Katmai National Park…Where Bears have the right of way.. where bridges are closed for human traffic to give Bears their space. I was dreaming about watching bears in their natural habitat for almost 6 months. And then the day arrived. I had booked one day bear viewing trip at Katmai National Park at the end of my two weeks Alaska overland trip. My first 12 days in Alaska with Infinite Adventures had been such an amazing experience. I was hoping to end my trip with a bang at Katmai National Park. One thing I learnt in 12 days is that weather is the most moody part of Alaska.. from sunny to rainy to windy, it can happen in matter of few minutes. Hence, I wasn’t sure about how much I would enjoy the visit to Katmai National Park.
But Hey… when Mother Nature is on your side (thanks Natalie for your phone call to Mother Nature 🙂 ), everything in life works out. When we reached Anchorage from Valdez, it was almost 25C. Anchorage looked a lot different than the rainy and wet Anchorage that I remembered from a day spent here during the beginning of my trip. I took it as a good sign that my last 2 days in Alaska was going to be great ones. When me and Dave checked the weather in King Salmon area and Brooks Falls, it showed cloudy all day but no rain. Yaaaay 😀
Katmai National Park & Preserve is located on the northern Alaska Peninsula, northwest of Kodiak Island and southwest of Homer. The park’s headquarters is in King Salmon, about 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. Unlike most national parks in the United States, Katmai is almost exclusively accessed by plane or boat. I had booked my trip with Rust’s Flying Services. Next morning, I was all ready and waiting for my pick-up by Rust from my hostel at 7:15am. After all the formalities, I met our pilot, Henry and three other passengers. Our plane was StationAir 6 & TU206G model. We were going to take off from Lake Hood , the world’s busiest Seaplane Base.
After the meet and greet, we finally took off at 8:30am. Alaska is called as “The Last Frontier” for a reason. It is all about untouched nature and wilderness. During our 2 and half hour flight to Books Camp, we hardly saw any road or houses or cars. It was all about trees, sea and mountains. Journey is so scenic that I had to fight hard with falling asleep.
Though it was all cloudy after we left Anchorage behind, weather in Katmai National park turned out to be sunny with blue skies. After almost 3 hours journey, we reached Brooks Camp at around 11:30am. And as we were landing, we could see Mumma Bear and two Bear cubs walking on the beach. Apparently, it is quite common that Bears roam on Naknek beach. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get closer pictures as I was still yet to attend bear safety orientation at the visitor center. Here are some pictures from a distance.
At Katmai National Park, they take bear safety orientation and ranger talk very seriously and obviously for a reason. This park belongs to Bears and we are just the visitors. It is Bear’s playground and hence rangers make sure that all the visitors understand how to handle these kids 🙂 So you ever come across a Bear, here are some tips. Don’t Panic, Don’t look directly into eyes, Talk to Them..Hey Bear :), and the most important… Don’t ever run. If you run, for Bear, you are the prey. Bear can run up to 35miles per hour which is almost equivalent to race horse. Hence, you can never ever overrun them (may be Usain Bolt can).
After the orientation, I started walking towards the lower platform. In Katmai National Park, you can come across Bears anywhere. However, if you want to be safe while watching and taking pictures of them, you should use these platforms meant for bear viewing. After few minutes walk from the visitor center, you reach at a wooden bridge which connects to the lower platform. However, if the bear(s) come(s) within 100 yards of the bridge, it is closed to human traffic. We almost reached the middle of the bridge, and heard the ranger shouting at us to come back, bridge is closing. A bear was in a close proximity to the bridge, but walking away with his back facing us. So the bridge opened again in few seconds and we could walk to the lower platform.
Here are the closer shots of two bears having some fun in the water from the lower platform.
Now it was the time to walk to epic bear viewing opportunity at Brooks Falls. It is almost a mile walking trail from lower platform to Brooks Falls. As you may come across Bears on this trail, safe option is to walk within a group and make sound while walking. Hence, I joined a group of people visiting from South Africa. It is so easy to meet people from different part of the world while travelling. We then walked together to Brooks Falls while sharing our experiences in Alaska. We were told that usually there is an hour or more wait to get on to upper platform at Brooks falls and you can stay a maximum of one hour at a time. While on the trail, I was getting all anxious with the thoughts as how long I have to wait.
A ranger greeted us with a big smile when we reached to the entrance of upper platform for Brooks Falls viewing. And lucky us, there was wait of only 10 minutes to get to the platform. Meanwhile, I decided to check out the ripples platform. A small adult bear was enjoying having the whole ripples area to himself. While at a distance, a big brown bear was cooling himself in the river in shadow.
Before any of these bears could catch a fish, the ranger called my name. It was my time to go to upper platform.
As I approached the platform at Brooks falls, I was overwhelmed with all the action in front of me. Words are not enough to explain the experience at the Brooks Falls. It was like watching Planet Earth on BBC. Only difference was that I was actually experiencing it with my own eyes. Salmon trying to jump up the falls, a fully grown brown bear just sitting in the water and catching the fish and then enjoying his meal. It was just awesome.
Only problem was he was a lazy one. He was just sitting there till he can catch the one with the least resistance.
Meanwhile, the big one cooling off in shadow had probably decided he was hungry and was walking towards the ripples area. I could also see another big brown bear walking towards the ripples current from the river down. Hence, I walked out of upper platform and started walking towards the ripples platform. And as usual, it was a right decision. A lot more action happening at the ripples platform now.
New player on the ground was quite quick with catching the fish.
Remember the small adult bear at the ripples platform. Oh yes He is also now all charged up and catching fishes. He had to face the competition after all.
Whereas our cool bear buddy caught just one fish and then walked back in the shadow of the trees and disappeared. Looks like he wasn’t so much interested in enjoying the sun shine and the fur tan 😉
There were few more bears now at the ripples platform. To get a change of the view, I thought of putting my name on the list for the upper platform. When I went back to the entrance, there was no wait and I could just walk to the falls. Yaaay what else could you ask for on an awesome sunny day.
Our lazy big bear buddy was still there, with his prime spot. Few more clicks of him.
I could now see the cool one walking down into the river from the trees. I didn’t have time to run to ripples platform. I decided to keep watching him from the upper platform itself.
While I was missing our cool buddy, two new members entered the stage. One like a king from above the falls and the other one between falls and ripples platform. Lets take a look the one between the falls and ripples platform first. I will keep the story regarding the king to end this post with a bang 😀
Now time to enjoy the lunch.
Unfortunately, this is where the king enters the act. I had to take off my eyes (and the camera) from this one and concentrate on the king.
Now he has to catch the fish in way totally different than everyone that we have followed till now. While other bears (even our lazy one with prime spot) is at the end of the falls, King is above the falls. Here he takes the position.
Now the million dollar question is whether King caught the fish from the above or not? How about we watch a small video to make it even more interesting?
Let me know in comments as what you think about the post and the video 🙂 Also, keep watching my blog to know about my experience with Bear Mumma and her cubs 😀