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You may have seen some of the many gorgeous pictures of grizzly bears standing atop a waterfall catching salmon in their mouths. What you may not know is that most of these shots are taken at the beautiful Brooks Falls in Alaska and you can go there too!
Brooks Camp is situated on the shores of the stunning Naknek lake in the mountainous Katmai National Park. You reach Brooks by flying to King Salmon from Anchorage and then on to Brooks by float plane. Your arrival is an adventure in itself with a stunning flight over the park and the dramatic landing on the waters of the lake. Your first sight of a grizzly bear could even be before you land as they often wander along the shores of the lake. Accommodation is in 16 guest rooms which are like small log cabins. These offer two sets of bunk beds, a toilet, shower and heater. Brooks Camp also has a central lodge for dining and evening drinks and a small shop for essentials and souvenirs. It is also possible to visit the camp as a day tripper but a longer stay is advised as once you have seen this place you will not want to leave!
On arrival you are taken to “Bear School” where you are quickly taught bear etiquette and then after dropping your gear at your cabin you are free to roam the area looking for bears. Grizzly bears are everywhere at Brooks and you may even see one outside of your cabin! The main viewing areas are accessed by a short walk although you will often see and pass bears on the way. The first viewing platform is across the river from the camp and after you traverse a floating bridge. You may find that you are often confined to this area for a while as bear etiquette dictates that if a grizzly is blocking the pathway people must wait until it wanders off! This is known as a “bear jam”. These episodes are particularly problematic for day trippers who have limited time to visit the area.
After taking in the bears and scenery at the river crossing you can proceed onwards to the falls. There are two further viewing platforms at the “Riffles” which are a section of rapids on the brooks river and at the falls themselves. You may well encounter bears on the way but nothing can prepare you for the magnificent sight of the grizzlies at Brooks Falls. During the salmon run up to 25 bears gather at this spot to fill up on fish in preparation for their winter hibernation. It is a photographer’s dream and on arrival at the platform you may have to wait for your turn at the front. Crowds are generally quite small though, as numbers are restricted to the cabin guests and day trippers from Anchorage. You will find that once the day guests have left, the platforms are quite empty and the evenings are when the most bears are generally present. In fact the platforms are open until 10pm and the long Alaskan daylight hours afford excellent viewing until late in the evening.
The Salmon Run
The bears congregate at Brooks because of the plentiful food supply at the river. There are bears at the camp all through the summer but they peak during the salmon run. At this time huge volumes of salmon work their way upstream and the bears can take their places on the falls and catch the fish as they attempt to jump up river. The exact time of the salmon run varies from year to year but is generally from late June until the end of July. July is, therefore, the best time to visit and your stay is restricted to three nights to accommodate the demand for places.
You may well ask if it is safe to wander around in the company of grizzly bears as they have a reputation for being rather aggressive! In fact, at Brooks Camp, bears and humans co-exist harmoniously with the grizzlies being acclimatized to the people. Visitors are not permitted to have foodstuffs and drinks other than water outside of the main lodge and not to interact in any way with the bears, thus the animals do not associate tourists with food or danger and largely ignore them.
You would likely never forget a visit to Brooks Camp. It is one of the world’s great marvels with the bears and the stunning setting of Katmai National Park. It is hard to get a place at the camp and you need to book 18 months in advance via Katmailand Inc. the concessionaires who run the site. It is not cheap either and you have to get to Anchorage first, but then what price can you put on a close encounter with a Grizzly Bear?
If you want your own log cabin closer to home try Westmount Living for a great deal!