Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brooks Falls - Katmai National Park

It's been a while since I've posted, but having just returned from 10 days of hiking and camping in several National Parks in Alaska, I finally have some material I feel is worth sharing.  After meeting my friend Ken Conger in Anchorage, we flew to King Salmon and then took a float plane over to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.   The flight itself on the float plane was a treat, as I had the privilege of sitting in the cockpit for the short hop down to Brooks.   It's a shame the weather was not good for photos that morning, but I did snap a few anyway, especially as we prepared to land on Naknek Lake.

I couldn't resist looking back and snapping a photo inside the plane before we took off, since I figure it will be while if ever before I am able to enjoy an experience like this again.  You can't help but notice the looks of excitement of the faces of everyone in this photo.

The float plane landing is remarkably smooth and this really surprised me. I thought there would be a thud when the plane began to touch down on the water, but in reality a water landing in this type of plane is smoother than a typical runway landing.

In only about 25 minutes, we were preparing to land on the lake.   We saw 5 grizzly bears on the beach as we made our  descent to the water.

After getting off the float plane we saw grizzly bears roaming the beach within about 100 yards of us.  To me this was a remarkable sight.  I have never been to Brooks Falls before, and if this was any indication of what was in store for the next 5 days, it was going to be great. 

Our first task was attending bear etiquette training, so that we would be prepared to act safely in case we came in close proximity to bears during our stay. Next, we would get our gear over to the camping area and set up our tents. We felt fortunate to have arrived at Brooks by 10am, because the visibility had been much worse in Anchorage earlier that morning. It was clearer in King Salmon where we got on the float plane.
After taking a few minutes to set up camp, we grabbed our camera gear and headed up to the falls, about 1.5 miles hike.    When we arrived at the falls, there were about a dozen grizzly bears there.  

[click on the image above to see a larger view]

In the next post, we'll take a lot closer look at the grizzly bears, including a sow and 4 very cute spring cubs that I photographed on Thursday morning.


  1. Looks very interesting Tim and can't wait to see the follow up. FAB.

  2. Undoubtedly, another trip of a lifetime. Looks like a great group to make the journey with. The study of bear behavior seems to be a highlight of your trip. I'm curious to know if the bears are known to take down a harassing gull.

  3. Wow I would have been very impressed to see Grizzly so close to the plane! Wow I can't even imagine How I would have been really but probably excited and afraid at the same time!!! The last shot is splendid and I'm eager to see more!

  4. What an exciting trip! I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures of the Grizzly cubs...

  5. Superb Tim. Looking forward to seeing more

  6. Nice trip...who is the funny looking one with the beard and smiling face in the plane?

  7. What dates were you at Brooks Falls. I could only get reservations next year for August 1-2 and I am worried the bears will be gone.
    Jo Ann

  8. Hi Joanne,
    We were there from July 27 through 31st, and we noted that the number of bears tailed off dramatically the last 2 days. On the last day, there was only one bear in the falls. I think August 1-2 is very risky and likely a bust, unless they are predicting a later than usual samon run this year. You may be able to find out from the National Park Service, or other sources. In addition to that, I recommend checking the reservation site at least daily, and looking for any cancellations that may occur. You might be able to snag some better dates if someone cancels. We actually extended our trip from 3 days to 5 last year by snatching up 2 days that had just cancelled. The strange thing is that although the reservation system showed the camping area fully booked, there were only about a dozen tents setup when we were there, of the total 60 campsties available. I never could figure that out. Good Luck! If you make it there, I promise you it will be the trip of a lifetime.

  9. Thanks for the info. I was trying to get reservations for the cabins and would hate to spend all that money and effort to get there and there be no bears. I will seriously have to consider your info before I send off the deposit. I may just wait it out and see if there are any cancellations or do it on another trip. I had no idea they opened their reservations 18 months in advance.

    Thanks again.

  10. Have you considered camping? That's what we did, and it can save you a ton of cash compared to the cabins. Plus, you may be able to still get a reservation for camping long after the cabins are sold out. If you have other questions, find my email link on my blog, or on the front page of my photography website, and get in touch. I'll be glad to try and answer any questions you have. Thanks... Tim