Katmai is, in many ways, a wilderness park. Accessible facilities are concentrated at Brooks Camp. Elsewhere, accessible facilities and trails do not exist.
Park BrochureThe park brochure is available in a variety of formats: audio description, braille, or text-only.
Audio description of the park brochure for Katmai National Park and Preserve is available using the UniDescription app, available for free on iOS and Android devices. Park brochures for more than 50 National Park sites across the country are available through the app.
We highly recommend downloading the app and content prior to visiting the park. WiFi and cellular service are may be limited or nonesistant in most of the park. The UniD app automatically downloads the park content (its text and MP3s) when the app is opened and the particular park file is selected (while online). Once downloaded the content is available in the app, even with no connectivity.
Additionally, audio description of the following publications is available as a zipped collection of audio files.
Download a folder of audio files. Open the files in your preferred mp3 player to listen to each section of the brochure.
BrailleThe park has a limited number of copies of the text from the park's official map/brochure in Braille format available at the King Salmon and Brooks Camp Visitor Centers. You may also download the Braille Ready File version of our official map/brochure (17 KB BRF) for printing at home on your Braille embosser/printer.
Quick OverviewThis is the audio-only described version of the park’s brochure. Side one contains text, contemporary and historic photos and an illustration, which highlight the natural and cultural history of the park. Side two contains a large map of the park, text, and photos to help plan your visit.
Introduction to the ParkThe top half of side one provides an introduction to the history of the park and its vastness. A photograph of an expansive park landscape is at the top. Five smaller photos, mostly of bears, is across the bottom of the large photo. Text is underneath the photographs. The text and photo descriptions are presented under their own sections.
Introductory TextKatmai was declared a national monument in 1918 to preserve the living laboratory of its cataclysmic 1912 volcanic eruption, particularly the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Since then most surface geothermal features have cooled, but protecting brown bears has become an equally compelling charge. To protect these magnificent animals and the varied habitat, the boundaries were extended over the years, and in 1980 the area was designated a national park and preserve. Katmai looms so vast that the bulk of it must elude all but a few persistent visitors. To boat its enormous lakes and island-studded bays, to float rushing waterways, to hike wind-whipped passes of imposing mountains, or to explore its Shelikof Strait coastline requires great effort and careful logistical planning.
Much of Katmai lies beyond our usual experiences of fishing from Brooks Camp, walking up to Brooks Falls, and riding the bus out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. We come to Katmai to sample but an edge of its enormous raw natural force, a sampling itself constituting a rare and endangered opportunity.
Katmai’s awesome natural powers confront us not only as volcanics but as brown bears. In summer, North America’s largest land predators gather at streams to feast on salmon runs, build weight from this wealth of protein and fat, and prepare for the coming long winter. Alaska’s brown bears and grizzlies are now considered one species. Generally, grizzlies are those living 100 miles or more inland. Browns are bigger than grizzlies thanks to their rich fish diet. The Kodiak brown bear is a subspecies geographically isolated on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Mature male bears in Katmai may weigh up to 900 pounds.
Mating occurs from May to mid-July, with the cubs born in dens in mid-winter. Up to four cubs may be born, at a mere one pound each. Cubs stay with the mother for two years, during which she does not reproduce. Mothers teach cubs to fish—and protect them from adult males. The interval between litters is usually three years. Brown bears dig a new den each year, enter it in November, and emerge in April. About half of their lifetimes is spent in dens. Because each bear is an individual, how that bear will act in given situations cannot be predicted with any precision. These great and awe-inspiring bears symbolize the wildness of today’s Katmai.
The 15 active volcanoes lining Shelikof Strait make the park and preserve one of the world’s most active volcanic centers. These Aleutian Range volcanoes are like pipelines into the fiery cauldron beneath Alaska’s southern coast, a cauldron that extends down both Pacific Ocean shores. This Pacific Ring of Fire boasts over four times more volcano eruptions above sea level than elsewhere in historic times.
WildlifeAnother predictable eruption takes place each year as salmon burst from the northern Pacific Ocean into park waters. Sockeye (red) salmon return from the ocean—where they have just spent two or three years—to the headwater gravel beds of their birth. Their size averages five to seven pounds, varying proportionally to how long they have spent feeding at sea.
The salmon run begins in late June. Salmon crowd up small creeks to spawn in the waters where they hatched (pictured). By the end of July a million fish may have moved from Bristol Bay into the Naknek system of lakes and rivers. Salmon stop feeding when they enter fresh water, and body changes lead to their distinctive red color, humped back, and the elongated jaw they develop when they spawn—in August, September, and October. Stream bottoms must have the correct texture of loose gravel for eggs to develop. The stream must flow freely through winter to aerate the eggs. By spring the young fish, called fry, emerge from the gravels and move into the larger lakes, to live there two years. Then the salmon migrate to sea, returning in two or three years to repeat the cycle. Salmon are food for bears, bald eagles, rainbow trout, and—directly or indirectly—for other creatures who forage along these streams. They also have been important to Katmai people for several thousand years, and commercial fishing— outside the park—still anchors the local economies today.
Lake edges and marshes are nesting sites for tundra swans, ducks, loons, and a 20,000-mile annual commuter, the arctic tern. Red-necked grebes (pictured) build floating nests in vegetation along shallow lake margins. Sea birds abound along the coast, grouse and ptarmigan live in uplands, and some 40 songbird species summer here. Seacoast rock pinnacles and lakeshore treetops are nest sites for bald eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. Brown bears and moose live in both coastal and lake regions. Moose feed on willows, water plants, and grasses. Caribou, red fox, wolf, lynx, wolverine, river otter, mink, marten, weasel, porcupine, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and beaver all live here. At the coast are sea lions, sea otters, and hair seals, with beluga, orca, and gray whales sometimes using Shelikof Strait.
PeoplePeople have been coming to the place we call Katmai for thousands of years. Some found a good life in the heart of the park near the present-day Brooks River. Others made their lives on islands and shores of the rugged Shelikof Strait. The Alaska Peninsula’s rich natural resources brought these people to this land of fierce storms, high seas, and steaming volcanoes.
Streams filled with salmon, tundra plains covered with migrating caribou, and ocean shores teeming with life were the attraction. Some came to stay, building partially underground homes to protect them from the howling winds and frigid winter temperatures. Others came to take advantage of rich summer salmon runs, building summer shelters but retreating from the mountains for winter. Many traveled through the park, crossing from the east side of the peninsula to Bristol Bay. The trail over Katmai Pass was not only a link between peoples but a route that gave access to a greater variety of food sources and to a rich sharing of both stories and cultures.
For over 9,000 years people have called Katmai home. Concentrations of prehistoric sites in the Brooks River and Amalik Bay areas are recognized as national historic landmarks. Several other prehistoric and historic sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Savonoski Archeological District.
Today the abundant natural resources of Katmai National Preserve provide critical food supplies for descendants of those earliest inhabitants. Salmon drying on racks (pictured) exemplifies the continuing traditional uses of the park and preserve. Native Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle harvest fish and game here, intimately linking their lives with the life of this land.
Eruption! And the Valley of Ten Thousand SmokesIt was apparently a nameless valley when the 20th century’s most dramatic volcanic episode happened. Robert Griggs, exploring the volcano’s aftermath for the National Geographic Society four years later, stared awestruck off Katmai Pass across the valley’s roaring landscape riddled by thousands of steam vents. And so Griggs named it “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.”
Griggs thought Mount Katmai had blown—he found its new crater lake. But it was Novarupta Volcano that blew. A deeper source of magma intersected Mount Katmai’s older magma chamber and the surface, so that both erupted through Novarupta—and caused Mount Katmai’s summit to collapse.
The June 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano dramatically altered the Katmai area. Severe earthquakes rocked the area for a week before Novarupta exploded with cataclysmic force. Enormous quantities of hot, glowing pumice and ash were ejected from Novarupta and nearby fissures. This material flowed over the terrain, destroying all life in its path. Trees upslope were snapped off and carbonized by blasts of hot wind and gas.
For several days ash, pumice, and gas were ejected. A haze darkened the skies over most of the Northern Hemisphere. When the eruptions subsided, over 40 square miles of once lush green land lay buried by volcanic deposits that were up to 700 feet deep. In nearby Kodiak, for two days you could not see a lantern held at arm’s length. Acid rain caused clothes to disintegrate on the clothesline in distant Vancouver, Canada. The eruption was over 10 times stronger than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980. Eventually Novarupta fell dormant again. In the formerly lush valley, gas and steam escaped from the countless small holes and cracks in the volcanic ash deposits.
“The whole valley as far as the eye could reach was full of hundreds, no thousands —literally, tens of thousands—of smokes curling up from its fissured floor,” Robert Griggs wrote in 1916. A thousand steam vents reached 500 feet in the air, with some reaching over 1,000 feet.
Just two eruptions in historic time—Greece’s Santorini in 1500 BCE (Before Common Era) and Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815— displaced more volcanic matter than Novarupta. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, belched out just over half as much yet killed 35,000 people. The vastly isolated Novarupta’s eruption killed no one. Had it occurred on New York City’s Manhattan Island, Robert Griggs calculated, people in Chicago would hear it plainly. The fumes would tarnish brass in Denver. Acidic raindrops would burn your skin in Toronto. In Philadelphia the ash would lie nearly as deep as this brochure is wide. Manhattan would have zero survivors.
Today you can make the trip from Brooks Camp out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where a turbulent Ukak River and its tributaries are still at work cutting deep gorges in accumulated volcanic ash. The landscape slowly recovers. In the natural world of stupendous Earth forces, destruction often leads to creation of new life and new landscapes.
Planning Your VisitSide two of the brochure presents six photos across the top, text that highlights activities within the park and a map that fills the rest of this side. Descriptions and captions of these photos, trip planning topics, and the map are presented under their own sections. Please familiarize yourself with the Regulations and Safety section in particular.
Access and InformationKatmai National Park and Preserve lies on the Alaska Peninsula 290 miles southwest of Anchorage. Scheduled flights connect Anchorage with King Salmon daily, six miles from the park’s west boundary. Commercial float planes go daily between King Salmon and Brooks Camp, June–September. Year-round air charters are available in King Salmon. The nonprofit Alaska Natural History Association sells books and maps at www.alaskanha.org and at the Brooks Camp and King Salmon visitor centers. At Brooks Camp, a reconstruction of a partially underground house (pictured) helps tell the story of survival in sub-arctic Alaska. Structures like these once provided all-year shelter for Brooks River area natives.
Bear WarningKatmai is a wildlife sanctuary. Bears, moose, and other animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous. Read and study the park leaflet about bears. Ask any ranger about special precautions for backcountry camping, fishing, camping, and hiking. Do not continue to fish near bears. At Katmai brown bears may come very close to you. The safety of yourself, others, and the bears depends on you.
Private LandsPrivate inholdings and Native village corporation lands exist in the park and preserve. You must get owner permission before using these lands. Of special concern are properties at the Kukaklek Lake outlet, the head and upper end of the Alagnak River, and the outlet area of Naknek Lake.
Be prepared for storms and some sunshine. Summer days range from the mid-50s to mid-60s°F; average low is 44. Strong winds often sweep the area. Skies are clear 20 percent of the summer. Light rain can last for days.
Accommodations and ServicesA concessioner offers meals and lodging at the Grosvenor Lodge and at Brooks Camp from about June 1 to mid-September (reservations required). Private lodges offer meals and lodging in King Salmon. Limited camping and food supplies and fishing tackle are sold at Brooks Lodge. Commercial operators provide air taxi, flightseeing, backpacking, canoe, and fishing guide services in the park and preserve. Visit the park’s website for a list. The National Park Service conducts guided walks and evening programs at Brooks Camp in summer.
A 23-mile dirt road leads from Brooks Camp to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. A foot trail descends to the valley from road’s end. A concessioner’s bus makes daily round-trip excursions to the valley from Brooks Camp. Float planes provide access to main visitor use areas, like Brooks Camp. Although most visitors to the park and preserve don’t experience the glaciated volcanic peaks of the Aleutian Range, like Mounts Denison and Steller that form the spine of Katmai’s dramatic coast, charter aircraft at King Salmon, Homer, Kodiak, and Brooks Camp offer an opportunity to see some of the most remote parts of Katmai. Weather dependent scenic flights fly over bays, fjords, and waterfalls on the coast, glacier-clad mountains’ steaming volcanic peaks, and island-studded lakes. You may also fly over the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and site of the 1912 eruption.
Katmai’s rugged wilderness requires reasonable precautions. Be well prepared and equipped. There are several good short routes and unlimited opportunities for long trips. Katmai has few trails, but passable routes are found along river bars, lakeshores, and gravel ridges. Open uplands are easiest for backpackers. For overnight Valley hikes, arrange a bus drop-off and pick-up.
Backcountry users must store food properly. Bear-resistant containers are available in limited supply at Brooks Camp Visitor Center or King Salmon. There are no improved campsites or food caches in the backcountry. Brooks Camp Campground (fee charged; reservations required in advance of arrival) has water, vault toilets, a food storage cache with limited space, and picnic tables. Cooking is allowed on camp stoves only. The concessioner sells white gas for stoves. Meals are available at Brooks Lodge; otherwise bring all your food with you.
Regulations and Safety
Camping and Food StorageWithin 1.5 miles of Brooks River Falls camping is allowed only in the established campground. All food and gear must be secured in a building or in an approved bear-resistant container. Within Brooks Camp, picnicking (the consuming of food) is permitted in designated areas only. Porcupines eat bark, twigs, leaves, buds, but will sometimes eat a piece of camping gear if it is not properly stored.
Hiking SafetyCold winds and icy waters are hazards. Your gear must withstand blowing rain and high winds of 50–60 mph. Carry extra dry clothing. Read up on hypothermia symptoms and their treatment. Be prepared to wait out storms: carry matches, a first aid kit, and emergency food. Rains or melting glaciers can make stream crossings impossible. You need sneakers and hiking boots here. Be extremely cautious when crossing muddy waters. Streams rise quickly with rainstorms or heavy glacial melt.
An Alaska fishing license is required; all state rules apply. Sport fishing is allowed in the park using only artificial lures; fly fishing only from Lake Brooks to the Brooks River foot bridge. Catch-and-release fishing is encouraged parkwide and required for rainbow trout in many backcountry streams. Anglers should always be alert for bears. If a bear approaches, release a fish or cut your line and move out of the river. For current information and special regulations, please refer to the official State of Alaska fishing regulations or ask at the visitor center.
Boating SafetyState and federal boating regulations apply. Water conditions change rapidly with little warning. Kayaks or canoes are safer traveling near shore. Watch the weather and stay ashore in rough water conditions.
Bears and Other Large MammalsPersons may not intentionally approach or remain within 50 yards of a bear or any large mammal, except when on the bear-viewing platforms.
Firearmsunting, or discharging any weapon, is prohibited in the national park. Hunting—under Alaska State law—and carrying firearms are allowed in the national preserve only.
Katmai National Park and PreserveP.O. Box 7King Salmon, AK 99613 907-246-3305www.nps.gov/katmThere are over 400 parks in the National Park System. The National Park Service cares for these special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. For more information about parks and National Park Service programs in America’s communities visit www.nps.gov.
Last updated: May 6, 2022