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Embarking on an epic adventure to the stunning Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With its breathtaking scenery, captivating wildlife, and the iconic sight of bears fishing for salmon, Brooks Falls is a nature lover’s paradise. In this blog post, we provide you with essential tips and information to plan your extraordinary journey to this incredible destination.

People in front of the Brooks Camp Sign

Many know that Brooks Falls is a famous for its scenic beauty and its prime location for viewing Alaskan brown bears in their natural habitat. The falls themselves are part of the Brooks River, which runs through the park and into Naknek Lake. What I hoped to see was a knockout Bearapalooza at this majestic place called Brooks Falls In Katmai. Having been to Lake Clark National Park to see bears, this place was just as breathtaking! The backdrop of snow-capped mountains, flying in over the blue pristine lakes, and vast expanses of rugged and remote tundra, was a spectacle in and of itself.

“It is wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” -Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

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Bear 901 with three COY
Bear 901 with three COY credit Brooks Guest

Table of Contents

Discovering the Wonders of Katmai National Park: A Natural Paradise in Alaska

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a protected area in southwestern Alaska. In1918 they established the park to protect the region’s abundant brown bear population. Since then, it has expanded to encompass over 4 million acres of wilderness. Bears come to the region year after year to fish for the different varieties of salmon. Several species of salmon, including sockeye, Coho, and chinook, spawn in the rivers and streams here. The bears of Brooks Falls are truly unique in the fact that such a large accumulation of bears seem to fish alongside one another in relative harmony. The large population of bears takes the interactions of visitors in stride.

Brooks Bear on the Trail to the Falls
Bear (128?) at Brooks Camp Katmai National Park

When we arrived, there were a few bears around. In addition to bear watching, visitors to Katmai can enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking, and a variety of other outdoor activities. To learn more about the region’s geology, ecology, and cultural history, the park offers ranger-led programs and educational opportunities.

In addition to contributing to scientific research, Katmai National Park also plays an important role in conservation efforts. Studying the environment and wildlife in the park is a valuable opportunity to learn about ecology, geology, and the impacts of volcanic activity.

Leaving King Salmon Naknek River flying into Brooks Camp-Planning an Epic Bearapalooza Adventure to Beautiful Brooks Falls In Katmai
Naknek River flyover to Brooks Camp

Timing the Wildlife Spectacle: The Best Time to See Brown Bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai

The best time to see the brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park is during the peak of the salmon run, which typically occurs from mid-July to early September. During this time, the bears congregate at the falls to fish for salmon as they swim upstream to spawn.

July and August are widely regarded as the prime months to observe brown bears at Brooks Falls. During these months, salmon numbers are typically at their highest, attracting a significant concentration of bears to the falls. Plan your visit accordingly to coincide with this peak bear activity period.

Bear 230 Ben walking the river walk at Brooks Camp
Bear 230 Ben walking the river walk at Brooks Camp

In Brooks Falls, bears are most abundant during the salmon run, making it the best time to observe them. Water levels, temperature, and other environmental factors can affect the exact timing of the salmon run. We visited late June 2023. The colder than normal spring put the season three weeks behind. Fewer bears arrived in June. Getting a spot to see bears at Brooks Falls requires advance reservation. It is also important that visitors observe park regulations and safety guidelines, and keep a safe distance from the bears to ensure a respectful and safe wildlife viewing experience. Bear school prepares you once you arrive.

Brown bear at Brooks Falls peers into the water for fish.
Photo by Peter Pearsall/USFWS

Securing Your Chance: Entering the Lottery to Witness the Famous Brooks Bears

Applications are available online from December 1st, through December 31st, and may be submitted via the Katmailand website. A random number drawing using a random number generator is how participants are selected.. To enter the lottery for the Brooks Lodge, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the National Park Service’s website for Katmai National Park and Preserve.
  2. Navigate to the “Information” section and click on “Brooks Lodge Lottery.”
  3. Read the information about the entering the lottery.
  4. Click on “Enter the Lottery” to start the application process.
  5. Choose the dates you are interested in visiting Brooks Camp and the number of people in your group.
  6. Fill out the required information, including your name, address, and email address.
  7. Submit your application and wait for the lottery results selected in January. Fingers crossed you get a date. We feel extremely luck to be selected early in January 2022.

Tip: The more flexible you are with the dates requested, the higher the chance of receiving a reservation. Summer 2025 – Applications open December 2023.

Flying over Naknek Lake to brooks Camp

Rules for the Katmai Brooks Falls Lottery

  • Each person may submit only 1 application.
  • During July or September, you are permitted to stay for a maximum of 3-nights.
  • Each party may only win ONE July or September date in the lottery.
  • Maximum occupancy of 4 people per room.
  • There is a maximum of five rooms per party/application. A maximum of 20 people can be in a party.
  • A 50% deposit based on the previous year’s rate is due within 7 days of receiving a reservation 
Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park
Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park

The Cost to Stay At Brooks Lodge is not Cheap

The trip to Brooks Lodge is expensive, but you get what you pay, in my opinion. The rates for lodge room/cabin at Brooks Lodge are typically $950 per night. Flights from Anchorage to King Salmon were $750 and the flight to Katmai with Katmai Air was $450. Meals currently are breakfast–$17. lunch–$24, and dinner–$40. We skipped lunch after feasting at breakfast and dinner. They offer a senior discount and a mini version for a lesser price for all meals. It is not inexpensive, but we thought everything was worth every penny, even with so few bears.

Navigating the Journey: How to Reach Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park’s Brooks Camp is quite difficult to access. Most visitors arrive by plane or water taxi (June 1–September 25) from nearby communities such as King Salmon. Flights arrangements for day trips can be made from Anchorage, Homer or Soldotna. The flight time from Anchorage is 1-2 hrs. Flights from King salmon are 20 min. Water taxi takes 45 minutes. Here are the steps we took to get there:

Katmai Water Taxi on the beach Naknek Lake
Katmai Water Taxi on the beach Naknek Lake
  1. Fly to into Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska (ANC). Most visitors to Brooks Falls arrive by air to Anchorage, Alaska. We had our air reservation completed through Katmailand.
  2. From Anchorage, we flew with Ace Air via a connecting flight to King Salmon, which is the closest airport to Brooks Falls.
  3. From King Salmon, you can either take the water taxi to Brooks Camp, or you’ll need to use a float plane service. We used Katmai Air to Brooks Camp, the hub for visitor activities in Katmai National Park.
  4. Once we arrived at Brooks Camp, we hiked the short distance from Naknek Lake to Brooks Camp to begin orientation. If you are a day tripper, it is a 1.5-mile hike to the Brook Falls platform. The well-marked trail takes about 30 minutes to walk one way.
Katmai Air Otter Floatplane Naknek Lake
Katmai Air Otter Floatplane Naknek Lake

Bear Orientation at Brooks Camp: Your Essential Guide to Safety and Understanding

Upon arrival at the beach, all visitors to Brooks Camp must attend the mandatory “bear school.” This is to ensure a safe and respectful experience for both visitors and bears, attending a bear orientation is essential. It takes just 10-15 minutes to watch the video, with a short question-and-answer session.

We learned about the essential safety guidelines and practices to follow when encountering bears at Brooks Camp. Understand the importance of maintaining a safe distance and properly storing food and scented items. Park personnel explained the protocols for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing, ensuring a secure and enjoyable experience for all. Best of all, you will get a cool souvenir pin for completion.

Bear school orientation in the Camp Visitor Center
Bear school orientation in the Brooks Camp Visitor Center

Discovering Nature’s Front Row Seats: The Brooks Camp Viewing Platforms at Katmai’s Brooks Falls

The Brooks Camp Viewing Platforms at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park offer visitors a front-row seat to one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles: bears catching salmon as they leap upstream. Visitors can watch the bears from any of the viewing platforms.

Lower River Bridge over the Brooks river-Katmai NP

There are two main viewing platforms at the Brooks River: the Lower River Platform and the Upper River Platform. The Lower River Platform is the bridge crossing the river near Brooks Camp. It’s a great place to see bears fishing for salmon as they make their way upriver. The platform has two observation areas: north & south.

Lower River Viewing Platform Brooks Camp
Lower River Viewing Platform Brooks Camp

The Upper River Platform is about a mile and a half upstream from the Lower River Platform and is accessible via the Brooks Falls trail. The platform has two viewing areas: the falls platform and the riffles platform.

Riffles platform panoramic of the river

These platforms provide visitors with a different perspective of the bears as they fish for salmon. The viewing platform has a maximum capacity of 40 people, and in July, it can be very crowded. The Riffles Platform, located just downstream from Brooks Falls, has no maximum capacity or wait list. You are only allowed to stay on the falls platform for one hour. The wait time during peak periods can be >2hrs.

Brooks Falls Viewing Platform with Brooks falls in background

While walking along the lake directly in front of the campground, or Brooks Lodge is often a good place to spot bears in the early morning or evening. We walked the beach most mornings before breakfast.

Beaver under the bridge Brooks River
Beaver under the bridge Brooks River

Intriguing Wildlife Encounters: What Will We See at Brooks Camp?

Katmai National Park is also home to other elusive animals like wolves, beavers, moose, and possibly even rare sightings of lynx or wolverines. Many consider it a prime destination for nature lovers and photographers. Although we did not see many bears on our trip, we saw common mergansers, beaver, porcupine, and many snowshoe hares. Katmai is home to a small population of caribou, which migrates through the park in the spring and late fall. However, we did not see any.

The common merganser or goosander is a large seaduck  at Brooks Falls
The common merganser or goosander is a large seaduck

They have occasionally spotted wolves on the Explore Livecam near the river looking for salmon. They are an important predator in the park’s ecosystem. Bald eagles were a common sight here. We watched the two perched in a nearby tree or soaring overhead while on the platforms. River otters can be found in the park’s rivers, lakes, and sea otters are in Katmai’s coastal waters. It should be noted that Katmai is a popular destination for birdwatchers, with over 270 species of birds recorded in the park, including migratory songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors.

Fishing at Brooks Falls – NPS Photo/L. Law

Nature’s Pathways: Hiking Trails at Brooks Falls in Katmai National park

Katmai National Park’s Brooks Falls boasts a network of captivating hiking trails. Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, pristine rivers, and abundant wildlife, these trails offer an unforgettable adventure for nature enthusiasts.

Brooks Camp Map
Credit: NPS

Discovering Nature’s Drama: Hiking the Brooks Falls Trail in Katmai National Park

Brooks Falls Trail-is a 1.2 mile out-and-back gravel trail that leads to the upper viewing platforms culminating in the awe-inspiring spectacle of Brooks Falls. The trail is mostly level as it winds its way through the boreal forest. The park service has recently removed the dead spruce, making it easier to spot wildlife coming down the trail. Bears take the path of least resistance. During peak season, it is normal to encounter numerous bears on this trail. Because it was so early in the season, we never encountered a bear. Nevertheless, whenever we ventured down the trail, we continued good bear etiquette, chatting making noise as we traversed the trail.

Usually in peak season (July/August) at the falls platform visitors witness the bears’ impressive fishing skills as they leap into the air, snatching salmon in their powerful jaws. Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions as the bears’ triumphs and struggles unfold before your eyes.

Brooks Trail Sign with women in front
Brooks Lake Hiking Trail

A Journey into the Wilderness: Hiking the Lake Brooks Road

If you crave an off-the-beaten-path adventure into the untamed wilderness of Alaska, the Lake Brooks Road Trail in Katmai National Park is your ticket. Lake Brooks Road is a 1.9-mile out-and-back trail that follows the gravel road from camp. Brooks Lake, at the end of Brooks Lake Road, is a hidden gem within Katmai National Park. The natural beauty of Brooks Lake makes it a perfect escape from the crowds. The morning we went, there was no wind. The glacially carved lake was a mirror with Dumpling Mountain perfectly reflected on the waters. Today, we never encountered another soul, just the sounds of our footsteps and the buzz of mosquitoes. The only wildlife was a bonanza of snowshoe hare, and a mating pair of common mergansers.

Epic adventures  at Brooks Lake with Dumpling Mountain in the background
Brooks Lake with Dumpling Mountain in the background

Unveiling the Ashen Wonder: Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Road

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Road-is approximately 23-miles from the fork off Lake Brooks Road. You can hike or take the book on the bus tour to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a vast volcanic ash flow within the park, formed by the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta volcano. Hikers can access a network of trails that wind through the ash-covered landscape, allowing for a unique opportunity to witness the aftermath of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in modern history.

Convergence Overlook, where the valley’s three main rivers, Knife Creek, the River Lethe, and Windy Creek converge to form the Ukak River
The Confluence Overlook Credit Alaina Prince

Conquering the Heights: Exploring the Dumpling Mountain

Embarking on the Dumpling Mountain Trail is 1.5 miles one way. Considered a moderate hike as it gains 800 feet. Make no mistake; conquering Dumpling Mountain is no easy feat. The trail becomes steeper and more demanding as you progress. As the treeline starts to recede and tundra begins, we can see magnificent panoramic views of the Brooks River Valley below. If you continue to ascend through alpine meadows and rocky slopes, reaching the summit of Dumpling Mountain. We never made the summit, as the elevation was a bit much for us.

The Cultural Site exhibit, a reconstructed prehistoric house
The Cultural Site exhibit, a reconstructed prehistoric house 

Learn The Rich Heritage: The Cultural Site Trail in Katmai National Park

The short 0.25 mile pathway winds through the historical remnants of human habitation in the Brooks Camp area. You can do a self-guided hike that teaches you about the cultural history of the humans that have inhabited the area for the last 9,000 years. However, you cannot see the exhibit building. If you take the daily ranger guided tour, you will gain access to the exhibit part of the Brooks River Archeological District and National Historic Landmark. The narrated walk to the archaeological sites, traditional structures, and interpretive displays gained us insights into the indigenous Alutiiq and Dena’ina peoples that have called this region home for thousands of years. He told us the stories of early explorers, trappers, and settlers who ventured into the wilds of Katmai, leaving their mark on the landscape..

Stunning view of the travel barge at Brooks River Spit in Katmai
End of the Spit Road-Naknek Lake

Indulging in Nature’s Delights: Dining Opportunities at Brooks Lodge in Katmai

Brooks Lodge not only offers breathtaking wildlife encounters but also delightful dining experiences. The Lodge Dining Room, a cozy and welcoming space where you can savor delicious meals amidst the beauty of the surrounding wilderness. We had “all you can eat” breakfast and dinner during our two days at Brooks Lodge during our visit. The buffet is incredible! From the Strawberry pancakes for breakfast to the Teryiaki Salmon at dinner all delicious. Bring your gear with you to breakfast. I forgot my good camera one morning during breakfast and sadly did not get the shots I wanted, as I only had my iPhone.

Brooks Lodge Camp poach in Katmai Dining Hall

I might also mention what I loved most was striking up conversations with fellow adventurers. It was wonderful to share stories of our wildlife encounters, and forge connections with like-minded individuals who share our love for the outdoors.

The menu features a combination of regional specialties, classic American fare, and fresh ingredients sourced locally when possible. Vegetarian and vegan options are often available, ensuring a variety of choices to suit different dietary preferences. There is unlimited coffee and tea for the lodge residents. The service is impeccable. I cannot say enough about Bristol Adventures and the NPS staff..

Black Bear Creek Wine at the Brooks Lodge Dining Bar at Happy hour
Black Bear Creek Wine at the Brooks Lodge Dining Bar

Unwind and Indulge: The Bar Experience at Brooks Lodge

There’s no better way to unwind and relax than at the bar at Brooks Lodge. They serve classic cocktails, local beer and wine offerings. There’s something to satisfy every palate. I discovered a Strawberry Rhubarb wine made in Homer, Alaska, by the Bear Creek winery. They have 4 beers on tap all from Alaskan Brewing. Opening at 4pm it’s a place to unwind, share stories, and connect with fellow adventurers while enjoying a range of crafted drinks. Sitting around the open fireplace provides a warm and rustic atmosphere that reflects the wilderness surroundings. In late June, without the crowds, it was a comfortable spot to relaxation among fellow travelers. I must say the friendly team at Katmailand is first rate. 

Firepit at the Brooks Camp Lodge Dining Lodge
Firepit at the Brooks Camp Dining Lodge

Where can I Stay at or Near Brooks Falls in Katmai?

There are several options for accommodations at or near Brooks Falls:

  1. Brooks Lodge: This is the only lodging option within Katmai National Park and is at Brooks Camp. The lodge offers private cabins accommodations.
  2. Katmai Wilderness Lodge: This is a private lodge on the coast of the Katmai National Park and Preserve, about 20 miles from Brooks Falls. The lodge offers all-inclusive packages that include accommodations, meals, and guided tours.
  3. Grosvenor Lodge: This is a private lodge on the Naknek River, about 20 miles from Brooks Falls. The lodge offers all-inclusive packages that include accommodations, meals, and guided tours.
  4. King Salmon Lodge: This is a private lodge in the nearby town of King Salmon, about 35 miles from Brooks Falls. The lodge offers all-inclusive packages that include accommodations, meals, and guided tours.

It’s important to note that lodging at Brooks Lodge and other accommodations in the area fill up quickly, so it’s best to make reservations well in advance.

Brooks Lodge Cabins in Katmai
Brooks Lodge Cabin

Brooks Lodge offers cabin-style accommodations, providing guests with a cozy and authentic Alaskan experience. There are two sets of bunk beds, a small desk, a toilet room, and a standing shower. Our rustic cabin had the basic amenities to ensure a comfortable stay. These amenities may include comfortable beds with linens, private bathrooms with showers, towels, and toiletries. The beds were comfy, and the heater made it toasty. There were only a few plugs, so a power strip would be handy if you had lots to charge. The cabins are immaculate and clean.

NOTE: Given the remote location of Brooks Lodge, it’s important to note that internet connectivity and cell phone service may be limited or unavailable. This provides an opportunity to disconnect from the digital world.

Tent Campsite at Brooks Lodge

A Wilderness Escape: Camping at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park

The campground has 60 campsites, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can make reservations through recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777. They usually open in early January. The sites go quickly. The peak season for Brooks Camp Campground is June 1 thru September 17. There are three cooking shelters are each equipped with picnic tables and a fire ring. A bear-proof food storage and gear cache is required for all campers to store all food or odorous items. Bears have the keenest sense of smell. The campground also has a fuel storage station and vault toilets, Paid showers, can be accessed at the lodge. An electric fence giving campers some peace of mind. It encircles the campground accessed via gates.

Note: bring bug-spray or head net for the mosquitoes and black flies can be a Debbie Downer at certain times of the year.

Brown Bear with cubs in the brooks river in beautiful Katmai
Sow with cubs – NPS/Anela Ramos

The Brooks Lodge Trading Post: Wilderness Essentials

The Trading Post is operated by Katmailand, Inc. park concessionaire. It serves as an essential hub for visitors embarking on their wilderness adventures. The store sells snack, beverages, and toiletries, just a few of the necessities for a comfortable and enjoyable stay in Katmai National Park. You’ll find an array of Alaska-themed souvenirs, local artwork, clothing, and jewelry. The trading post also sells Alaska fishing licenses, fishing tackle, and camp stove fuel. Visitors can also rent canoes, kayaks, fishing rods and reels, chest waders, Swarovski binoculars, and single burner stoves available for rent. Bear resistant containers, showers, and towels are also available for campers camping in the Brooks Camp campground. Sightseeing and flightseeing tours, guided fishing can be booked through the office in the front of the trading post. This is also where lodge guests will check in and check out.

Trophy Rainbow from the Brooks River

Frequently Asked Question on Trip Planning for Brooks Falls

  1. What should I bring for a visit to Brooks Falls?
    • There is a limited supply of food and supplies available for purchase. It’s important to plan accordingly and bring the necessary items. Essential items to bring include appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions, sturdy hiking shoes, insect repellent or head net,, sunscreen bear spray (which can be rented or purchased at the park), a camera, binoculars, and any personal camping gear if you plan to camp. Bring a refillable water bottle since there is a refill station in the lodge.
  2. Are there guided tours available at Brooks Falls?
    • Yes, guided tours are available at Brooks Falls, and they can provide valuable insights and enhance your experience. The NPS also offers interpretive programs and ranger-led activities to help visitors understand the wildlife, ecology, and history of the area.

Keep in mind the weather conditions when planning your visit to Brooks Falls. Alaska’s weather can be unpredictable, with rain and fog common throughout the summer.

Peek-a-boo bear brooks lodge
Peek-a-boo bear brooks lodge

Final Thoughts on Planning an Epic Bearapalooza Adventure to Beautiful Brooks Falls In Katmai

Brooks Lodge was the end of our 12-day Alaskan adventure. Katmai National Park is a unique and captivating destination, attracting visitors from around the world who seek to explore its natural wonders, observe wildlife, and immerse themselves in the untamed wilderness of Alaska. It was an absolutely incredible experience staying at Brooks Camp. Mesmerizing, to say the least, was watching 901 with her cubs. Although we arrived during a cold, wet June with a late salmon run, I would not hesitate to do it all again.

Window to Lake Neknak from the Brooks Lodge in Katmai

Following the bears on Facebook or explore.org has many bear lovers now vying for a trip to Brooks Falls. We personally have been following these named bears since 2012. Many of you know them as well as we do. Grazer, Divot, Chunk and, of course, our favorite Otis are just a few that have captured our hearts. The annual bear guide put out by the rangers at Katmai is a great introduction for those wanting to know more.

We feel incredibly lucky. Everything about our time at Brooks exceeded our expectations, an authentic experience that we will forever cherish. Priceless!

If you are planning a trip to Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, what are you looking forward to most? Share with us in the comments below.