The Bears of Katmai

If you only have one thing on your bucket list, might we suggest it be a visit to Katmai National Park to see the bears at Brooks Falls? It’s been on our list since we found the live webcam of the bears. We’ve checked in on these bears occasionally for awhile and couldn’t wait to finally meet them in person. 

Our adventure through Bald Mountain Air took us via floatplane from Homer to the shores of Brooks Camp. We landed on the water and walked the beach to the nearby ranger station.

There we attended Bear Watching 101 class and earned our passage into the park. We needed to know how to stay safe in a wilderness where over 2,200 bears roam free.

We walked about a quarter mile before we saw our first bears—mama and her FOUR cubs! We watched as the mama bear caught a fish, brought it to her cubs, and the cubs fought over it. It was nothing short of incredible. 

From there we walked across the Brooks River and had to stop our progress to let another big one pass by.

After about a mile walk to the official viewing platforms we watched the action for several hours. 

We learned so much about bears while in Katmai. Here are a few facts that we found interesting:

  • All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies. Technically, the difference is in what they eat and their proximity to the coast. The bears in Katmai are coastal brown bears.
  • The bears come to Brooks Falls because of the large number of salmon that move through the river. July is the best time to see the bears because this is when the salmon numbers are highest.
  • The bears have different fishing styles. A few examples are “stand and wait,” “sit and wait,” “snorkeling,” and “diving.” Here’s a video of the “stand and wait” method.
  • Bear cubs stay with their mothers for 2.5 years. During the first year they are called “springs” (born in the spring) and in the second year they are called yearlings. We watched a mother nurse her two yearlings, right under the viewing platform. 
  • Katmai’s bears typically only eat the skin, brains, and eggs of the salmon, which are the fattiest parts. This allows them to maximize the calories while managing their energy output. 

Even though this excursion took all day, our time at Brooks Falls was way too short. We would love to return again someday to spend more time with these magnificent creatures. In the meantime, we’ll be watching the bearcam regularly!