Visit This Underrated National Park For Incredible Views Of Wildlife

Nature enthusiasts might be familiar with Alaska's best-known national parks, including Denali and Glacier Bay. However, if you're considering visiting Alaska, another national park should be on your radar: Katmai. Located 290 miles from Anchorage, Katmai National Park and Preserve, per National Geographic, consists of over 4 million acres. The Sugpiaq, also known as the Alutiiq people, once lived in the area. In 1912, a mighty volcano erupted in the region, putting Katmai on the map. In 1918, it became a national monument and, in 1980, a national park.

Visitors must fly to King Salmon Airport or take a boat to reach Katmai. There is no way to drive to the park. But for those who love animals, this effort is well worth it. Katmai is known for being home to a plethora of wildlife. Visitors can catch glimpses of redpolls, sockeye salmon, gray wolves, and more. Most notably, Katmai has a large population of brown bears.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), 2,200 brown bears live in Katmai, and National Geographic states that there are more brown bears than people in the area. This is Katmai's claim to fame, and if you want to get a good look at a brown bear, head to Brooks Camp.

Brooks Camp allows visitors to get up close and personal with brown bears

Located on Katmai National Park and Preserve's Naknek Lake, Brooks Camp is only open from June until September. Visitors must arrive by plane or boat and can either camp or stay at the Brooks Lodge. Day trips are also available. With this in mind, Brooks Camp offers its guests the unique experience of seeing brown bears in their natural habitat safely. Per The National Park Service (NPS), Brooks Camp has four viewing platforms on Brooks River. From a distance, guests can watch as the brown bears catch and eat salmon. The NPS suggests visiting Brooks Camp in July or September.

During these months, more salmon are in the river, meaning more bear sightings. One popular viewing site is at Brooks Falls, a waterfall on Brooks River. However, before visitors can head to these viewing platforms, they must first receive a safety orientation at the Brooks Camp Visitor Center. Here, visitors are reminded that while brown bears may look cuddly, encountering one around Brooks Camp can be perilous.

The NPS suggests staying 50 yards away from brown bears and making noise, such as talking, to ensure a bear won't get too close. On the viewing platforms, though, the NPS wants guests to stay quiet and avoid flash photography to avoid disturbing the bears while they eat.

Here's what else you can do at Katmai National Park and Preserve

If wildlife and brown bears aren't enough to have you DIY an Alaskan Vacation, Katmai National Park and Preserve have plenty of other outdoor activities to participate in. Visitors can boat, canoe, or kayak around Naknek Lake. For incredible views of Katmai National Park from, there are flightseeing tours. Visitors can also go fishing and hunting. However, hunting specifically is only allowed at the preserve. Katmai has five trails to explore for hikers, including the Brooks Falls Trail and one that leads to the incredibly popular Valley of 10,000 Smokes, which was created by the large 1912 eruption of the Novarupta volcano. 

Visitors can traverse the valley's Buttress Range, Katmai Pass, and more. Keep in mind that this is a 23-mile hike. However, visitors can also choose to take a tour of the valley. Rather than walk that entire length, the seven-hour tour takes visitors from Brooks Camp to Valley of 10,000 Smokes via bus but does include a roundtrip 3.4-mile hike in the valley. 

If a trip to Alaska isn't in the near future, the National Park Service has several webcams where viewers can peek at Katmai's brown bears during the summer months and the region's serene landscapes. Every October, Katmai holds Fat Bear Week, an online competition where voters decide Katmai's fattest brown bear.