Alaska’s Katmai is far from being a stroll-about national park.
Katmai Park and Preserve has grown in popularity among Alaska’s
must-see sights, not only for the catastrophic destruction caused
by the eruption of the Novarupta Volcano near Mount Katmai, but
also the geological and diverse wilderness that surrounds it. While
only the fifth largest national park in Alaska, Katmai is larger
than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, stretching over 3.7
While established concession tours are delightful, they can be
crowded. For the best views and opportunities to enjoy Katmai,
guided air travel is the way to go.
Pilot Kevin Kellogg of Slab Creek Guiding personally guides
clients on flightseeing and adventuring tours to Katmai, the Valley
of 10,000 Smokes and the Alaska Peninsula.
I felt comfortable in the co-pilot seat of his Cessna 170 bush
plane specially equipped for travel in this environment. At 2,000
feet, I felt dwarfed by the mountains ahead. This section of the
“ring of fire” is home to 14 active volcanoes, crowned with alpine
glaciers and snowfields.
Below was the pyroclastic ash flow from the Novarupta explosion
of 1912, the largest ever recorded. Almost a century later, the
destruction is still mind-boggling. Deep-winding canyons cut
through layers of ash, and icy whirlwinds swirl off a nearby
volcano. Yet on the periphery, the land is blanketed with lush
Kellogg’s tour took me to areas of Katmai the tour bus crowds
never see, to walk the edges of the 100- to 700-foot-deep canyons
carved into these rivers of ash. He guided me along glacier-melt
rivers, and we hiked at the bottom of deep gorges of compacted ash
and pumice. When we had finished exploring one area, we flew to
another gravel strip.
Animals are abundant in Katmai, and Brooks River is one of the
top spots to see brown bears, where as many as 60 congregate at
Brooks River Camp. Clients can safely view bears from three
elevated platforms, but the one near the falls is one of the best
places to take photos of bears catching salmon. While bears are
numerous in July and September, so are visitors. For fewer crowds,
plan a visit for late June into August or late September.
Katmai stays open year-round, but the park concessions the
onsite accommodations and restaurant are only open to the public
from June 1 to mid-September.
Getting There: Clients can get to Katmai via
Alaska Airlines’ direct jet service from Anchorage to King Salmon.
Where to Stay: Adventurers can camp out in the
refuge or overnight each evening in King Salmon. A spike-camp
option allows more time for fishing, birding, photography or
hiking. I chose the latter and returned to the Quinnat Landing
Hotel in King Salmon every three days for a shower and to catch up
on phone calls and e-mail. Don’t miss Eddie’s Fireplace Inn near
the hotel for good food and local color.
Tours: Kellogg offers guided trips ranging from
$325 per day for a group of three in the early season, to $570 per
person, per day, during the peak season. Group discounts apply.
Commission: 10 percent