Katmai National Park, Alaska

Today is the 100th birthday of our National Park Service.

Visiting every National Park, Monument, Recreation Area, Forest and Historic Site is on my bucket list. Thanks to my adventurous husband, we have visited a lot of these national treasures already. But there are a lot more to visit and some I want to go back to and explore more of.

Today, in celebration of our National Park Services 100th birthday, I want to share with you one of the National Parks we visited in 2005. I have a hard time picking a favorite park, as they are all unique and beautiful. So, I have picked one that is one of our most memorable family adventures—Katmai National Park in Alaska.

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The memories that we created at Katmai National Park and the unique adventure we had there, makes this a standout park for me……and I would dare say it is for my husband and my boys as well.

What an adventure we had…..from our first flight on a float plane to landing on the water and seeing a mama bear and her cubs on the beach near us to the fabulous meals we enjoyed and the bears EVERYWHERE……this was an adventure we would not soon forget.

Our preparation for the overnight to Katmai National Park was easy…..we left most things in our rental car at the airport. All we could take was our change of clothes and toiletries…….NO FOOD was allowed in our bags or in our cabin while we were there…..Yes, NO FOOD in the cabin we would be staying in….YIKES! Would the bears REALLY enter our cabin if we had food? I wasn’t about to find out so I made sure neither boy snuck any snacks!

Finally we boarded the plane from the dock. We were on the last flight because we were staying overnight. The day trippers were on the earlier flights to give them more time with the bears. The flight was not as bad as I had expected and the scenery below us was beautiful. Watching out the window as we came in for our landing we could see a big bear soaking in the water near the beach……and as we stepped out of the plane onto the beach we were told to go straight into the welcome building because there was a mama bear and her cubs on the beach…..safety first.

Welcome to Katmai National Park!

We had a bear safety presentation where they told us to make sure we clapped and said “hey bear” as we walked the trails to the river viewing platforms…..that way we would not surprise any bears! Oh my!

We then were taken to the lodge to check in and given the key to our cabin. It was a cute little cabin with two sets of bunk beds and a bathroom. This was going to be fun. From our front door we could see part of the river and the trampled grass from the bears walking by…….Yes, bears roamed around the cabins.

The trail to the viewing platform took us across the river where a park ranger stopped us at a platform…..there was a bear on the trail ahead and the park ranger was holding us all at this point until the bear moved on……safety first!

The bear moved on and so did we. We walked down the dirt road with others and then took the turn into the woods, following the path to the river and the viewing platforms. At this point the four of us were alone……so the boys sang songs……all kinds of songs so that we wouldn’t startle a bear. And then we arrived…..

The viewing platform was built up off the ground and the ramp going up to the platform had a small rope across it…..like THAT would keep the bears out! And then we passed through the bear proof door. Okay, safe now. We stopped at the first viewing area and watched a young bear trying to catch a fish……he splashed and stuck his head under the water, trying so hard to catch the salmon swimming around him……but he never did. He was fun to watch.

Then we continued down the raised walkway toward the viewing platform at the falls. Suddenly, beneath us was a bear……he had a salmon and was looking for a spot to eat it. He walked right under us…..we could have reached down and touched him. AMAZING!

Then we exited through the bear proof door, out onto the platform and we were greeted with a spectacular view of the falls and the many bears in the river seeking salmon to eat.

We were not alone on the platform as the day visitors were still there. We watched those bears for a very long time—young and old, in the water and on land. The platform we were on had a ramp that went down to the ground and again, just a rope across to keep the bears out……hmmmmm…….

And then we headed back to the cabin for a rest and dinner with plans to go back to the falls after dinner.  Dinner was a delicious buffet with steak and salmon–heaven! 

After dinner we headed back down the trail.  The day visitors had left and with them went the park rangers that had been out on the trails and viewing platforms…….there was no one to stop us if a bear was blocking our path and no one with bear spray or the air horn to help if we needed it..…..it was just the four of us and the bears.  It was 8pm and we had the trail to ourselves. The boys sang crazy songs to let the bears know we were coming so we would not startle them. While they sang, my eyes and ears were on alert for any movement in the bushes we passed.

We arrived at the viewing platform and made our way out to the falls. We were alone with the bears. We stood on the platform watching over 20 bears in the river and on top of the falls. We watched them eat, relax and play.

We watched an old bear on top of the falls catch a fish that tried jumping up the falls—AMAZING! When he walked off with his fish to eat it, a young bear took his spot……but the young bear was too impatient to catch the fish and kept a watchful eye toward the older bear so he could leave before the older bear came back. It was so cool to watch.

And then at one point a mama bear with her two cubs came walking up to the river, right below where we stood on the platform. They were so cute!

Nowhere else in the world could we get this close to wild, huge brown bears. And they could have cared less about us…..all they needed were the salmon that were running upstream to spawn. Even the seagulls could get close to the bears without fear of being eaten….that Is how focused the bears were.

We had a restful nights sleep and woke ready to see more bears and ready for our tour to the Valley of 10,000 smokes. After the tour we had to rush to get to our float plane for the flight out…..but we were held up by a “bear jam” at the river…..5 young bears frolicking in the river and on the trail delayed us getting to the lodge. When they finally wandered off we were free to go.

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Katmai National Park is an adventurers delight! We hope to go back one day with others who want to join us on a great adventure.

Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

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