The Katmai Wilderness, located within Katmai National Park and Preserve, is characterized by active volcanoes, pristine lakes and rivers, glaciated peaks, and rugged coastline. The area contains the famed Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a spectacular forty square mile, 100 to 700 foot deep ash flow deposited by Novarupta Volcano in June of 1912 during a major cataclysmic eruption. In addition to Novarupta, the Katmai Wilderness contains many other active volcanoes, including Katmai, Trident, Mageik, Martin, and Fourpeaked.
The area is home to an abundance of wildlife. The most widely known is the brown bear, which resides throughout the coastal and lake regions of the Wilderness. Other land mammals that call Katmai home include moose, caribou, red fox, wolf, lynx, wolverine, river otter, mink, marten, weasel, porcupine, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and beaver. Along the coast and offshore islands are sea lions, sea otters, and hair seals. The lake edges and marshes serve as nesting sites for tundra swans, ducks, loons, grebes, and arctic terns. Sea birds abound along the coast, grouse and ptarmigan inhabit the uplands, and migratory songbirds birds nest within the spruce and birch forests and alder thickets. Seacoast rock pinnacles and treetops along lakeshores provide nesting sites for bald eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls.
The Katmai Wilderness also contains many large pristine lakes and rivers. Major lakes include Brooks, Coville, Grosvenor, and the Iliuk Arm of Naknek Lake. The major rivers within the area include the Savonoski, Katmai, Kamishak, Swikshak, and Big Rivers. These lakes and rivers provide excellent habitat for salmon, trout, and other species of fish. In turn, the fish provide a primary food source for brown bears and other animals.
The Katmai Wilderness also has a rich cultural and historic significance ranging from the remnants of homes and villages left by native Alaskans over the last several thousand years to early 20th century Russian, European, and American trappers, miners, and clammers.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Katmai Wilderness.
The Katmai Wilderness is within Katmai National Park & Preserve, located on the Alaska Peninsula approximately 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. The majority of visitors that experience the Katmai Wilderness arrive at Brooks Camp via floatplane. From Brooks Camp, visitors can be transported by bus to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, one of the more popular Katmai Wilderness destinations.
The Katmai Wilderness may be directly accessed via air taxi flights chartered from Anchorage, King Salmon, Iliamna, Kodiak, Soldotna, Port Alsworth, or other nearby Alaska towns and villages. Regularly scheduled commercial flights are available from Anchorage to King Salmon, which serves as the Katmai National Park and Preserve administrative headquarters. Boats can access the Katmai coast from villages and towns along the Pacific Ocean coastline and wilderness locations along the Naknek River drainage can be reached by boat from the villages of Naknek and King Salmon.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Trip planning to Katmai is part of the challenge of the wilderness of Katmai. Katmai National Park and Preserve is off the Alaska road system and accessible only by air or water. The Trails Illustrated Map of Katmai is a good start, but it is recommended that you carry topo maps,a map & compass, and GPS unit.
Katmai is one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world. There are many opportunities within and outside of the wilderness to view Alaska Brown Bears. Katmai's coastal bays provide exceptional areas to view brown bears. Due to food availability, brown bears frequent specific areas at different times.
Before Katmai was known for bear viewing activities, most visitors came to the park for its world-renown sport-fishing opportunities. Sockeye (red) and coho (silver) salmon, rainbow trout, grayling, and Dolly Varden are found in many wilderness lakes and streams. The more popular wilderness areas to sport-fish include the Big, Kamishak, Kaflia, and Swikshak Rivers, which are located along the Katmai coast
The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a 40 square mile ash-filled valley formed by the June 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano, is a popular area to hike within the Katmai Wilderness.
For those seeking solitude, hikes beyond the Valley of 10000 Smokes include hiking to Katmai pass, Katmai Crater and limited hiking opportunities on the Katmai coast.
On the park's interior waters, the 40-mile Savonoski Loop provides visitors with spectacular views of Naknek Lake, the Bay of Islands, Lake Grosvenor, and the Savonoski River. The canoe/kayak trail starts and ends at Brooks Camp.
For the more advanced and adventurous kayakers, the Katmai coast offers some of the most isolated and challenging waters in Alaska. These areas are usully accessible by float plane.
Precipitation and air temperature vary in Katmai depending on location. The mean air temperature ranges from -15º F in January to 55º F in July within the interior areas of Katmai west of the Aleutian Mountains. For the coastal areas of Katmai, mean air temperature ranges from 30º F in January to 55º F in July. The park’s higher elevations (Aleutian Mountains) experience much lower temperatures, depending on altitude. Most precipitation falls as rain from May through September. Visitors should be prepared for extreme temperature changes, heavy precipitation, and high winds along the interior portions and coastal areas of Katmai.
Special Equipment Needs:
In addition to the general equipment recommended for Wilderness travel and camping, the following special equipment is required when camping within the backcountry of Katmai National Park and Preserve:
Bear Resistant Containers (BRC) are required to store food, food containers, garbage, and fish. BRCs are available first come/first served basis at the King Salmon or Brooks Camp Visitor Centers. Large groups should plan on bringing their own LWWF-approved containers.
In addition, it is recommended that Wilderness campers utilize tents designed to withstand high winds (50 mph+), synthetic clothing and sleeping bags, and an electric perimeter fence when establishing camp to minimize encounters with brown bears.
Safety and Current Conditions
Wilderness trips should be based on skill level and the ability to traverse a rugged environment.
The vast majority of the Katmai Wilderness is without trails and traversing these areas may take longer than hiking trailed areas.
Leave detailed trip plans and emergency contact information with a responsible person. The National Park Service will not initiate a search unless someone reports a person(s) as overdue. A note about SPOT and other personal locator beacon devices -- these devices are an adjunct to your safety in the wilderness, not an excuse for poor planning. Even after activating an emergency button, it may be hours before help arrives.
Weather at Katmai can change rapidly and be very wet and cold during any time of the year. Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies and know the warning signs of hypothermia and how to treat them.
Visitors should be able to travel safely in brown bear country and know how to prevent and react to encounters with bears.
Many river crossings can be dangerous. Follow these tips for a safe crossing:
• Watch the water’s surface and cross where you see small ripples (not waves), indicating shallow water.
• Cross early in the morning.
• Release your belt and straps so you can drop your pack.
• Wear shoes—don’t cross in socks or barefoot.
• Allow yourself a retreat; don’t commit to one route.
Giardia is found within the waters of Katmai. Treat or filter all drinking water.
Visitors traversing the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes should wear eye protection during high winds.
To receive current park conditions, please contact the Katmai National Park and Preserve headquarters office at (907) 246-3305 or email KATM_Visitor_Information@nps.gov.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.