Brooks Falls – Katmai National Park and Preserve 1995
In 1995, I had the great fortune to visit the world-famous Brooks Falls to watch and photograph dozens of brown bears feeding on salmon as they fatten themselves up for winter hibernation. Access to the falls is very limited, and the only way here is to fly in on a floatplane or take a charter boat from the nearby village of King Salmon.
As luck would have it, the Air Force band I was in was performing at the nearby King Salmon Air Base for troop morale on Friday and Saturday nights. Since there are only 1 or 2 flights per week there, we had 2 days off to do what we wanted. The MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) office at King Salmon had a charter boat that went to the falls every day – leaving early morning and returning late afternoon. Cost was only about $20. Compared to others who literally spent thousands of dollars to get there, it was a bargain!
There are very strict rules regarding interaction with the bears. First and foremost, feeding the bears or bringing any kind of food past the dock area is forbidden. They do not want the bears to relate humans with food. There are clearly marked paths, and bears have the right of way. You must go directly to the elevated viewing platform which has a gate and protective fence around it. Bear attacks here are very rare.
These 2 fish were lucky enough to be just out of reach.
I had a wonderful time both days watching the bears in their natural habitat, at a distance that allowed them to carry on without human interference. The National Park Service has very strict rules to ensure the safety of the bears and humans.
If you are interested in visiting Brooks Falls, good luck. There is now an annual lottery for lodging and only those who are selected can go. No “drop ins.” If you do get a winning ticket for lodging, you must first fly to Anchorage, then fly to the village of King Salmon (about 300 miles each way) on a regional airline and then take a charter boat or floatplane the last 30-40 miles to the park. Plan on spending $1,000 from Anchorage round-trip and $250/night for lodging.
If you are lucky enough to go, take a 1-day tour (bus ride) out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The eruption of nearby Mt. Novarupta in 1912 was the largest volcanic eruption in the entire 20th century – over 30 times the power of the Mount St Helens eruption in 1980. It was so named because when it was first visited 4 years later, there were still thousands of steaming fumaroles in the barren valley.