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Katmai National Park lies less than 300 air miles southeast of Anchorage.  The land size totals around 4 million acres and is home to active volcanoes, brown bears, salmon, rugged wilderness, and North America’s highest concentration of prehistoric human dwellings (around 900).  Navigation around the park is a bit rough for the average visitor as there is only one developed campground along the Brooks River.  The accommodations range from rustic cabins (pictured below) to basic camping, however, for those willing to put forth the effort, visiting the Katmai wilderness can be incredibly rewarding.

Katmai is famous for its unusually large population of brown bears and salmon.  There are an estimated 2,000 brown bears that roam the lands of Katmai, and many congregate during the peak of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run each July along the Brooks River.  I have personally witnessed up to 21 brown bears at one time along the Brooks River Falls, but it is not uncommon to hear about 40 to 60 brown bears in and around Brooks Camp.  

The original Katmai National Monument was created to preserve the famous Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes – a 40 square mile, ~700ft deep deposit of pyroclastic ash deposited by the Novarupta Volcano eruption in 1912.  This eruption is the largest in recorded times (10 times the force of the 1980 eruption of Mt.St.Helens), but there are at least 14 other "active" volcanoes in Katmai.

While not officially within the bounds of the park, another famous area in the Katmai region is the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary.  This area, operated by the Alaska State Department of Fish and Game, protects about 200 square miles of wildlife habitat and is located about 250 air miles from Anchorage.  The McNeil River area was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1967, enlarged in 1993, and continues to protect the world's largest concentration of wild brown bears. The rustic campground is more than comfortable considering its location, and the area offers a truly unique experience.  As many as 144 individual bears have been observed at McNeil River during the short summer months with as many as 72 bears observed at one time.  Unfortunately, recent political developments threaten to allow hunting permits around McNeil and continue to threaten it with future expansion.  The future of this wilderness and its inhabitants is unknown, but for those fortunate enough to draw a permit, time spent at McNeil can be spectacular.

Katmai and the surrounding areas feature millions of acres of pristine wilderness, wild rivers, rugged coastline, active volcanoes, and abundant wildlife making it a true Wonder of Creation worthy of our protection.

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