About 290 miles southwest of Anchorage is Katmai National Park and Wildlife Refuge. Named for the Katmai Stratovolcano, the reserve covers more than 4 million acres of wilderness. Because of the presence of volcanism, Katmai remained relatively untouched until the 1950s.

Katmai National Park is called the Valley of Ten Thousand Smoke as a result of the simultaneous eruption of Mount Katmai and Novarupta in 1912. The resulting pyroclastic flow covered a nearby valley about 300 feet thick in soot and ash. As the deposits cooled, heat began to escape in the form of steam through cracks, earning it the nickname “Ten Thousand Smoke Valley.” Nevertheless, over the next few decades, Katmai began to thrive with huge numbers of wildlife. Katmai is best known for its large schools of sockeye salmon, which return from the ocean to the streams from which they were born to reproduce and repeat the cycle. Where there are many salmon, you can expect to find brown bears and grizzly bears. These higher carnivores can eat up to 30 salmon a day.

Because of this serene relationship between bears and salmon, Katmai National Park boasts the largest protected population of brown bears on Earth. It is estimated that there are about 2,000 individual brown bears roaming the park. The best place to see bears grazing for salmon is at Brook Falls, a lookout point in close proximity to the salmon spawning grounds that attract brown bears. This is where the many award-winning photographs of Alaska brown bears originate.

Although Katmai is known for its brown bears and wildlife watching, there are other activities you can do during your stay in Katmai. Some of these activities include hiking, camping, skiing, world-class fishing, and kayaking, to name a few. Katmai offers many activities that hikers can enjoy at their own pace and desire. For any visitor, proceed with caution given how remote Katmai is and how many primitive animals call the park home.