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Katmai National Park, Alaska


Our long-awaited trip to see the brown bears of Katmai National Park had finally come in July 2023. We booked the trip back in September 22' and with Brooks Lodge operating solely on a lottery system due to their high demand and limited space, their next lottery was for the summer of 2024. Since we couldn't wait 2 years to visit Katmai we decided to stay at their sister lodge, Grosvenor Lodge. Grosvenor Lodge was a surprising treat with only 3 cabins they cap their visitors at only 6 which gives you individualized service from their staff of 3 (2 fishing guides & the chef/housekeeper). But first, let me tell you how we got there, which was an adventure in itself.

July 5, 2023, Dave and I had an 11:30am flight on ACE Air (Alaska Central Express). We arrived at the North Terminal in the Anchorage Airport. The flight was full with 15 passengers. There was a weight allowance of 50lbs per person which included our carry-on luggage. Upon checking in, not only was our luggage weighed but so were we! We were walked through a warehouse area that led us outside to the plane. No tickets, no seat assignment, just first come first serve. And we were last to board. Dave and I ended up in the front two seats, the only ones without windows. We flew to the town of King Salmon in little over an hour. We then boarded a small bus which drove us to the airline's building. We were the only people staying at Grosvenor Lodge, so we had our own private floatplane to fly us there.

This next flight was approximately 30 minutes over the beautiful Alaskan landscape. When we arrived at the lodge we were welcomed by Carter, one of the guides. Carter helped us off the plane and put our luggage in a cart to be transported to our cabin where we stayed for the next 4 nights. We were brought to the kitchen/dining cabin and had lunch (chicken salad on a croissant, fruit and chips) prepared by Alicia. All of our meals for the next 4 days were amazing.

After having our lunch we settled into our cozy cabin. We also took a quick hike around the area however, after seeing some bear droppings and large wildlife trails, we decided to just head back. Appetizers and cocktails were served daily at 5:30pm in the clubhouse where we met the only two other people staying at Grosvenor, Carl from Massachusetts and Mario from California. Super nice guys who were there primarily for fishing. Every evening we shared our stories and pictures from the events of the day over cocktail hour and dinner.

 

Included in the price of our stay was a daily round trip flight on a floatplane to Katmai National Park. So, first thing every morning we boarded our plane and took the scenic 15-minute flight to the park at Brooks Camp Katmai National Park.

Upon arriving for the first time, you are required to take Bear School. Dave and I were the only early arrivals, so it was just us in the class. The class consisted of a short 15 min or so video that explained how to conduct yourself while at the park and what to do if you encounter a bear. There was no food allowed in the park at all. No eating outside the designated "people picnic areas" which were at the base of the camp. After we watched the video, a Park Ranger gave us some more info and then gave us a pin to wear that signifying that we had taken the class. And then, off we went in search of brown bears.

That first day at the park we encountered approximately 12 brown bears. As we left the camp area we crossed over the water where Brooks River meets the Naknek Lake. We walked on a sturdy and spacious elevated platform for a quarter of a mile. This area was beautiful with the mountain in the distance. There were almost always a few bears in this area. Many times, we were able to see a bear or two swimming.


 

Once we exited the protected gates of the platform, we hiked 1 mile to the famous Brooks Falls. Brooks Falls is where the salmon come to spawn. The bears wait either on top of the falls for the salmon to jump up the six-foot waterfall or they grab the salmon before they are able to jump. The first two weeks of July are historically the most active for this salmon run. However, due to an unseasonably late winter there were hardly any salmon which resulted in less than usual bear sightings. It took a while but eventually the bears started to come out to the falls. It was pretty awesome to watch them in the wild. The viewing platform only holds about 30 people comfortably, so once it started to get crowded the rangers created a waiting list with beepers. We were limited to 30 minutes on the platform at a time. Luckily, we were able to visit the platform 3 times that first day.

While at the park we took a few hikes past the Falls trail. On our hikes we were able to see many rabbits, birds, butterflies, a porcupine and even a lynx! The park is beautiful and not as crowded as many other National Parks due to it's remote location.

 

The next day, after eating the delicious eggs benedict that Alicia cooked for breakfast, we decided to take the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes tour. The Valley is a result of the 1912 volcanic eruption of the volcano Novarupta, the most powerful eruption of the 20th century. Our tour bus picked us up at Brooks Camp and we began our 23-mile ride to the Valley let by Ranger Kathe and our 22-year-old bus driver, Manny. The tour was great but the weather proved to be a little brutal for us at the beginning. It was approximately 40 degrees and super windy.

The bus stopped at two picturesque locations where we were able to get off, walk around and take some pictures. The wind ended up acting in our favor for the overall picture. You are able to see the valley in the distance appearing "smoky" due to the high winds rustling up the ash.


Once we arrived at the Visitor's Center, we ate lunch and then hiked down to the valley. It was a 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with a pretty steep decline (1,000 feet) on the way down making it a nice challenge coming back up. The Valley actually got its name because in the decades it took for the land to cool down it continued to smoke.

When the volcano erupted it covered the valley with ash, in some areas the ash is over 600ft in depth. Eventually, the water began to break back through the ash making a spectacular sight for us over 100 years later.


We hiked down with Ranger Kathe and Manny but were able to take our time as we made our way back up to the visitor's center. We didn't see any animals during our hike since it's not the most ideal environment for them but, as we got into the vegetative areas there were many beautiful wildflowers.


On our ride back to Brooks Camp we got stuck behind a bear walking in the gravel roadway. We ended up following the bear for 20 minutes since he refused to get out of the way until he finally surrendered to the large bus and let us pass. Because of this delay we were late for our floatplane. So, once the bus parked Dave and I rushed over the elevated walkway towards the beach where our plane was parked. As we made our way onto the beach the park rangers began yelling at us to turn back. We had no clue but there was a mama bear and her two cubs walking along the beach and we were about to run right into them.

As we backed away from the beach, we saw them pass right by us, appearing oblivious to our existence. As they passed by, the rangers saw a male bear coming right their way, so we were rushed into the dining cabin in case this resulted in a fight. Luckily, the mama bear turned her cubs around and walked back to where they came from.

 

Carl joined us on our final day in the park. He is an avid photographer like Dave which caused a friendly competition of who can take the most pictures. The bears were pretty active on this day making picture taking easy. After spending the day in the park we had a huge and tasty steak dinner back at Grosvenor's. We all reminisced about the previous days, all of the bears we saw and all of the fish Mario and Carl caught with Todd and Carter, the fishing guides. The next morning we all flew out to make room for the next lucky visitors.

We reversed our travel route stopping in King Salmon for a 3+ hour layover. We all took the airline up on their offer to drive us over to the local bar, The Sockeye Saloon while we wait. After a couple rounds of drinks and some French fries it was time to catch our next flight back to Anchorage. So, we had the bartender call the airline so they could pick us up from the bar and bring us to our plane. Definitely not something you can do at just any airport. What a great time we had, definitely a once in a lifetime experience.


Until our next trip!


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