top of page
Search
  • khdeutmeyer

The Hungry Brown Bears of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park

Our summer, 2023 trip to Alaska was a return to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park after 16 years. I have been wanting to get back to Brooks Falls shortly after we visited the first time but the opportunity had not presented itself until this year. Our focus was to spend a couple of days viewing the bears rather than a one day fly in trip from Anchorage. We did the one day trip previously and loved it but it was not long enough at the falls. Much of the day is taken up flying to and from Anchorage. While the flight is amazing and gorgeous, it is very dependent on weather. Many times the day trips are delayed until fog or rain clears.


Brown Bears fishing at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Brooks Falls is a waterfall within Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The falls are on Brooks River and are famous for watching sockeye salmon leap over the six foot falls to get to the Brooks Lake spawning grounds. The brown bears are on a mission to fatten up before their winter hibernation. The best time to view bears at Brooks Falls is July and early August and then again in September when the sockeye salmon are running. Brooks Falls has a webcam to monitor the bear and salmon activity. https://explore.org/livecams/brown-bears/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls


Brooks Falls is the ultimate brown bear viewing experience! There were up to 12 bears at one time either on the falls or down below the falls waiting to catch a salmon. I found myself not knowing where to look first to watch the bears catch and eat their fish. If you love to bear watch, this is the place to go!"

We began our trip flying into Anchorage. We flew from Anchorage to King Salmon, which is the main transportation hub for Katmai National Park and Brooks Falls. You can only get to Katmai by flying from Anchorage or Homer and by taking a day trip from one of those cities or by staying in King Salmon as a home base and taking a ferry boat or short flight daily to Brooks Falls. Another option is to stay at Brooks Camp either in their cabins or tent camping at their campsites. To stay at Brooks Camp in the cabins, you need to participate in their random lottery drawing. The lottery applications are taken December 1st of each year on their website for the following year. December 1, 2024, they will be taking lottery applications for the summer of 2025. https://katmailand.com/brooks-lodge-lottery/

Unfortunately, I didn't get selected in the random lottery for summery 2023, so we elected to fly to King Salmon and stay there for three nights and spent two full days at Brooks Falls.

Brown Bear on the beach at Naknek Lake that leads to the trail head for Brooks Falls.

King Salmon is a small town of 310 people located south of Anchorage and is the gateway to travel back and forth to Brooks Falls if you are not lucky enough to win a cabin in the lottery or reserve a camp site. There are limited places to stay in King Salmon, two restaurants, and is served by one commercial airline, Alaska Air. Round trip flights average $400 per person from Anchorage. We stayed at Sockeye Cabins in King Salmon. They were very clean and comfortable cabins next to the main restaurant in town. It is also walkable from the airport to the cabins or they will pick you up if you call when you arrive or want a ride to catch your flight out. We were very happy with our accommodations and the communication with their staff. We made our reservations in January for our stay in July. You need to reserve well in advance.


To get from King Salmon to Brooks Falls we took Katmai Air, https://katmaiair.com/bear-viewing/ the first day and the second day we took the Katmai Water Taxi https://katmaiwatertaxi.com/. Katmai Air is about $100 more per person but we had read the water taxi cancels if the weather is foggy and windy. You have to be sure to purchase trip insurance to cover the costs of the water taxi and flight just in case they cancel. In our case, we had wonderful weather. No matter how you travel to Brooks Falls, either on a day trip from Anchorage or Homer or staying on site at the Brooks Lodge cabins, or staying in King Salmon, it is pricey. But if you love wildlife and nature, it is worth the trip. We were fortunate we had clear skies, no rain, and no problems getting to Brooks Falls and back to King Salmon on either day.

The float plane that flew us from King Salmon to Brooks Falls.

Once you arrive at the beach, you are escorted to the ranger station for "bear training". You are in bear territory. This is their domain so the rangers provide instructions on how to walk the trails to get to the falls and what to do if you come across a bear or bears. It is about a mile walk each way from the ranger station to the falls and viewing platforms. We encountered a bear or bears both days on the trails to the falls. The bears are not interested in people but they do not move out of the way. You must move out of their way and talk loudly as they pass by. These are large brown bears and very intimidating up close. We carried bear spray in our back pack and had it ready on our walks to the falls. They do not allow food or drink in your backpack except plain water. There is a dry storage location by the ranger station where you can leave food for a picnic lunch near the ranger station. The picnic area is surrounded by an electric fence. Bears will walk through the ranger station area, cabin and bathroom locations and the camp ground. It is important you are always alert and prepared. We packed our lunch both days but on our second day ate dinner at the Brooks Lodge. It was delicious. I highly recommend if you are staying later in the day past supper time and want a warm meal.


The bears at the falls are amazing to watch. There are two viewing platforms. The upper platform is limited to 40 people and has a waiting list. The lower viewing platform has

Lower platform view at Brooks Falls

wonderful views too and is not limited to the number of people. You can wait there until you get called for the upper platform. You can stay on the upper platform for 30 minutes. Once your time is up, your name is called and you return to the lower platform. You can sign up again immediately for the upper platform again. We noticed the busy times on the upper platform is between 11:00 and 3:00 when the day trippers fly in from Anchorage or Homer for the day. In our case, the first day we were there by 9:00 so had two hours before it got busy and didn't leave until 5:30 so had another 90 minutes of time on the upper platform without many people. The second day was similar. We didn't arrive until noon and stayed until 8:00 p.m. We had plenty of time after 3:00 to stay on the upper platform as long as we liked.


The bears will walk the paths around the viewing platforms so you will see bears coming from the wooded areas to the falls under and around the platforms. There are times you are not sure where to look with the number of bears at the falls or around the platforms. The bears with small cubs tend to stay nearer the platforms to fish. We saw many cubs when at the lower platform. Photos below are from the two viewing platforms at Brooks Falls. Scroll through using the arrow.


Another great place to watch the bears and not have to walk the path to the falls, is on the bridge as you leave Brooks Camp. The bears are below you under the bridge or on the grassy areas resting or eating salmon.

It is a very cool experience. Some of the bears "snorkel" to catch their fish. They put their head and face in only and walk or swim while looking to catch the salmon. Once they catch one, many times they will eat the fish right in front of you and you can hear them eating. We had a lot of fun hanging out on the bridge in the later afternoons. You will also see people fishing for salmon near the bridge and they many times the bear get way to close for comfort.


Pictured below: The bridge area of Katmai National Park that leads to the trail to Brooks Falls.


One important point to mention, there are limited commercial flights in and out of King Salmon. The main airline is Alaska Air. Ravn Air at one time flew roundtrip from Anchorage to King Salmon. We purchased tickets on Ravn Air. They discontinued service for July 1st and didn't notify us. We were left scrambling. Especially since we had connecting flights in Anchorage. We were fortunate to get on Aleutian Airways, a new airline flying roundtrip to King Salmon from Anchorage. Alaska Air was completely booked and were not an option. Flights are sporadic so we would had to stay 3 more nights. Our hotel was booked so we are not sure where we would have stayed. I recommend only using Alaska Air for roundtrip tickets to King Salmon.


There are several videos from Brooks falls posted on the video tab of this site.


TIPS TO TRAVEL ECONOMICALLY AND GET THE MOST FOR YOUR TIME AND MONEY


I also get asked many times, "How do you travel so often and keep it affordable?" A few tips are below:

  • For me, planning and researching is part of the excitement of the trip! Visioning is so much fun!!!

  • I plan all of my own trips and research, research, research on the internet. I utilize TripAdvisor, Frommer's, and blogs from other travelers to find the information I need for my trip. I do ALOT of reading and researching. It takes patience to plan a good affordable trip!

  • I have a budget in mind for each trip and challenge myself to stay in the budget. Depending on the location, I typically start planning and booking hotels, cars, etc., approximately 9 months out. Hotel prices usually get more expensive the closer to the trip unless you are willing to do a last minute internet deal. Car rental and airline prices also go up the closer it is to your trip. Occasionally you can get a last minute deal but something else may be more expensive and you are really not saving. I like to plan!

  • For hotels, I use Booking.com, or Priceline.com. I look for hotels with good reviews, pay when you stay, and free cancellation in advance.

  • We have done all-inclusive in a couple of tropical locations years and years ago but found that we do not eat and drink enough to make it worth the extra expense. We like to go off site from the hotel and experience the local cuisine and traditions. We have not done all-inclusive in the last 15 years. However, all-inclusive is wonderful if you want to stay at the resort for all meals, not rent a car, and have the hotel shuttle you to your destinations. That has worked for us in Jamaica and it was very relaxing! But I would not drive in Jamaica so all-inclusive was the smartest option! If you enjoy all-inclusive, the earlier you book the trip the lower the price. Unless you are game and are not a planner, and are willing to travel where the last minute deal is advertised. Then you could get a great all-inclusive deal!

  • If we are flying, I use the Skyscanner app to check airfare prices and I try not to buy until about 60 to 75 days out. There are times where I will by earlier if the price is super reasonable. I usually do not book on Skyscanner. It will tell me the site that is the most affordable to purchase the tickets and if it is a more well known trust site, I go directly to the site to purchase the tickets. Many times Skyscanner will take you right to the airline website. Skyscanner will search all airlines and will sort by price, times, shortest trip, etc.

  • Have a credit card that gives you miles or hotel points. We will use points for many of our trips. We are American Advantage members and have an Advantage credit card. We try to fly American as often as we can to earn points and then use those points for future airline tickets. Our credit card is tied to our Advantage numbers and awards points as well.

  • We drive if the location is in the United States and we can drive and sightsee along the way. If we need to rent a car, we reserve online using Booking.com, Orbitz.com, or Priceline.com. They are usually the most reasonable. I watch for specials and never book a luxury vehicle! We also have a credit card with a low limit that we use for vehicle rentals that provides insurance as a credit card benefit. We always decline the insurance when we are in the United States. If we are traveling out of the United States, we check with the credit card if the insurance is valid internationally. We have found it is valid in Europe, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, but in other locations, we are forced to purchase the liability insurance from the rental car company.

  • While there are free maps online for most destinations, I always go onto Amazon and buy a map of my destination, especially if it is international. I do not buy maps for tropical Caribbean islands. I just get one when we arrive. But for countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, England, Canada, Germany, France, etc., I always purchase a good map. As you do you research, you can use the map to highlight the places you want to visit and the sites you want to see. I have it as a reference later for putting my memories and photos into a photobook!




20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page