Katmai National Park Overview

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Katmai National Park is an outdoor adventurer's utopia—kayakers, fishermen, nature photographers, and backcountry hikers descend on Katmai to experience wilderness in its rawest form. They're amply rewarded for their efforts in reaching a national park that's only accessible by air. Active volcanoes stew and smolder, while relics of Katmai's past volcanic cataclysms have laid bare the earth's viscera. What volcanoes build up, the park's glaciers bring down. Numerous rivers of moving ice flow from the park's many mountains.

Giant brown bears, some exceeding 1,000 pounds, prowl the banks of wild rivers or squat in surging streams to snatch salmon in midair, providing serious competition and more than a little excitement for human anglers intent on landing a salmon or two. Untamed wilderness—four million acres of coastline, deep forests, and alpine tundra—beckon to knowledgeable hikers. Offshore, whales surface and spout in displays that delight sea kayakers.

History buffs can also get their fill at Katmai. The Brooks River National Historic Landmark—some 900 prehistoric human dwellings—is the largest concentration of its kind in North America. Nomadic hunter's camps found in the interior lake regions are 9,000 years old.

Hike to the Smokes
Katmai is wilderness—to prove it, the park maintains only two short hiking trails and leaves the rest untracked. The four-mile Dumpling Mountain Trail climbs past an overlook and ends at the mountain summit. The 1.5-mile Ukak Falls Trail drops 700 feet to the edge of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where you can get up close and personal with geothermal forces. It's here that the Novarupta Volcano exploded with a cataclysmic force 10 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The Novarupta eruption deposited pyroclastic ash flow in a 40-square-mile area at depths of 100 to 700 feet. Beyond these two trails, it's into the wild for backcountry hiking.

More on hiking in Katmai National Park

Paddle with Sea Lions
Rafters, canoeists, and kayakers can find both adventure and solitude on Naknek Lake and along the Alagnak and King Solomon Rivers. Sea kayakers will want to paddle the rocky coast amidst sea lions, sea otters, and hair seals. If you're lucky, you could get close to some of the area's biggest residents—beluga, killer, and gray whales occasionally cruise the Shelikof Strait.

More on paddling in Katmai National Park

Step into a Zoo without Walls
Katmai teems with wildlife—bald eagles, hawks, and falcons patrol the shoreline from nests in seacoast rock pinnacles. Moose amble the coastal and lakes region in hot pursuit of tasty willows and grasses. Salmon surge up rivers and streams beginning in July and continuing in fits and starts through September, luring brown bears and photographers to the Brooks River for the annual feeding frenzy. Two viewing platforms open to the public give reservation-holders front-row seats to the show. Wear a bear bell, clap, and sing while you walk around the park: Katmai is home to the largest protected population of brown bears in the world—some 2,000 in all.

Land a Lunker
Sportfishing in Katmai is world-class—jumbo rainbow trout pulled from the local waters put the park on the map in the 1950s. On the Algagnek and Naknek Rivers, you can reel in rainbow trout, char, grayling, pike, and five species of Pacific salmon. The northern pike, which goes by a slew of monikers—including water wolf, devilfish, jackfish, and snake—is renowned for its barracuda-like savagery when feeding; its powerful jaws are lined with 700 razor-sharp teeth. Definitely pack a fisherman's hemostat to remove your hook!

More on fishing in Katmai National Park


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 27 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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