Katmai National Park is over 4 million acres in the southern portion of Alaska. The park is home to beautiful forested landscape, moonlike surfaces from the volcanic eruptions and of course the famous brown bears of Brooks Falls. Katmai National Park is easily the best wildlife park I have ever been to; seeing the bears here is a true bucket list item. Do note that this one takes a lot of work to visit though. Let’s go through it so you can experience it as well, and let me know what other questions you have in the comments. You can see the full video of our trip above to see everything we did.

Where to Stay in Katmai National Park: Day Trip, Lodge or Camping

First, you need to decide where you want to stay in the park or if you are doing a day trip. If you are doing a day trip, you can easily book those from Anchorage. It is expensive and can be a long day, especially if the weather delays your flight, but it is the easiest option to see the park. That being said, if you are making all the effort to come out here, I recommend trying to stay overnight.

If you want to stay overnight, you have to decide whether to go to the lodge or camp. If you want to do the lodge, you have to get in the lottery a year and a half before going. I was also told that the lottery has about a 15% chance of success due to the amount of applications, and if you get chosen, it can be upwards of $1,000 a night to stay. To me, the best way to do it is to camp, which sounds super sketchy since it is in an area where thousands of bears hang out, but I promise it feels very safe. The campground is in an electric fence, and it felt safe when we went. If you want to camp, it costs about $30 per person per night, but the campsites book quickly. You have to reserve them at a specific date six months in advance, and when I did it, they sold out within 45 seconds. I was able to get one night, and then the whole rest of the season was gone.

How to get to Katmai National Park

Once you get an overnight reservation, you must decide how to get there. The easiest way is via floatplane directly to Katmai from Anchorage, but it was also the most expensive. We opted to take a commercial flight from Anchorage to King Salmon on Alaska Air and then take a boat from King Salmon to Katmai. This ended up working out well for us and was about half the price, but again, it does require a lot more planning to make all of the times work with the boat and plane, and you need to book it in advance as there are limited spots on the boat and they book up quickly. 

Here is the boat company we used, and for flights, there is one flight from Anchorage to King Salmon and back each day.

What you can see at Katmai National Park

I recommend you watch the video I did on Katmai for the whole experience, as I will never forget it. The main thing you will see here are the bears. That is the reason people from all over the world go to Katmai. It is one of the best, if not the best, brown bear viewing areas worldwide. We were a little early in the beginning of July, but there was one time when we saw over eight bears in front of us from the platform. You get to watch the bears eating salmon and interacting with each other; it is such a unique experience. We even had a bear cross about 5 feet in front of us on the trail and saw them eating salmon less than 10 feet from the platform.

The other thing you can see here is the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. This valley was the site of one of the most devastating volcanic explosions in the 20th century, and the destruction is staggering. You can see it via an all-day bus tour that takes you there for a short hike, or you can pay for a flight over the valley. We had limited time, so we took a flight, and it was a fantastic way to experience this surreal spot.

When is the best time to visit?

There are usually some bears there from late June to early August. The best time is usually the middle of July. We went in the middle of July and it was actually a little early for us as the salmon was late that year, but that is normally the best time to go.

Additional Katmai National Park Tips

Since we already discussed where to stay, here are a few more tips on Katmai. 

First, bring your patience. They only allow a certain amount of people on the platform at a time, so if it is full, you will get a beeper and have to wait for your turn. This is one of the reasons to stay overnight, as you can visit when the day trippers are gone, and it is rarely busy then.

The hike from the lodge/campground to Brooks Falls is around 1.5 miles each way. So you will do a lot of hiking here, and you can’t just check to see if there are bears; you have to commit to the hike over.

There are things called bear jams, where bears sit on the trail, and you have to wait for them to move before you can pass. These can take hours if the bear doesn’t move, affecting your time at the platform.

Lastly, everyone has to do bear school when they get to the park, a 20-minute program with the ranger about safely navigating the bears of Brooks Falls. Once you complete it, you get a pin you must wear at the park.

2 Day Itinerary for Katmai National Park

Day 1

  • Fly from Anchorage to Katmai
  • Bear School
  • Set up camp
  • Hike to Brooks Falls
  • Dinner at the restaurant at the lodge
  • Back to Brooks Falls until the platform closes at 10PM

Day 2

  • Bus tour to Valley of 10,000 Smokes (or plane flight if you don’t have time like us)
  • Rent Kayaks to see bears from the water
  • One more trip to Brooks Falls
  • Get on the boat or plane back to Anchorage

Cost to Visit Katmai National Park

This was one of the most expensive national parks to visit; here is the cost breakdown (it does not include getting to Alaska).

  • Flight to King Salmon – $469 per person
  • Boat to Katmai – $330 per person
  • Camp Reservation – $42
  • Dinner at lodge – $40 per person
  • Kayak rental – $22 per person
  • Valley of 10,000 Smokes flight – $350 per person
  • Total – $2,500 for 2 people

Check out the video above and let me know what other questions you have in the comments.