishing when you visit Katmai, be sure to check their current openings.