The Challenges and Rewards of Backcountry Travel

September 06, 2018 Posted by: Russ Taylor
Aerial view of a green lake and snow covered mountains
An aerial view of the Katmai Preserve - All photos NPS Photo/Russ Taylor

A stream with distant mountains in evening lightFunnel Creek in the Katmai Preserve

Between Brooks Camp and the Katmai Coast there lies another four million acres of wilderness that has had far more bear paws pass over it than human feet. It is a subarctic landscape of open tundra, mountains, and streams where salmon have made the most arduous of journeys from the Bristol Bay. It is wind swept with a fierceness that would rival Patagonia. It is the Katmai backcountry.

Salmon are seen underwater at the base of a waterfall waiting to jump Salmon amass at the base of a waterfall waiting to jump

Salmon in a stream with tundra and then distant mountainsSalmon making it to the Katmai Preserve have endured the longest possible journey 

Most accessible by floatplane, this land of tundra, streams and lakes is home to not only brown bears but also caribou, red fox, and lynx, among others.

A caribou antler rests on tundra in front of a high alpine lake and mountains A caribou antler shed rests on tundra near Mirror Lake

A caribou is silhouetted on a ridgeline A caribou is silhouetted on a mountain ridge 

This land is remote, communication with the outside world is difficult and one must be prepared and have solid backcountry skills. It is a place where one can challenge themselves in the wild. For those with less experience there are guiding services available to help reach the Katmai backcountry.

A hiker stands on a craggy mountain summit looking over the land below A hiker stand on a craggy mountain summit overlooking the land below 

Bear prints etched in the soil by many years of travel on the same routeBear prints etched in the soil, evidence of many years of travel on the same path

While the majority of visitors to this region come to fish, hunt, or view bears, there are ample opportunities to hike and climb mountains, and the open tundra makes for much smoother travel than other areas of the park where alder thickets make travel more arduous. As everywhere in Katmai, the backpacker must be prepared to encounter bears in the open, and know how to camp in such a manner as to avoid unnecessary conflict with bears. Camping behind an electric fence and the proper storage of food go a long way towards having positive interactions with bears, observing them from a distance.

A bear looking towards you from behind a small riseA bear peers over a rise towards a backcountry camp 

A brown bear standing on tundraA brown bear in the Katmai backcountry

The land is amazingly beautiful, yet can quickly turn harsh and unforgiving. Being prepared for any and all conditions is imperative. One may spend a few days in a tent with lashing winds and rains, and then be rewarded for this patience with skies that open and panoramas that fill a heart with wonder.

Churned up water from winds and low clouds Strong winds whip up the waters of Mirror Lake in the Katmai Preserv

A stream with mountains in the distanceThe Katmai backcountry

A lake with snow patches on the mountains and pink clouds in the skyEvening Light, Mirror Lake

If you want to travel off the beaten path, in a place that will challenge your skills and reward you in like measure, then look no further than the Katmai backcountry. 


Last updated: September 6, 2018

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 7
1000 Silver Street, Building 603

King Salmon, AK 99613


907 246-3305

Contact Us