Katmai National Park was the last stop on our 2021 Alaskan summer adventure, and an adventure it was. To get to Katmai, we had to first make our way to King Salmon, Alaska. King Salmon is an eclectic place. The “town” consists of a few places for lodging, a restaurant/bar/coffee shop/gas station combo, a bank, and the airport. The town might not look like much, but it is known to be a gold mine for fly fishing.
After finding our way to the motel through a windstorm and zero cell service for directions, we decided to eat dinner at the local pub, the Sockeye Saloon. We dined with every dad, brother, son, uncle, and grandpa combination you could think of- all there on the ultimate guys’ fishing trip. We had a brief moment of panic because we heard all the trips had been cancelled to the park today due to the heavy winds. With only one park day allotted for Katmai, if it were to be cancelled, we would have to reschedule for another year.
Thankfully, the next day our only mishap was being scheduled on a slightly different time for the water taxi, but only by a few hours, so we were still able to spend the majority of the day at the park. The ferry ride across the lake was easy peasy compared to our boat ride in Kenai Fjords 😉.
The first stop at Katmai National Park is Bear School. Bear school is required for entry into the park, and upon “graduation” you are given a pin, which must be visible to the park rangers throughout your visit. During bear school, you go over rules and guidelines of what to do when you come in contact with a bear, because the likelihood of that happening is very high. Unlike most other bears in the wild, the bears at Katmai are very habituated to humans, usually they don’t even realize or care you’re there. The general rule of thumb was, you should never be doing anything that changes a bear’s behavior. Then other obvious rules, like don’t have any food or drink, or anything scented on your person, only eat in designated areas, store food appropriately, etc.
We quickly found out the salmon had not started running yet, so unfortunately the bear activity was pretty minimal. There had not been any bears spotted at the famous Brooks Falls yet this season, which is the iconic fishing spot for grizzlies in Katmai. We were trying to keep a positive attitude, and hoping to at least see one “good” bear—just one really solid bear experience, and we said we would be happy.
There are many viewing platforms throughout the park that are secure, but to get to the falls, its an actual hike through the woods, where you often encounter bears. We tagged along with another group, but no bear encounters were had on the trail, or again at the falls. We decided to back to the river area where a viewing platform was, and many people were fly fishing. All of a sudden, some commotion started happening and we ran towards the viewing platform. While on the platform, we got to have the BEST bear experience, where we saw what was thought to be a 3 year old bear trying to catch a beaver. He was the cutest bear, and he ended up coming right in front of us!! It was an amazing and surreal experience that tattooed smiles on our faces. After a while, that we headed towards the picnic area to eat lunch. While we were eating lunch, TWO more bears ran by, chasing each other right in front of the fenced off picnic area- yet again, not caring that we were around, or even noticing.
After lunch and another thrilling event, we decided to go park it by the river, where we had seen our other bear. While on bear watch, we chatted with people a variety of people—some were on return trips, while others visiting for their first time like us. We were yet again blessed with another bear– and this was a BIG one, our grand finale bear! I actually didn’t even bother taking pictures of this big guy, I just wanted to soak in the moment and be fully present- not miss a thing!
The rest of our day went by quickly, and before we knew it, we were boarding the water taxi back to King Salmon. Our final day was quite the travel day as we made our way safely back to Utah, reminiscing on the best Alaskan adventure trip– already dreaming about next year.
Pop Quiz: what is the difference between brown bears & grizzlies??
It is often a matter of where the bear lives, what they eat, & what the locals prefer to call them. Generally speaking, “brown bears” live near the coast and supplement their diet with lots of fish and other protein-rich foods. Coastal brown bears can weigh over 1,000 lbs and stand nine feet tall on their hind legs! They are the largest omnivorous land mammals in the world. “Grizzlies” are brown bears that live at least 100 miles inland, and their diet consists of more non-meat foods such as berries, roots, and grasses.