Only accessible by floatplane, Brooks Camp is ½ hour from King Salmon or 1.5 hours from Anchorage. Flights are also available from Homer and Kodiak.
Brooks Camp is the classic! A big, wet brown bear standing at the edge of a falls in a clear-water stream, mouth open, waiting for the salmon that’s mid-leap. The river is filled with salmon in July and September, when brown bears gather from as far as 50 miles for easy feasting. During peak season, you might see 20-25 bears from your viewing platform at Brooks Falls. And many of these are large, adult males! That’s a rarity, for most male brown bears steer clear of other bears. But plentiful food (sockeye and coho salmon) bring in the bruins. There are also younger bears, as well as females with cubs fishing downstream of the falls.
You’ll be greeted by National Park Service employees who will take you to the Visitor’s Center for a 20-minute orientation, and then you’re free to explore. There are three main bear viewing areas, the closest is ¼ mile from the Visitor’s Center. A trail and boardwalk follow the river to Brooks Falls, about one mile away. There are two platforms here. You can spend the day here, or several days. The park service runs a campground (60 people per night) and there is a lodge that hosts another 60. Campers can get hot meals at the lodge. The place is remote, but is also pretty highly trafficked, with 10,000 visitors per summer. If you want a more remote viewing experience, consider some other places in the park, listed separately.
June 15-July 20, Sept 2-30
Brooks Falls: Katmai National Park Bear Viewing Tours
Most visitors venturing into Katmai National Park for the day come for the bears! Brooks Falls is famous for the site of brown bears bulking up for winter by feeding on salmon trying to make their way upstream.
You can visit Katmai in a day from Anchorage, Homer, or King Salmon to see the bears. If you’re looking to stay longer, book into Brooks Lodge for a multi-day bear viewing experience. You can also opt for a lodge package that includes the Valley of 10,000 smokes.
Bear Viewing Tours
Seize a unique opportunity to witness Alaskan grizzly bears in their natural habitat, deep within the wilderness. Embark on an exhilarating airplane tour that traverses over majestic volcanoes and glaciers, guiding you to bear-viewing locations nestled along the coast or within the heart of Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, possibly near a creek or river. Accompanied by your knowledgeable pilot/guide, be prepared to cover several miles on foot as you venture into the Alaskan wilderness for an intimate encounter with these magnificent creatures. This small-group tour, limited to a maximum of six guests, ensures a personalized and immersive experience, allowing you to spend approximately three hours on the ground observing the bears. Revel in the breathtaking aerial journey over the striking landscapes of volcanoes and glaciers en route to the designated viewing site.
Alaska Bear Adventures Day Tours
Spend a day watching magnificent Alaska bears in their natural habitat, including a scenic flight from Homer.
Alaska Bear Adventures Day Tours
Season: May 15 – Sept 15 $685+ 3 hrs -11 hrs
Spend several hours or a full day watching bears in the wild on a quintessential Alaskan adventure with a family-run company. Start with a scenic flight out of Homer over Kachemak Bay and into Katmai or Lake Clark National Park. Once you land, your pilot/guide will take you to an optimal spot to watch and photograph these magnificent creatures in their natural environment, hunting, playing, and relaxing.
Alaska Ultimate Safaris Helicopter Bear Viewing
Pair a magnificent sighting with a gorgeous helicopter flightseeing ride and you’ll have an unforgettable experience
Alaska Ultimate Safaris Helicopter Bear Viewing
Season: June 1 – Sept 15 $1699 per person 4 – 8 hrs
For many Alaskan travelers, bears are the ultimate highlight. Pair a magnificent sighting with a gorgeous helicopter flightseeing ride and you’ll have an unforgettable experience. On this unique tour from Homer, you’ll take a helicopter ride out into one of Alaska’s gorgeous national parks to witness these spectacular creatures in the wild.
Smokey Bay Air
Season: Year Round $895 Bear Viewing, $585+ Flightseeing 45 min – 5 hrs
Watch bears digging for clams, wandering the sedge grass, or nursing their young – all in a short flight from Homer to Katmai or Lake Clark National Park. Smokey Bay’s bear tours last about five hours total — including flights and about three hours on the ground. On any given day there will always be a morning outing (leaving at 8 a.m. at the latest) and possibly one that leaves around 2 p.m.
Rust’s Bear Viewing
Season: May to Mid September $945+ 6 – 10 hrs
Take off by seaplane for an all-day bear-viewing expedition. Fly past glaciers and volcanoes to the brown-bear country of southwest Alaska. Your Seaplane Bear Safari will take you to Brooks River Falls in Katmai National Park, home of the world ’ s largest salmon run. You can also fly 70 miles southwest of Anchorage to Lake Clark Wilderness Preserve for amazing bear viewing and luxurious accommodations at the Redoubt Bay Lodge. Rust’s, which has . more
When most people envision Katmai, they think of bears. Katmai is one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world. About 2,200 brown bears are estimated to inhabit the park, and more bears than people are estimated to live on Alaska Peninsula.
As many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai provides some of the few remaining unaltered habitats for these amazing creatures. At Katmai, scientists are able to study bears in their natural habitat, visitors are able to enjoy unparalleled viewing opportunities, and the bears are able to continue their life cycle largely undisturbed.
Nurturing this relationship between people and bears is the key to Katmai’s success as a bear-viewing destination. Rangers, scientists, and the public work together to maintaining this fragile balance. It is important that all who visit Katmai respect bears and are armed with the knowledge to stay safe in bear country. The urge to take the perfect photograph or maintain the best fishing hole with your fly rod can be strong, but bears need space to sleep, eat, rest, travel, and play. By recognizing the needs of the bears and giving them space, each of us plays a role in keeping bears wild.
Where Can I See Bears?
A bear’s waking hours are often dominated by their search for food. Outside of their denning season, bears predictably congregate in food rich areas throughout Katmai. Some areas of Katmai National Park, like the food rich Pacific coast, support some of the highest densities of bears ever documented. Other areas of the park with little food, such as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, support only a few bears in any season.
If you know what foods bears prefer to eat and when that food is most abundant, accessible, and nutritious, then you will be able to find many areas in Katmai to observe these fascinating animals.
Bear Watching at Brooks Camp
At Brooks Camp, brown bears congregate to feed on sockeye salmon in the Brooks River. Four wildlife viewing platforms along the river offer safe and spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities while minimizing our potential impact on the bears. For more information about bear watching at Brooks Camp, see Katmai’s park guide, The Novarupta, or download the brochure, Bear Viewing at Brooks Camp .
Other Bear Watching Destinations in Katmai
There are many, many backcountry locations that offer bear watching opportunities in season. In fact, the Pacific Coast of the park harbors some of the highest densities of bears anywhere on the planet. However, thick vegetation and rugged terrain can make seeing those bears difficult.
For many people the most rewarding backcountry bear watching locations are where bears feed on sedges, clams, and salmon. In spring and early summer, bears migrate to open meadows to feed on sedges and dig for clams on the nearby mudflats. Later in the summer and fall, bears are more easily and consistently seen along salmon streams.
The table provided below shows the best typical times for bear viewing at a few specific and popular areas in Katmai National Park and Preserve. For guides and/or transportation to bear viewing areas, see the list of commercial operators authorized to provide bear viewing trips in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Watch the Bears of Brooks Camp Online!
Don’t miss a moment of the action on the Brooks River. Now you can follow the lives of the brown bears of Brooks River anywhere with an internet connection. Katmai National Park and explore.org have partnered to bring the bears to you. Watch the bears live!
Katmai National Park & Preserve
You know that classic photo of a shaggy, wet bruin bear, standing astride a waterfall fishing for salmon? That was probably taken here in Katmai, at Brooks River Falls.
Located in the vast, remote southwest corner of Alaska, Katmai National Park is home to North America’s largest protected population of brown bears and one of the best bear viewing spots in the state, Brooks River Falls.
How many bears can you see here? Up to 50 bears can be spotted at the falls and alongside the river during peak salmon runs, and the Park Service estimates between 80 to 100 brown bears gather in the square mile centered on the river!
Brooks Falls: Where the Bears Are
Brooks River Falls is near Brooks Camp, centered on a private lodge within the park. There are trails to the river and the falls, with two viewing platforms on the falls and one closer to the lodge near a shallow stretch of river.
All visitors must watch a Park Service video on bear safety before exploring the area. After that, you’re on your own, unless your pilot doubles as a guide. Be forewarned, this place draws a crowd—from 75 to 200 visitors a day during the peak season. But you’re guaranteed to see bears, and they’re accustomed to humans, so they still go about their business of feeding, sleeping, playing and resting…and you get to watch it all.
Of course, there are the bears, and the day trips with bear-viewing tour companies. But here are the other great attractions here:
Photo by Scott Moran
Fishing: Visit in early June or August to enjoy serene fishing experiences, as salmon runs don’t occur during these months, reducing the likelihood of encountering bears. The Brooks River, renowned as one of the world’s premier rainbow trout streams, offers excellent fishing throughout the summer. Whether you’re an independent angler or prefer guided sessions, the river and surrounding areas are abundant with arctic char, grayling, and lake trout. For a more immersive experience, consider staying at an intimate lodge for a week. This option provides a unique opportunity to explore the best fishing spots in the area at your own pace, without the need for daily transportation services to various remote lakes and rivers.
Volcanoes: A short bus ride from Brooks Camp will bring you to “The Valley of 10,000 Smokes.” Home to Novarupta, this valley was decimated 100 years ago when an unknown crack in the earth released the 20th century’s largest volcanic eruption. Ash covered a vast region, ranging from several inches to many feet. The valley is named for the vents of steam that blew up through the thick ash layer. These fumeroles lasted for decades, but very few are left today. You’ll find a landscape covered in ash and completely changed by the eruption.
Katmai Bear Viewing – the Ultimate Alaska Experience
Want to go bear viewing in Alaska and see the bears fish salmon in the wild? Then read on to find out the ins and outs of Katmai bear viewing. Katmai National Park is located in the remote corner of Southwest Alaska, approximately 1.5 hours via plane from Homer. It is home to the largest protected population of brown bears in North America and is the best place to go bear-watching in Alaska and possibly the world.
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Katmai Bear Viewing Tour
In planning our trip to Katmai, we found the best way to access Katmai is via plane from Homer given it is too far for a day trip from Anchorage. After reading many reviews and speaking with the owner, I made our reservations to go bear watching at Katmai through Steller Air Service in Homer.
Andrei was very helpful and made the reservation process very easy. We opted for the 8 am flight to Katmai as it was July 4 th and were returning to Homer for their annual July 4 th parade in the evening. The downside to going early is the crowds. In speaking with Andrei after the trip, he wished we had gone on the 3 pm tour but since we were in the parade, 8 am was our best option.
Katmai National Park. Image – Unsplash
We ordered lunches from Sourdough Express for the flight back. Kevin was kind enough to deliver our lunches since we were without a car in Homer.
Best time to visit Katmai National Park
The best part of Katmai bear viewing is watching the bears fish for salmon. If you want to see this special event, the best time to visit Katmai National Park is between the end of June and July. We were there over July 4 th and the salmon would be jumping!
Flying to Katmai National Park
The flight to Katmai was about 90 minutes from lift-off to touch down. This was my first time flying in a seaplane and the take-off was different and exhilarating – bumpier than I had imagined! We had a packed plane as there were 5 of us plus the pilot – be prepared for tight quarters and may not be for those with a fear of heights or a touch of claustrophobia.
Andrei was a great pilot and tour guide for the flight to Katmai. We saw mountains, glaciers and many other sights along the way. Seeing Alaska from the air offered a different perspective and should be on anyone’s bucket list for a trip to Alaska.
After being in the air for about 90 minutes, it was time to land at Katmai National Park. We could see the seaplanes lined up along the coast with visitors who had beaten us there.
Andrei deplaned first and just as the first person in our group stepped out of the plane, he stopped us. Bear on the beach! “Are you kidding me?” We just landed and already our first bear spotting. I thought it would be fun to count the number of bears we saw but I would soon realize it was quite impossible to track them throughout our visit.
Our first bear finally made his way down the beach and after deplaning, our first stop would be the National Park Visitor Center for bear etiquette training which is required for all visitors.
Katmai bear viewing etiquette training
The Visitor Center is a short walk from the beach. Upon your arrival to Katmai, you stop at the Visitor Center for the Ranger-led bear etiquette video and talk. You learn how to act if you approach a brown bear on the trail among other things. While it is quite hard to behave the required way, it is imperative you follow their instructions as you will likely encounter a bear on the trail at some point during your visit.
Sign at the visitor center
The Visitor Center area also includes a building where you can lock away any food or flavored drinks as you are not allowed to have any on the trail with you. There is also an enclosed area outside the Visitor Center where you can have food or drink if you need a break during your visit.
As we started walking through the park, we were a little anxious about encountering a bear. When we flew into the park, we thought we saw a couple of bears on the beach. As we crossed the bridge, we realised this beach was just on the other side. (BTW, you aren’t allowed to stop on the bridge and the Rangers will yell at you if you make this mistake as we saw them yell at some visitors after we crossed).
We headed for the beach and there were two bears down the beach a little way. Too far for them to really see us, but as we were instructed we slowly backed away and continued our way toward Brooks Falls.
Bear fishing at Brooks falls
As we worked our way away from the beach, we started down the main trail to Brooks Falls. What do we see but another bear walking directly toward us! Since he/she was still a little further from us, we were able to walk slowly toward the gated area of the Lower River Platform.
We waited near the gate as the brown bear walked right by us headed toward the beach area we just left. All our instincts told us to turn around and run away. It was very difficult going against those instincts and following the exact instructions of the Rangers.
After the bear passed us, we continued our way to Brooks Falls. We heard there could be a wait for the platform, so making it there as quickly as possible was our goal.
We made the right turn to make the final walk to Brooks Falls and there was the biggest brown bear I’ve ever seen in the wild, in pictures or on TV. He walked slowly across the path about 30 yards ahead of us. We stopped in our tracks and waited for him to make his way through the forest.
Bear on the trail
Finally arriving at Brooks Falls, you place your name on the waitlist. It was approximately a 45-minute wait before we could enter the Brooks Falls platform area. The maximum number of people allowed on the platform at any given time is 40, so if you visit during the salmon run, you will most likely have to wait for your turn. Again, taking the 3 pm flight out could be an option to avoiding some of the crowds.
While you wait, you can watch the falls about 100 yards downstream at the Riffles Platform. We watched from this location and felt it was a great view. We saw the giant bear from the trail and soon started calling him the King of the river. It appeared he fished where he wanted, and all the other bears moved away from him.
I was just amazed at the number of bears in the river fishing for salmon. I have lost count on the number of bears as we spent time at Riffles Platform! We even saw several bald eagles flying around and hanging out in the trees.
Salmon fishing at Brooks Falls
Our buzzer finally goes off and it is our turn to go bear watching on Brooks Falls Platform. We enter the platform and become mesmerized by the bears in the falls, waiting on the perfect salmon jump. The good thing about limiting the number of people on the platform is that it is easy to see the bears– even for short people like myself.
I’m also amazed at the number of salmons jumping. You can see them jumping to get past the falls!
Bear catching salmon at Brooks Falls. Image – Pixabay
The bears wait in the falls, watching the salmon jump in front of their eyes. You can see them watch, and watch, and then grab the one they know they can catch. They hold it in their mouth as they make their way over to a good eating spot. I was surprised to learn they do not eat the entire fish. They eat the main meat and leave everything else for the birds. The birds anxiously await the leftovers!
Bears fishing at Brooks Falls
Big ones, little ones and in-between are all great fishers. They spread out in the falls to not intrude on each other’s fishing areas. We didn’t see any wrestling or fights; all the bears were pleasant to each other as there was plenty of fish for all of them.
There is a National Park Ranger on the platform available for any questions. He also keeps track of how long people have been out there and will call you to leave if you overstay your time. Each person is allowed one hour on the Falls Platform.