Grizzly Viewing in Katmai National Park

Gorp.com

While wild bear sightings are becoming increasingly uncommon in the Lower 48 thanks to the ever-encroaching boundaries of civilization, in the mist-enshrouded landscapes of Alaska, the giant creatures have no reason to develop a fear of humans—there simply aren't too many humans around.
The 4.2 million-acre Katmai National Park represents one of the last true wildernesses in the United States, and one of the most popular gathering places of the Alaskan brown (or grizzly) bear. Approximately 2,000 bears call Katmai home, drawing as many as 14,000 wildlife enthusiasts each summer. Most visitors head to Brooks Lodge, an old fishing house-turned-hotel on the Brooks River, a 12-mile stretch of water renowned for salmon spawning and bear feeding. Stay for a few nights, or just fly in for the day to perch on the viewing platform and observe the brown bears as they lumber across streams, batting at salmon and sifting the water with their paws. Two platforms lie close enough to the water to allow for detailed observation, but far enough to avoid disrupting the drama. Brooks also makes an ideal base camp for exploring other points in the park, such as The Valley of the 10,000 Smokes, a land of steaming fissures caused by a volcanic eruption of Mount Novarupta in 1912, the most destructive within the last 3,400 years.
The density of bears and Brooks' solid reputation can make you feel like you're seeing more tourists than animals, however. For a less populated and more authentic experience, head to Kodiak Island Wildlife Refuge, where over 3,000 bears live along 800 miles of protected coastline. Or explore the bear-bloated coasts of Katmai National Park. Getting there requires flying or boating in from the mainland or Kodiak Island, but there is no "bear etiquette" class here—just bears, and lots of them. It's unlikely that even one of these 30-foot, 900-pound animals will give you a second glance. You, however, may not be able to turn away.

Published: 3 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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