How to Get to Katmai National Park in Alaska (2024)

From the brown bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls to the volcanic remains of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Katmai National Park in Alaska has so many unforgettable attractions.

Wondering how to get to Katmai National Park to experience these wonders for yourself?

how to visit katmai national park

It’s not possible to drive here from Anchorage, but fortunately, you can reach Katmai via an easy commercial flight and/or water taxi ride.

Let’s go over the options for how to get to Katmai National Park. We’ll cover the full range of possible experiences, from affordable commercial flights to private floatplanes.

We’ll also discuss the absolute cheapest way to get to Katmai and Brooks Falls, which involves using Alaska Airlines points and camping for two nights for less than $500 US total!

Basic Info About Katmai National Park and Preserve

Location: Southern Alaska
Established: December 2, 1980
Size: 4,093,077 acres (ranks 4 out of 63 national parks)
Annual Visitors: 33,908 (ranks 57 out of 63 national parks)

brooks welcome sign

The park is located southwest of Anchorage and can only be reached by boat or plane. Because it’s off the beaten path, Katmai is one of the least-visited national parks, despite also being one of the biggest.

Katmai’s 4,093,077 acres make it larger than the state of Connecticut! The national park grounds are 3.6 million acres, but including the preserve takes it over 4 million acres.

You definitely want to visit during the summer for the best temperatures and wildlife-watching.

This is a park where bears wander around everywhere, all the time. They walk right by the visitor center. They walk right on the nature trails you’ll be walking on.

mother cubs brooks falls trail
A mother and cubs on the Brooks Falls Trail.

All visitors to Brooks Camp are required to meet park rangers for a 10-15 minute orientation, sometimes called “bear school.”

Visitors are reminded that they are likely to encounter bears while walking around Brooks Falls, and they are given a list of best practices (don’t run, don’t carry food, make noise while hiking.)

Most bears in Katmai are used to humans and simply leave them alone. That doesn’t mean it’s not nerve-wracking seeing one walking around camp!

The best time to visit for bear viewing at Brooks Falls is July, when bears gather at the falls to catch salmon swimming back upstream. September is also a peak bear viewing month, as the bears return to the Brooks River to search for scraps of decaying salmon.

bear viewing katmai np
Katmai bear viewing calendar (NPS)

June and August are fine to visit too. You’ll see bears… just perhaps not as many as you might see during the peak times.

Many people do a day trip via floatplane from Anchorage or Homer to see the Katmai bears, and then fly back that same evening.

More adventurous travelers stay one or two nights in Katmai, either at the campgrounds or one of the lodges.

Here’s a map showing the King Salmon and Katmai areas:

Here’s a map of Brooks Camp at Katmai NP:

brooks camp map

PRO TIP: While Katmai is most well-known for the bears at Brooks Falls, it was actually created to protect the site of the world’s largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.

Now known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, this part of the park can be reached via a one-day bus trip from Brooks Camp. I highly recommend taking this tour to see this strange-looking landscape covered in barren ash and pumice!

valley ten thousand smokes

How to Get to Katmai National Park: Commercial vs. Private Plane

Ok, so how do you get here? Katmai is not connected to any of the main roads in Alaska, so you simply cannot drive there. Boat and plane are the only options.

If you want to visit the Brooks Falls section of the park, then you must fly.

katmai floatplane

These are your options for getting to Katmai NP:

Option #1: Fly Commercial from Anchorage and Take the Water Taxi ($800-1200)
Option #2: Fly Commercial from Anchorage and Take a Floatplane ($900-1300)
Option #3: Day Trip from Anchorage or Homer Via Private Floatplane ($1300-1600)
Option #4: The Absolute Cheapest Way to Visit Katmai NP, using Alaska Airlines Miles ($453)

Note that you should start booking your trip several months in advance. Lodging at Katmai sells out very quickly, so if you plan on staying overnight in Katmai NP, you’ll want to have your accommodations in place before booking flights.

Option #1: Fly Commercial from Anchorage and Take the Water Taxi

The small town of King Salmon is located just a few miles from Katmai NP. King Salmon has a tiny airport (AKN), and Alaska Airlines flies there twice a day from Anchorage during the summer.

I personally believe this is the best way to get to Katmai National Park and Brooks Falls.

All you have to do is fly to King Salmon airport, and take the water taxi from King Salmon to Katmai NP at Brooks Camp. The water taxi ticket comes with a free shuttle from the airport to the ferry launch point.

The water taxi operates June 1 to September 25 (weather permitting.) Ticket prices have shot up in recent years, and now cost $400 for the round-trip journey. The water taxi runs several times a day, every two hours.

katmai water taxi
The Katmai water taxi is the cheapest way to get to Brooks Camp.

The water taxi is more reliable than floatplane flights, as the taxi doesn’t have to be canceled nearly as often due to bad weather.

Specific Directions:
-Fly from Anchorage to King Salmon via Alaska Airlines
-Take the free shuttle (15-20 minutes) from King Salmon Airport to the ferry dock
-Board the water taxi to Brooks Camp
-Stay 1-2 days at a campground or lodge at Brooks Camp, then return to King Salmon and fly back to Anchorage

Average cost per person: $800-1200. Price varies a lot based on the cost of flights to King Salmon, and whether you choose to stay at a campground or an expensive lodge in Katmai.

Option #2: Fly Commercial from Anchorage and Take a Floatplane

This option is just like #1, except that instead of taking the water taxi from King Salmon to Brooks Camp, you simply switch to a floatplane for a quick 20-minute flight.

The pro is that it’s faster than the one-hour water taxi ride. The con is that it’s more expensive. But you’ll have more time in the national park to watch the bears!

Floatplane rides from King Salmon to Brooks Camp run about $450 per person for the roundtrip, so this option is only slightly more costly than taking the water taxi.

However, floatplane rides do get canceled due to fog on occasion, so you may find yourself having to scramble for a last-minute water taxi seat if that happens.

Average cost per person: $900-1300

Option #3: Day Trip from Anchorage or Homer Via Private Floatplane

If you’re not interested in staying in Katmai NP for multiple days, you can do a single-day trip from Anchorage or Homer, flying with a private plane company.

Book with a company such as Katmai Air, and you’ll have a 12-hour adventure that includes a 75-minute flight from Anchorage to King Salmon, and then a 20-minute floatplane flight to Brooks Camp.

You’ll spend the day in the national park and have plenty of time to visit Brooks Falls before flying back.

floatplane bear

You can also find Brooks Falls day trips departing from the city of Homer, from companies such as Emerald Air.

These one-day tours have gone up in price a lot in recent years, and now range from $1300-1600 per person.

Note that some of these day trips visit more remote sections of Katmai NP, and do not actually fly to Brooks Falls. So if your goal is to visit Brooks Falls, be sure you are booking a trip that actually goes there!

The drawback of the day trip method is that it’s expensive, and it’s highly weather-dependent. Heavy fog and rain cause flight cancellations frequently in Alaska, even during the summer. So there’s a chance your Katmai visit will not happen if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

If you decide to go with this option, I strongly suggest building an extra day into your itinerary as a backup in case the weather cancels your scheduled Katmai flight.

Average cost per person: $1300-1600

Here’s The Absolute Cheapest Way to Get to Brooks Falls in Katmai!

When I planned my recent trip to Alaska’s most remote national parks, including Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic, and Lake Clark, I was curious whether it was possible to add a visit to Katmai into my itinerary without breaking the budget.

Fortunately, it was very possible! That’s because, as a Seattle resident who flies on Alaska Airlines often, I have a ton of Alaska Airlines miles saved up. And that meant I could fly right to King Salmon, the closest Katmai airport, by using my points.

So the cheapest way to get to Brooks Falls basically involves using option #1 above, but redeeming Alaska Airlines miles to fly to King Salmon and back.

By redeeming 15,000 Alaska miles, my roundtrip flight from Anchorage to King Salmon was just $11, which covered the government fees.

I also nabbed a campsite at Brooks Falls for just $42 total for two nights. Note that this campground is hugely popular, so you should book it the day it goes on sale, usually sometime during the first week in January.

After that, I just had to book the Katmai water taxi. I paid $330 last year, but the price has now risen to $400 for the round-trip water taxi journey.

The Cheapest Budget for Getting to Brooks Falls and Spending 2 Nights:
$11 flights (Fly for free using 15k Alaska Airlines miles, and pay only service charges)
$42 Brooks Falls Campground (two nights)
$0 shuttle from King Salmon Airport to water taxi (free, but you may tip the driver)
$400 Katmai water taxi (round-trip)
TOTAL: $453

This total doesn’t include meals or camping gear, all of which you’ll obviously need to bring with you.

Also, I highly recommend adding the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Tour, which currently costs $106 for the tour and lunch. Doing so increases your total cost to $559 – still a great deal for 3 days in Katmai National Park!

Katmai Water Taxi Info: How to Book, What to Expect

There’s only one retailer that sells tickets for the Katmai water taxi: Katmai Water Taxi Services.

They work directly with the National Park Service to serve as the exclusive ferry company shuttling passengers from King Salmon to Brooks Camp, and vice versa.

Water Taxi Logistics

The taxi operates June 1 to September 25, weather permitting. The enclosed watercraft can hold about 24 people. Fyi: My water taxi rides during my late-July visit in peak season had 14 passengers each, so they weren’t full.

The ride is about 50 minutes across Naknek Lake to Brooks Camp. The dropoff point is at the National Park Service dock, right next to the Brooks Camp Visitor Center in Katmai National Park.

The water taxi leaves the King Salmon dock every odd hour starting at 7 am. The last departure is 5 pm most of the summer, and 3 pm in September.

The water taxi returns from Brooks Camp every even hour starting at 8 am. The last pickup is scheduled for 8 pm in June and July; 6 pm in August; and 4 pm in September.

water taxi interior
View from the interior of the Katmai water taxi to Brooks Falls.

Payments and Costs

As of the summer 2024 season, Katmai water taxi tickets cost $400 for the round-trip. That’s substantially more than just a few years ago, but it’s still cheaper than a floatplane.

If you want, you can take the water taxi to Brooks Camp early in the morning, and return back to King Salmon the very same night. Or, you can have several days in between your outbound and inbound trips. It’s up to you when you choose to schedule the two legs of your round trip on the water taxi.

Payments are not refundable, and changing your reservation dates is considered a “cancellation,” so in that case you’d have to book a new ticket.

As noted, a ticket includes a pickup from King Salmon Airport. When you purchase your ticket, you’ll submit your flight information, and they’ll make sure to have a shuttle waiting at the airport.

Taking the Shuttle from King Salmon Airport to the Dock

Upon arriving in King Salmon, things can get a little chaotic in the tiny airport. There will be a lot of people from various companies doing airport pickups.

Go outside, walk around, and look for the person holding a Katmai Water Taxi clipboard or sign. They will shuttle groups of visitors to the water taxi in minivans.

Once you get to the ferry dock, they’ll check your name off the list, and allow you to board. You can bring all of your bags onto the water taxi.

Can you see wildlife from the water taxi? It’s possible. Birds of various types are the most common animals you may see.

You might see a few bears on the shore as you get closer to Brooks Camp. But they’ll likely be far away from the water taxi. They won’t compare to the up-close bear sightings you’ll end up having once you’re at Brooks Falls itself.

Note: There is no wifi or cell phone service anywhere along this journey. Not at King Salmon Airport, not on the shuttle vans, not on the water taxi, and not at Brooks Camp.

When Leaving Katmai: Arrive Early to Avoid Bear Traffic Jams

Here’s an important tip to remember for your last day in Katmai. When boarding a water taxi or floatplane to leave Katmai, be there early!

“Bear jams” happen quite frequently in Katmai. Sometimes, a bear will stop and sit in the middle of a trail or road, and it’s not possible to pass it. Rangers will hold up pedestrian traffic until the bear has moved on.

This means that you can get delayed on your way to the water taxi. This very thing happened while I was there. A mother and two cubs lied down on the trail and wouldn’t move for 30 minutes.

bear jam katmai
Stuck in a bear jam in Katmai NP with a mother and cubs on the trail ahead of me.

While most of us enjoyed watching the bears from a distance, a married couple I was with started to freak out, because they only had 20 minutes to make it to the visitor center to board their floatplane back to King Salmon. They did not plan ahead, and they missed their flight.

Do not be that couple! Don’t cut it so close. Plan to be around the visitor center at least 30-45 minutes ahead of your scheduled departure time, so that you don’t get stuck in a bear jam.

Lodging Options: Where to Stay in Katmai NP

Where can you stay in Katmai National Park? The options include Brooks Lodge, Brooks Campground, backcountry camping, or staying in a small lodge in the town of King Salmon.

For all of these options except backcountry camping, you’ll need to book months ahead of time! Lodging fills up fast here, since it’s so limited.

Let’s go over each option.

1 Brooks Lodge
2 Brooks Falls Campground
3 Backcountry camping in Katmai NP
4 Lodging in King Salmon

1 Brooks Lodge

Brooks Lodge has just 16 rooms. Each has two bunk beds, for a capacity of four people. For the current season, a single night in the lodge costs a whopping $1,012 (base rate of $955 plus a BS “bed tax” of 6%.) That total doesn’t include any meals.

Rooms have their own bathrooms, showers, and heaters. Brooks Lodge does not have wifi or laundry service.

The lodge has a three-night maximum stay during the busiest month of July.

Despite the high prices, demand is so high that there’s a lottery for lodge rooms, and you have to enter more than a year ahead of time. The 2025 lottery is already over, so your next opportunity is for the summer of 2026. Yes, really.

Brooks Lodge serves three meals a day in its dining room, all served buffet-style. Breakfast costs $23, lunch is $28, and dinner is $42.

At these prices, you can see why some people bring their own food! Alcohol is available for purchase during lunch and dinner.

Can you eat a meal at Brooks Lodge if you’re not staying there? Yes… maybe. The National Park Service says “While Brooks Lodge prioritizes food service for overnight guests, it may be possible to purchase meals from them depending on availability.”

2 Brooks Falls Campground

As of this year, a spot at Brooks Campground was $18/night, plus a $6 booking fee. I paid $42 for two nights. That’s so cheap!

lodging where to stay in katmai national park - brooks camp

Of course, you have to bring your own tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. And you’re stuck out there in the weather, instead of in a comfy cabin.

Staying at Brooks Campground is wild, because it’s surrounded by an electric fence. Bears walk past the campground all the time. I saw a brown bear walking around the perimeter of the fence, just 20 feet away from my tent.

As with the lodge, spots at Brooks Falls Campground fill up very quickly. But there’s no lottery. You simply book right when reservations are made available.

Last year, Brooks Campground reservations went on sale on January 5. Keep checking the campground page at recreation.gov to find out when next year’s reservations open up.

They usually announce when reservations will be available several weeks ahead of time, so you can plan to purchase at the exact moment they go on sale.

3 Backcountry camping in Katmai NP

Visitors also have the option of camping in the backcountry, which is recommended only for those who have plenty of camping experience in bear country.

Not a lot of folks camp out in the wilderness here, but a few adventurous souls do. I saw one couple who couldn’t get a Brooks Campground site take their packs down a dirt road and set up in the backcountry (after checking in with the park ranger, of course.)

Backcountry camping is free, so that’s the biggest upside. Here’s the official NPS page on backcountry camping in Katmai.

4 Lodging in King Salmon

Finally, visitors have the option of staying in the town of King Salmon itself, then taking the water taxi for a day trip to Katmai NP.

King Salmon doesn’t have any major hotels, but it has some small lodges. Expect to pay in the range of $400/night for most of these lodges.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list. King Salmon has several small, privately-owned lodges that may host guests during the summer. This list includes the most popular lodging options with the most rooms.

King Salmon Lodge

Located very close to the airport, King Salmon Lodge has basic rooms as well as suites, with 19 rooms and 10 cabins.

The lodge is located on the Naknek River, giving guests great wildlife-watching opportunities from the dining room and outdoor deck.

Parking, breakfast, and a shuttle from the airport are free, while wifi is available for a fee.

> Check prices and availability at Alaska King Salmon Lodge.

Antler’s Inn and Sockeye Cabins

Antler’s Inn is nice because it’s located downtown, just one block from King Salmon Airport and the few restaurants and shops in town. You can easily walk there.

The inn has rooms available year-round, and the Sockeye Cabins can be booked during the summer. Wifi is free for guests.

> Check prices and availability at Antler’s Inn.

antlers inn - sockeye cabins
The Sockeye Cabins at Antler’s Inn in King Salmon.

Among the other spots in King Salmon that may have room availability are Alaska’s Gold Creek Lodge, Katmai Trophy Lodge, Crystal Creek Lodge, Alaska Gold Creek Lodge, and Katmai B&B.

Brooks Camp Visitor Center and Katmai Trading Post

The Brooks Camp Visitor Center will be your first stop upon arriving to Katmai National Park. Visitors watch the bear orientation video before exploring the rest of the park.

visitor center bear school

The visitor center has maps, souvenirs, and a tv showing a constant stream of the famous Brooks Falls webcam, which is pointed right at the small waterfall where the bears hang out, waiting for salmon to jump up into their mouths.

It’s cool that they have this stream in the visitor center, because it can save you the trouble of walking the full mile over to Brooks Falls, only to discover that no bears are there at the moment.

The bears come and go at Brooks Falls randomly throughout the day. Keep taking peeks at the webcam in the visitor center to see how many bears are present, so you can decide when it’s worth walking over to the falls.

katmai trading post

Another building worth checking out is the Katmai Trading Post. Located near Katmai Lodge, the Trading Post sells toiletries, snacks, souvenirs, and fishing gear.

You can also rent kayaks, canoes, and fishing equipment from the trading post if you’d like to get out on the lakes. They also offer showers for folks staying in Brooks Campground.

The Brooks Falls Viewing Platform

The main reason to come to Katmai NP is to see the brown bears from the Brooks Falls viewing platform!

brooks falls viewing platform

There is a maximum of 40 visitors who can be on the platform at any time. During peak hours (roughly 10 am to 4 pm), rangers may start a waiting list and limit guests to 30 minutes on the platform.

Getting to the Brooks Falls viewing platform requires a one-mile walk on a flat gravel road and dirt trail. This trail passes through heavy brown bear territory, and it is highly likely that you will encounter bears on the trail – especially if you’re visiting during July.

Rangers stress that seeing bears on the trail is normal, and nothing to be scared about. Be sure to make a lot of noise so the bears can hear you coming. Generally, they will scamper off the trail when they encounter humans.

If you’re visiting solo, like I was, make sure to talk or sing loudly as you walk. Or simply tag along with other groups of people as they make the walk.

For more specific info, including viewing platform hours, salmon facts, and tips for dealing with bear encounters, see my detailed article about seeing the bears at Brooks Falls.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Katmai NP

Does Katmai National Park have an entrance fee?

Nope! The park does not charge a fee to visit. There are fees if you plan to camp or stay overnight in the lodge, of course.

What is the weather like in Katmai NP?

Temperatures can range from 45 to 75 F in the summer, so be prepared for the full range of weather. Rain and fog are possible at any time.

Then again, you may also get a totally sunny day! Weather in Alaska is unpredictable, and can change very quickly.

What should you bring to Katmai National Park?

Bring layers to prepare for varying weather conditions. And you may want to bring a mosquito net as well. The bugs can be bad during summer.

There were a couple times in Katmai (especially around the lake) where I did pull out my head net because bugs were so prevalent.

A simple mosquito net like this one from Even Naturals is fine. You just cover your head and neck, and the bugs leave you alone.

Also, bring a good camera with a zoom lens if you have one. But even a cell phone cam will get some great pics from the bear viewing platform.

Is there bag storage in Katmai?

Yes. Across from the visitor center, there are two storage cabins, one for food and one for large backpacks. You can leave your stuff in there while you walk around the park.

Can you fish in this area?

Certainly! You need to buy an Alaska fishing license, which can be done at the Trading Post. The Post also rents waders, reels, flies, and more.

You can’t fish at Brooks Falls itself, but you can fish around the lake and the docks.

What other wildlife can you see at Katmai National Park?

Bears and birds are the certainly main attractions at Brooks Camp. Folks into birding should have a great experience with lots of sightings.

katmai birding

I had my first-ever porcupine sighting near the visitor center. I heard that a family of porcupines lives in the area. Cool!

katmai porcupine

A ranger told me that wolves even pass through camp. Though it’s rare, he did see a wolf just a few weeks prior.

If you take the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes tour, you may see other animals on the bus ride. On my tour, we saw hares, moose, and even a lynx!

katmai moose

Katmai was one of the highlights of my quest to visit all the national parks. If you’re thinking of going, I strongly encourage it!

Interested in visiting an even more remote Alaska National Park? See my guide on how to visit Gates of the Arctic NP.

Do you have any other questions about how to get to Katmai National Park and Brooks Falls?

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