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Brooks Camp

 

Brooks Lodge (and camp) at Katmai National Park

Today is actually the last day of our stay at the Brooks camp when I am writing about this experience. It has been a bit of a whirlwind stay here so this is really one of the first opportunities to document it.

It will be really hard to recap the day-by-day activities…so it is broken into categories. And let me say that it was a great three days. Loved the scenery, loved the bears, loved the camp, loved the new friends we met, loved the adventure and new experiences.

Beautiful weather the whole time we were there was a nice addition too.

Getting there:

We flew from Anchorage to King Salmon on a decent size small plan with about 40 other people and we could tell some of the folks were in groups and knew each other. After the short flight we landed in King Salmon and grab our bags for a quick small motor coach ride to the floatplane area. While waiting for our floatplanes and checking in (which includes weighing yourself and your carry on bags) we all began talking with each other. Quickly we could tell these folks were going to be a good group to go on this journey with us. The lake we landed on was such a beautiful emerald green.

It was so cool landing at the beach and seeing all the other floatplanes. No bears in sight yet!

As soon as you get off the plane, you head straight into the Katmai National Park headquarters for bear orientation that lasted about 15 minutes. At the end you get a pin to wear so they know you are educated! The national park also runs the campground so – next up – grab our bags and get out tent pitched, as we wanted to make sure we had a good spot vs. having to make a spot in the bushes!

First Night Camping in the Camp Ground
It was a bit intimidating walking down the long forest path to the campground, nearly half a mile from the lodge. We were both a bit  comforted with the electric fencing around the campground, which I understand has not been there for very long. We quickly pitched our tent (first time doing that outside), dropped off what we could and headed back to go get our first adventure started.

We of course clapped, sang (or at least Stacey attempted too), and talked loudly (“hey bear”) and such as we walked. There are lots of rangers here at the camp and they definitely make one feel better and they are very good at keeping the rogue bears that run through the cabin area controlled (not to mention crazy people that stalk the bears for pictures – and I know what you are thinking that is Stacey…but she knows to keep her distance!) We made our way across the bridge and headed to the first platform. (see lower platform below)

 

The first platform called the lower river platform is a great place to view the sub-adult bears (like teenagers) and the sows with cubs. We saw a bear fishing and a mother and cub that was swimming. Stacey was very worried about the swimming cub and took lots of pictures just so she could see that the baby was not drowning. (there was a good reason I was worried — that little cub was WAY WAY WAY out there) Next, we were able to see a momma bear with two very small spring cubs. Interestingly the cubs appeared to be from two different males as one was dark brown and the other was very blonde. This mother seemed to be on high alert as she looked around. We later found out that that this was a bear that no one had seen around Brooks and they thought she could have been a bear they had not seen for about 3 or 4 years. What luck for us! We made several trips back to this first platform to see the moms and cubs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next it was on to the falls… The falls is what this WHOLE ALASKA adventure was planned around!!!

Seeing that bear on top of the falls catching salmon this was where the money shot would be! The walk was a bit precarious though, especially if it was by yourself. There was a large road, where several people had bear encounters, followed by a narrow path that went on for ¾ of a mile out to the falls that was even more nerve racking given its proximity to the most populated bear site of the area. We were always soooo happy to finally get to the platform walkway!!! Once at the platform there would be a long walk up the walkway with gates and two large heavily fortified doors which would give a nice sense of security before going out onto either the falls platform (right next to the falls) or the Riffle platform that was just downstream. We headed straight to the falls and what a sight!!

 

Some people say they like Riffles because the younger bears and moms with cubs can be seen here and there is usually more activity but this did not seem to be the case during our visit. We primarily hung out at the falls platform watching big, fat, males just sit in the water and wait for the fish to come to them. Some of the males were really big – the rangers said they get up to 1,000 pounds during the salmon runs. They were also quite scarred up from battling over prime salmon fishing spots. The first time walking up to the platform there were just a few bears but there was one right there on the top catching the fish as they flew through the air trying to get upstream – PAYDIRT! Stacey immediately set up to catch her shot but getting the timing just right to snap a picture of a fish jumping up and just before the bear clamps it mouth down is not as easy as it sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went back to the campground happy and feeling pretty good about the day but the night would be a bit rough with it not getting dark, sleeping on the hard ground and lots of noises outside. We were able to get a bit of sleep but planned to meet some of the other folks at the cabins at 6:30am to get out to the falls platform early. On our walk up to meet them we had a brief encounter with a bear but quickly changed our path and were able to avoid him. Happily we did not have any other close encounters other than this one other than from the safety of the platforms.

We stayed out at the falls too long so we missed breakfast at the lodge because we did not want to miss the bears AND we did not want to walk back by ourselves! We headed back to camp as we were switching to the Brooks Lodge cabins for the next two nights.

They are very small one room cabins with two sets of bunk beds, a toilet and a shower but very clean and cute. WE LOVED IT! We had cabin 29 and could look outside and almost ALWAYS see a bear (far away, but STILL it was awesome) The very, very best part of the room was that it was dark! This was the darkest room we have been in since our stay in Alaska and we had a very good night’s sleep here. I even added in a couple of naps in the afternoon here because it was comfortable. AND of course Stacey did not nap…she was of course out and about seeing the bears and enjoying being outside!!!!

Above was pretty much the introduction of getting to Brooks, our first day on the platforms and getting settled in the cabins.

Below are some highlights of the 3 days and details of the camp.

Typical day for us:
Bears, breakfast, bears, lunch, bears, dinner, bears! Night-Night!
Really. We pretty much would go from platform to platform and back to the lodge for meals the whole time.

LOWER PLATFORM
Getting to the Lower Platform is very easy and a short distance from camp. During the hours that the rangers are there, it was very comforting and felt safe as they were always in communication with each other. It was kind of cool to hear the “corner” at the end of the camp trail, communicate to the “platform”

Over the 3 days we had a LOT of activity at the lower platform. We actually decided the 3rd and 4th mornings we wouldn’t even go to the Falls until after lunch since there was so much activity at the lower falls and especially with the Spring cubs (born this year in March or April) And the falls seemed to have more activity at night.

Highlights included:
- Beautiful, Beautiful setting….
- Holly and her spring cub swimming way out in front of the beach (scared me though!)
- New momma bear that had not been seen before was there multiple times and right by the platform. One time she went in the water for fish, babies stayed on shore watching her. Then left before she came back. Very interesting behavior when she came back to find them. (watch the video here) 
- Young adult bear actually opened the gate to the bridge and went on the bridge.

- An announcement over the radio that the emancipated cub caught a salmon and the whole Platform cheered.
- Watching the bears snorkeling for salmon.
- Being at the “corner” and having to QUICKLY move back due to two bears running towards us. Looking back this is what we saw.

THE FALLS
Getting to the falls area is another story! After the lower platform there is another trail that leads to the falls. Part of it is a wide dirt road, and then there is a small trail leading through the woods. We heard multiple times from others that they encountered bears on road, but we never did

We did learn that the bears were not as active at the falls in the morning as they were in the evening. Over the three days we had a LOT of activity at the lower platform. We actually decided the 3rd and 4th mornings we wouldn’t even go to the falls until after lunch since there was so much activity at the lower falls and especially with the spring cubs (born this year in March or April), and the falls seemed to have more activity at night.

I would definitely recommend going at night – and if the camp is crowded try to eat dinner first thing and head straight out there, or if you can skip dinner and eat a late lunch it would be better.

Highlights included:
- Seeing the falls for the first time and Beadnose (female bear) bear was on top of the falls. Just as I imagined it!
- Seeing 10 Grizzly bears at one time
- Seeing two male bears fight over the fish. One night this one bear kept stealing the other bears fish.
- Seeing the Salmon trying so hard to make it over the falls (and hardly any of them seem to make it).
- Meeting new people on the platform as everyone is waiting for that famous bear catching the salmon picture.

Brooks Camp Lodge and Dining Hall
The lodge is run totally separate from the national park – although you know the work together. But there are differences, for example the national park said NO food in camp or in the cabins so we did not bring any food at all. BUT when checking into our cabin, I asked and they said we CAN have food in the cabin we just need to make sure the door is closed. Darn it! We really could have used our Quest protein bars.

 

Katmai National Park - Brooks Lodge

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