Bus tour to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes
A bus leaves once per day from Brooks Camp, and drives about 25 miles into the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. There are stops along the way where a ranger gives geological and historical interpretive talks.
At the end of the road there is an optional hike into the valley, and along a river that cuts into the deep pumice deposits.
The bus leaves around 9am and returns about 4 pm. Lunch is provided at the end of the road where there is a cabin and lookout.
In July 2005 the cost was US$ 96 per person.
The tour is small and personal, with plenty of time for individual questions. I was impressed by the park ranger, who did an excellent job .
The tour is run by Katmailand. You can make advance reservations or pay at the trading post across from the Brooks Lodge dining hall.
An easy 2 mile trail runs from Brooks camp to three elevated bear viewing platforms.
The first is just across the river from Brooks camp, at one end of a floating bridge. This floating bridge is a big part of the character at Brooks camp. The bridge is usually attended by a ranger. If a bear gets within 150 yards of the bridge, it is closed temporarily, sometimes for an hour or more until the bears leave. (a bear jam) There is a perpetual group of people stranded at one end of the bridge, watching bears or watching their flight back to King Salmon leaving without them.
The other two bear viewing platforms are at the end of the 2 mile trail. An elevated boardwalk leads to either platform at the river's edge.
Bears were everywhere during our visit in early July. There are two peak times for bear viewing. The first is late June through late July. The second is in September. Both times correspond to Sockeye Salmon runs. Bears generally dont like to be packed in so close to other bears, so when the salmon are gone, they disperse.
The upper falls, in this photo, is fished mostly by large adult male bears. The Salmon are almost as much fun to watch as the bears, as they leap out of the water trying to get over the falls. Occasionally one succeeds, and occasionally one is caught midair in a bear's teeth.
Just downstream from here, at the other viewing platform is a rocky area that is fished by female bears, thier cubs, and adolescent bears.
Obviously this is a great place to photograph bears. There is other wildlife here too, including Salmon and Eagles, and some fantastic mountains, volcanoes, and lakes. Even if you dont have the professional equipment that a few people in the photo have, you will still be able to get excellent pictures.
The bears are so common and close, especially from the elevated platforms, that any camera can get good shots. To give you some idea, all of the photos on my pages are taken with a 35 mm camera and a 200mm zoom, or a small digital camera.
Run the gauntlet
The camping area at Brooks camp is separated from the park service cabin and dining hall by about 1/4 mile. A trail connects the two, and runs just inland from the shoreline of Naknek lake.
The bear use the beach as a roadway, and sometimes move through the woods across the trail, or even walk along the trail itself.
Since bears have the right of way, it was sometimes not possible to travel on the trail (a bear jam). We were stuck inside the campsite or unable to get to the campsite a few times. Eventually the bears move on and the 'coast is clear'.
When going here in September, the bears are getting ready for the hibernation. There is still some salmon, but there is nothing as crazy as in July. Take a tele-objective and a tripod, put on the wading boots and get into the river for some nice shots. But stay bear-safe!
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The most amazing photos you will ever take, with or without a great camera. Worth every penny getting there.
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