Our Vie Adventures consists of Cees, Madison, Vladimir the Kitten, and a 1989 Toyota Motorhome named Vie. Cees and Madison are on the road, living the dream of every outdoor-minded couple by visiting each national park in the country over the course of the year. In celebration of our National Parks Centennial, we’ve partnered with Cees and Madison to bring you stories and photos of their yearlong quest (and of course, plenty of #vladimirkitten along the way).
Keep scrolling to see Cees, Madison, and Vladimir’s visit to Katmai National Park, AK. Stay tuned to Downstream for updates on their adventures and follow them on Instagram (@ourvieadventures) for more frequent updates from the road.
We flew out yet again to another remote Alaskan national park! This time we flew to the land of the bears and the famous salmon run in Brooks Camp. Our first stop was in King Salmon, AK and from there we took a 20 minute float plane ride to Brooks Camp. Cees was totally geeking out over the float plane, haha. Based on what I’ve seen, he will most likely be asking to get his pilot’s license soon. Thanks a lot, Alaska.
Brooks Camp is just a small component of Katmai National Park, but it’s where most visitors want to be. There is a really cool lodge and dining room, little cabins to stay in, places to hang out, and an electric fenced-in campground for cheap adventurers like us.
We made some rice for lunch in camp then headed to the falls to see our bear friends. We had been anxiously awaiting this moment ever since we got to Alaska! Only a few yards from the falls the NPS has created two platforms for visitors to watch Planet Earth live.
As soon as we started walking onto the platform we could see three huge, dark, masses of fur in the falls. The hugest grizzly bears! Well, here they are actually just called coastal brown bears. It turns out that, even though they are exactly the same species, if a bear is inland it is called a Grizzly, and if a bear is on the coast (like in Katmai NP) it is called a brown bear. I don’t really know why, that’s just how it is.
The salmon return to their exact river system after spending a few years in the ocean. They start turning pink as a sign to potential mates that they are ready to spawn. In a last dying attempt to spawn in their home river, they use all of their energy and try to jump the falls. They come in huge numbers and the local bears get to have a veritable smörgåsbord.
While we were watching, a mama bear came with her two cubs and showed them how to fish. The cubs weren’t very good at fishing and just jumped around recklessly, scattering the fish every time.
They stood on their hind legs to watch their mama and made the cutest noises when she got too far away from them.
Eventually the bigger bears pushed the little family away from the falls. Bears are solitary creatures, but make the exception to coexist when the fish feast is so prime. But, they are still selfish and want the best fishing spots for themselves. Bears communicate with subtle and not so subtle expressions, movements, and noises. We watched as bears chose their fishing spots carefully and the more dominate bears would bully and push for the best spots.
The park has placed a bear cam on the platform that films the bears live 24/7. If you want to watch the action live click here. Although, the peak season for bear watching is during the summer, especially the month of July, there may still be some bears hanging around!
It was pretty surreal watching these enormous and extremely strong bears catch salmon and filet them effortlessly with their teeth. This bear looked particularly smug with his catch. He was a really good fisher-bear and caught a fish almost every 5-10 minutes. We stood there transfixed for 5 hours.
This is the bridge that we walked across every day for three days to get to the trail leading to the falls. If bears were on the river near the bridge the rangers would shut down the bridge and make us wait until the bears decided to move on. Sometimes it would take ten minutes, other times an hour or longer. The bears run the show in Katmai. It’s amazing though because the bears don’t seemed threatened or scared of humans at all and the rangers didn’t even make a point to educate visitors about proper bear spray usage (although, we have heard that talk and watched safety videos about it in every other Alaskan park previously). We did have a Brooks Camp ranger orientation when we arrived, but the rangers explained that the bears here have plenty of resources and food and don’t feel threatened by humans. The rangers are really bear-aware and know of their whereabouts almost at all times. They keep the visitors at least 50 yards from the animals. Occasionally there are surprises, but no dangerous encounters. So, humans and bears coexist in this special place.
This was the dusky view from our electrified campground.
On day two, we decided to take a guided bus tour to explore the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Although the bears are the main event in Katmai National Park, the park was actually created because of the 1912 eruption of Novarupta. The pyroclastic flow covered a massive area and caused a dramatic change to the landscape. A ranger guided us on the tour and narrated as we bumped along. Side note* the bus was the coolest, lifted four-wheel drive school bus. We decided that this is the ideal bus for our skoolie conversion dream (#someday). When we got to the visitor’s center near the valley, the ranger and bus driver made us a picnic lunch. It was actually one of the best deli sandwiches I’ve ever had I think. Something about food made by others when you’re out camping and eating nasty Ramen, is just the best.
We decided to do both hikes to the Yukah Falls and also to the Confluence. We may have been the only ones on the tour to make it to both locations in the allotted time. It was hot that day and the hikes weren’t that long, but they were moderately strenuous.
While we were out hiking we found some bear tracks in the sand. It’s strange to think that there is wild all around us always and we just don’t see it. So much is going on, but we only notice a tiny part of it.
There are so many clues of bears all around us. We found fur from an apparently favorite bear-back scratching tree.
We loved the Confluence viewpoint. We were able to look up the valley that the river carved into the ash flow. It was really neat to see how one volcanic event could deposit so much material. In some areas that ash was over 700 feet thick!
After our tour finished in the early evening we headed back to our favorite fishing bears. We just couldn’t get enough of them. Watching them never got old.
On the last day, we hiked to the top of Mt. Dumpling and saw the entire Brooks River from above. It’s only a couple of miles long, but totally worth it. We took a nap at the top in the late afternoon then headed back to camp.
We were always the most nervous to hike to the falls. We figured if we were going to have a face off with a bear, that it would happen walking down this path.
Meet Otis. He is my all-time favorite bear and spirit animal. All of the other bears used fishing techniques such as snorkeling underwater, diving and grabbing, or following and lunging at the fish. Otis, on the other hand, patiently waited for the fish to come to straight to him. He sat motionless on his haunches, then all of a sudden would bite a fish in front of him in the water. I don’t know if he was trying to conserve energy or just straight up lazy, but I liked him. He cracked me up.
It was hilarious watching the fish and their many failed attempts to jump the falls.
Some salmon were stronger and made the leap flawlessly – but MOST just fell on their faces. What did the fish say when it hit the wall?
Bye Brooks Camp! It was so fun and completely worth it to make the trek out there to see Katmai National Park and all that it has to offer. I would totally recommend this must-see place to anyone doing an Alaskan adventure in the future.
The view from the plane.
It was amazing and massive and they even let us do our own creations for our own halves. YUM.
We missed our little kitty, and I think he missed us too. We are glad that we have a home on wheels so that he’s always comfortable and safe wherever we go. He’s a good little adventure kitty, but he can also be really lazy just like any cat, and a few days off for snoozing is good for him.