While there is a long list of things to do in Homer, Alaska, from world-class fishing, whale watching, tide-pooling, and hiking to exploring art galleries, museums, peony farms, and magnificent parks, one of the must-dos is a visit to Katmai National Park.
Homer is one of the best places to embark on a trip to Katmai, renowned for its dense population of coastal brown bears. It covers 3.6 million acres and ranks among the world’s top bear viewing areas with more than 2,200 calling the park home.
Katmai can only be accessed by plane or chartering a boat if you’re a captain with experience navigating Alaskan waters, but it’s well worth the trip for this experience of a lifetime. Depending on the season, you might see the bears doing everything from nursing cubs to digging for clams or catching leaping salmon. It’s not uncommon to see as many as 30 of the animals indulging in feasts here from viewing platforms and developed trails.
Viewing bears and learning about their behaviors in the wild, beyond zoo enclosures, is something that few get the chance to do. But as this large national park isn’t the kind of place where you can simply drive to see the sights and wildlife, there are a few things you’ll need to know in order to visit. Here is how to get to Katmai National Park.
Travel by Floatplane
You can take an air taxi by floatplane through several outfitters based in Homer, including Alaska Bear Adventure Tours based on the Homer Spit. The company offers 4-, 7-, and 11-hour day trips, all of which include a flight that soars over Kachemak Bay where you might spot all sorts of wildlife below, including whales. The shortest trip includes 90 minutes in the air for a bird’s-eye view of dramatic mountains, volcanoes, glistening glaciers, and more. The pilot will watch for the bears in the park from above so that they can be easily found after landing, and then you’ll enjoy at least an hour of bear viewing.
A “Classic” trip includes 90- to 180-minutes of flightseeing plus at least three hours with the bears, while the all-day trip offers 2.5 to 4 hours of flightseeing and up to nine hours with the bears.
This operator also offers six-hour trips that will bring you to iconic Brooks Falls on the Brooks River where the bears catch salmon as they jump up the cascades. While all tours are great for photographers, this one may be the very best for those hoping to capture once-in-a-lifetime images.
Keep in mind that the trips from Homer will bring you to an area of the park that’s out of range for day trips from Anchorage, so there will be few others around, making for an especially unforgettable excursion.
When to Visit
If Katmai National Park is a priority during your visit to Homer, you’ll want to come between May and September. While the park is open year-round, tours are only available during the warmer months of the year, with the season running from approximately May 15th through September 15th. This period also coincides with the best time for whale watching, bringing the chance to see gray whales, orcas, and humpbacks, along with the occasional beluga, finback, or blue whale, with June and July the peak of the season.
If you come in July, enjoy the best of both worlds with the Homer Peony Celebration taking place for two weeks around the middle of the month. You’ll have endless photo-ops available between the magnificent scenery, wildlife, and the blooms with their stunning colors that range from coral and white to fuschia and vibrant pink.
It’s also important to be aware that safety for you and the bears is prioritized. While this time of year brings the best weather, sometimes when the sun is shining in Homer, the weather is bad at Katmai. Pilots will be monitoring conditions and if it’s not safe, flights can be canceled or delayed, but that doesn’t happen often. Planning your tour during the earlier part of your visit brings time to reschedule if necessary.
What to Wear
No matter what the weather, you’ll want to dress in layers (t-shirt, fleece, and a jacket) to be prepared for a range of potential conditions in the park. As you’ll be doing some kneeling and hiking, waterproof or water-resistant hiking pants are ideal along with comfortable, waterproof walking or hiking shoes.
A hat, sunglasses, and gloves will all be helpful too for protection from the elements. Remember that during any Alaskan adventure rain is always a possibility.
A Relaxing Final Destination
After your thrilling but often exhausting day exploring nature and viewing the bears at Katmai National Park, there’s nothing better than coming back to relaxing accommodation. Land’s End Resort is right on the Homer Spit making it easy to access after your trip while providing the perfect place to rest.
You’ll be able to soothe hunger pangs with a mouthwatering meal at The Chart Room and perhaps chat with the friendly staff about your day before returning for a peaceful night’s sleep in your beachfront room, luxurious multi-bedroom home, or cozy log cabin on Beluga Lake.