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My Katmai NP/Brooks Falls July 2022 Trip - Alaska Coastal Brown Bear "Safari"

Miss Biscuit

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I post about my photography gear further down but here is a link to my photos. A few videos and iPhone shots at the very bottom of this linked page.


My friend and I camped at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park 7/15-18/2022. We flew on Alaska Air from ANC to King Salmon, spent the night at Antler Inn and flew Katmai Air (float plane) to Brooks Camp the morning of the 15th.

You can only reach Brooks by float plane or water taxi or I suppose by kayak. I say this because we met backcountry campers that were on a long kayaking trip and spent several days at Brooks.

There is a lodge at Brooks. You have to enter a lottery to win a chance at booking reservations. So for example, enter the lottery this December for a chance to book reservations for the summer of 2025. Lodge prices in 2022 were $850 a night but they have gone up to over $900 a night in 2023. The cabins can fit up to 4 people and are extremely basic/rustic. We entered the lottery but didn’t get the dates we wanted so we passed on the lodge. July is the most popular month and mid-July is usually peak of peak time to see the salmon jumping.

The camping spots go on sale in January of the same year of booking. We got lucky. In January 2022, they were only selling camping spots at 50% capacity (remnants of Covid restrictions). In March they opened up the other 50%. Not many other people knew about it either and so I scored the primo weekend.

Our 3 day camping permit was $78. You have to bring all your own gear/supplies. This was my first time ever proper camping. I had never even car camped before. My friend is an experienced camper and brought all our camping gear. She packed all the camping gear as well as her personal items in a 70 L duffel (Patagonia Black Hole) with a separate backpack for her photography gear. We did not cook/bring food (besides a few packaged snacks) so that helped with weight. Katmai Air’s weight limit is 50 lbs and then you pay more per lb to go over. My clothes and personal items in a 40 L duffel (carry on size) plus I also had a separate backpack for photo gear. I stored things I didn’t need for Brooks at the luggage storage in ANC.

It rained almost the whole time, never saw the sun. True waterproof rain gear is a must for yourself and tent.

So you got reservations at the lodge or you’ve secured a camping spot or you’ve made plans to daytrip… Well, you still have to get to Katmai and that can be easier said than done…

We flew Alaska Air ANC to King Salmon on a Thursday, spent the night at Antler’s Inn and then had an 8 am flight scheduled on Katmai Air Friday morning. The weather looked iffy. Wasn’t sure what conditions they would fly in. Katmai Air picked us up at Antler’s. When we got to their office, others were there waiting. They had been scheduled on an earlier flight. We talked to one couple that was trying to day trip over. They had tried to day trip over the day before but they never made it. They actually got on the plane and took off for Katmai only to have to turn around. That has to be gut-wrenching.

Katmai Air representatives announced there would be a delay and that we’d go as soon as there was a window but no idea when that would be. I began to wonder if we should contact the water taxi. Due to the abysmal reviews, I had avoided them. Now I wondered if they would go if the flights wouldn’t.

A bus arrived and more people came in. They all clearly looked to be daytrippers as none of them had anything more than a daypack. No seats left and people were milling about. We imagined the atmosphere gets tense as the day progresses with no flights leaving.

But we didn’t wait long, maybe an hour later, they announced the group names that would be leaving first and we were in the group. The day trip couple was also in the group. But we knew not to breathe a sigh of relief until we landed at Katmai, which we did!

We know that on Sunday and Monday of our visit, no daytrippers came over. For daytrippers, if they think they can’t come back for you, they won’t take you over. In an iffy weather situation, lodgers and campers will go first.

First thing you do on arrival is watch a bear safety video. Nothing is foolproof but watching the video and abiding by the rules is what keeps you and the bears safe.

It was cool during the day and in the 40’s at night. I prefer cold to hot so that was fine with me but I was not adequately prepared for all the rain. I ended up buying at another rain coat at the little trading post shop at Brooks. Mine was thoroughly saturated.

People daytrip to Brooks but weather often affects flights and the water taxi for different reasons. 2 of the 4 days we were there, daytrippers did not make it in.

The lodge serves food and campers can eat at the lodge. The food was great! We didn’t bring food (only some snacks) so ate at the lodge for all meals. It’s all buffet. Breakfast was $18. Lunch was $40 but there was a soup and salad option for $17. Dinner was $40. We only ate lunch once and got the soup and salad option. They had some awesome soups and you could have some sort of salmon dish with almost every lunch and dinner. All the food was good. Non-alcoholic beverages were included in that price (lemonade, fruit punch or water along with self-serve coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate). There is a small bar. They do take a credit card.

Campers have a food cache building and a gear cache building as you can’t keep any food in the tent nor is it a good idea to keep anything with an odor in the tent. The actual campsite is inside an electric fence (bear resistant, not bear proof) otherwise there are no barriers between you and the bears.

Pit toilets in the camp. Regular restroom and a shower next to the lodge that can be used by campers. You have to buy a token for the shower and they will give you a towel. I used the shower on our last day. I brought wet wipes to freshen up otherwise.

There is no electricity at camp. I brought a power station but the lodge will also allow you to use their electrical outlets to charge phones and batteries. There is no cell or internet access for campers or lodgers.

Seeing the bears! We saw bears on the beach, bears near the lodge (which the rangers try to deter) on the bridges, on the trail (had to jump off the trail to let a mama and coy pass by, there is a video of it in my link) and of course on the platforms. The coveted platform that is close to the Falls has a time limit during peak times. There is a ranger that takes your name and then will announce when it is your turn. If you happen to be at the Riffles platform, they will come find you. We never had to wait for the main platform longer than 45 minutes. I think this is mainly because not a lot of daytrippers made it in. Also, once the daytrippers are gone, there isn’t much of a wait at all and you can have longer time at the main platform. We didn’t want for time at the main platform.

But the Riffles platform (farther away from the Falls, no time limit) is equally impressive and you can see different types of bear activity. And if you have the lens reach, you can get a really cool perspective of bears catching salmon at the Falls still. My friend got an awesome salmon catch shot from the Riffles.

Even though our visit was short, we did do the half day Valley of 10,000 Smokes tour. I think this is a worthwhile tour especially for a longer visit. It’s a beautiful area and a nice hike.

Photography gear – I have a Nikon D800 and D810, 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70. I also rented a 150-600. The 70-200 actually provided good reach on the lower level deck. With the D800 and D810, I’ve got plenty of leeway to crop down. That being said, for me up to 400 mm would have been perfect. Others like the longer reach. No right or wrong answers there. The Nikon 200-500 would be good too but it’s also a beast.

Our return trip…We were scheduled to leave on a 4 pm flight on Monday. We were instructed to leave our bags at the lodge by 9 am as they would take the bags first if they could. The day seemed very iffy with weather and we wondered what would happen if they couldn’t get us out. We were told no morning flights but to start checking back at lunch time. They would wait for a window and then get people out when they could regardless of their scheduled departure time.

We made one last rainy visit to the Falls and then by noon, we played the waiting game in the lodge. About 2:30 they announced groups to leave and we were in the group. Then we delayed because a bear was on the beach. Eventually, I think we finally left about 3:30 pm. Arrived at King Salmon and then they transferred us to the airport.

A whole other ordeal played out at King Salmon airport. We were on a full flight to ANC on Alaska Air and they had one person to check in a whole 737s worth of passengers. TSA screened the bags individually and then those same TSA agents had to screen the passengers. Our 6:30 pm flight left about 8 pm. Many people missed their connection.

I’ll just say after this experience that there is no way I would bank on making a single one day daytrip. I’m sure plenty of people get lucky but it seems the risk is quite high that you won’t make it. If I was daytripping, I would plan to stay in King Salmon for minimum 3 nights for 3 chances. It sucks because there is nothing to do in King Salmon other than hang at the restaurant/bar but that is what I’d do if daytripping was the only option and I was determined to get there.

It was an unbelievable experience and I’d love to go back.

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Thanks for sharing your Katmai Brooks Falls trip. Checking out your photos you had beaucoup bears and salmon. Nice descriptions of what goes on at the platform and riffles. The difficulty with flying in and out that you recount is similar to my past experience.  Lots of uncertainty.  Totally agree with your comment, "I’ll just say after this experience that there is no way I would bank on making a single one day daytrip" and with your suggestion on 3 days in King Salmon if day trips are the only option.


I think camping spots at Brooks like you did can be booked several months in advance, but the shared cabins sell out in early January for the summer or fall bear season the following year.  Seems you really enjoyed this camping experience!


Brooks Falls is unique in all the world and your photos show why. 

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you looked happy and cosy in that tent! thanks for sharing the photos - it must have been so thrilling to see the bears fishing. 

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