Katmai National Park is the 4th largest park in the US, and it's known for its incredible brown bear viewing at Brooks Falls. Each summer these bears come here to fish for salmon at the falls. They have different several different methods to catching these fish and it is absolutely fascinating to watch these large animals so close and in the wild! Brooks Camp is located 1.4 miles from Brooks Falls and has lots to offer for the visitors who are able to make the trip. Bears can be seen not only at the falls but all around the camp. We saw bears at the beach, around the lodge, and on the trail to the falls. Below, we share all the answers on how to visit, when to visit, how to plan and more!
How can I get to Brooks Camp?
There are a couple different options but most important to note…you cannot drive to Katmai. The only way to access this park is by float plane or water taxi.
Option 1: Fly from Anchorage to King Salmon on a commercial flight on Alaska Airlines or Ravn Air. Once you arrive to King Salmon you have the option to either water taxi or take a float plane to Brooks Camp.
Option 2: Fly directly from Anchorage or Homer to Brooks Camp on a float plane. These are typically day trips and there are 35+ service provider options according to the NPS website.
Option 3: (what we did) Charter a float plane directly from Homer to Brooks Camp that allows you to be dropped off & picked up when you prefer! We utilized Steller Air and they were amazing. When we were dropped off, our pilot, Andrei even walked bear-foot (pun intended) to show us around the camp.
Should I day trip or stay overnight?
This is completely up to you, but we definitely think it’s worth it to stay a night or two. We stayed two nights and had plenty to do to fill our time when we were there. PLUS, while we were at Brooks Camp we found the best bear viewing time to be between around 6pm-8pm.
Not only because it was less crowded (since all the day trippers are gone already) but also because there were the most bears at this time!
What are the best months or season to visit Brooks Camp?
The NPS stations the visitor center, ranger station & campground at Brooks camp from June 1st to September 17th but the park is open year-round.
The bears are supposed to be at their “peak” in July & September…but the last couple seasons have been staying later in August too due to late salmon runs. We visited in August of 2021 and still have lots of bear activity! Also remember, September's weather in Alaska is a little more unpredictable, so July tends to be the busiest month. This usually guarantees lots of bears to view and temperate weather!
What options are available for accommodations at Brooks Camp?
1. Brooks Camp Campground
(this is where we stayed)
The maximum capacity for this campground is 60 people (30 in 2021 for COVID). Reservations can be made on www.recreation.gov. The reservations open on January 5th @ 8am AKST and can fill up quick, esp. in July, so book early if you plan on going then!
The campground is $12 per person, per night but if you have an America the Beautiful Interagency Access or Senior Pass you get 50% off!
Although you are tent camping, this campground feels like glamping! There are separate food and gear caches available, 3 picnic shelters with fire rings, 2 pit toilets, potable water & dishwashing sink, and its enclosed in a bear resistant (not proof) electric fence. Plus if you forgot to pack anything (like I forgot my rain jacket) there is a trading post available nearby!
2. Brooks Lodge
There is a lodge available that offers full dining/beverage service as well as heated cabins. The cost for the cabin is $850/night with a 4 person max.
This does not include the buffet meals they offer three times a day. In 2021, breakfast was $17, lunch $24 & dinner $40. There is also a bar & indoor fire pit to gather round in the lodge. Board games are available to play and it's a nice little gathering area to enjoy.
There is also a trading post (as mentioned above) in the lodge area that has snacks, gear, fuel, and more available for purchase (and at a fairly reasonable price too!).
Pro tip: You can still eat and/or enjoy beverages around the fire at Brooks Lodge even if you aren’t staying there! We didn't eat, but the food did look delicious. However, we did enjoy some provisions around the fire each night. A beer on tap while tent camping?! Sign. US. UP!
To book accommodations at the lodge visit www.katmailand.com !
3. In the Backcountry
You are allowed to camp for free and without permit anywhere outside the Brooks Camp developed area (BCDA)! The BCDA is anything within 1.5 miles of Brooks Falls.
This is an options for those wanting to visit but the campground is already fully booked and the lodge is too spendy. This is obviously at your risk and bear safety measures should be taken into account. Bear resistant canisters are required for food storage and are available for free at the visitor center in Brooks Camp.
We were going to choose this option, but were lucky to find availability at the campground!
How far in advance should I plan?
We personally only planned about 48 hours before we left, and were lucky to find not only direct chartered flights but also availability at the campground. I would recommend planning in January (esp for the campground) if at all possible, especially if planning to visit in July.
Any hikes or other things to do while I’m at Brooks Camp?
Yes! There are a couple short hikes from Brooks Camp.
Dumpling Mountain: This trail leads you 1.5 miles up to the overlook which gives you a wonderful view of Naknek Lake, Brooks Lake & The Brooks River. You can even see the bears at Brooks Falls here.
Brooks Lake: A short walk from the Brooks Falls junction leads you to the other end of Brooks River- Brooks Lake. It's cool to see the salmon up here, because you know these are the ones who made it!
Also, a day trip to Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is available. This requires a 23 mile bus ride (or hike I guess!) and you will be able to explore around Novarupta, the volcano that erupted on June 6, 1912. This is the site of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century!
Finally you can also, fly fish and/or kayak/canoe in the area! There was tons of fly fishers around the camp to watch and we were amazed at how brave they were fishing the same river that the bears were fishing in.
Okay, what’s a trip like this cost?
This largely depends on your means of transportation and how long you plan on staying, however, we feel so lucky to have paired up with another couple to help cut the costs for our overnight trip. Below is pricing for the various transport options.
Option 1: Flights from Anchorage to King Salmon range from $445-$660/per person round trip. Once your in King Salmon you have the following options - A water taxi (through Katmai Water Taxi) is $275 per person round trip and takes about 45 min each way. A float plane ride (through Katmai Air) costs $290 per person round trip. For $15 the choice seems obvious to us, but if float/small planes aren't your thing then the water taxi might appeal to you!
Option 2: Day trip float plane rides from Anchorage & Homer directly to Brooks camp are on average around $950/per person round trip. We found several companies that offer this (Katmai Air & Fly Katmai from Anchorage and Alaska Bear Viewing & Scenic Bear Viewing from Homer are a couple options) but we definitely recommend shopping around to find the best deal! Use this link to see all 35+ air taxi service providers approved by the NPS.
Option 3: Chartering a plane from Homer to Brooks Camp can range greatly in price. We were lucky to have another couple ready to jump on this opportunity to help us cover the costs of this. We utilized Steller Air and it was $2800 total round trip. This was the least expensive charter price we could find, and because we split this between 4 people it was only $700 per person. When you compare this to the day trips or non direct options, we actually saved by chartering and it was far less complicated!
Anyway I can I see these bears without visiting Katmai?
Actually, YES! You can watch the Brooks Falls cams LIVE at explore.org. They have several cameras and this was actually how we gauged if it was still worth visiting for our “off month” of August. Click the link below to go watch the bears live right now!