Katmai National Park is a world famous place where Brown Bears gather each summer in the waterfalls to fatten up jumping salmon making their way upstream. Eating dozens of fish each day, the bears quickly build up their love handles so they can survive giving birth to babies and to be ready for a long winter’s hibernation, two things that might make people eat a lot too.
We’re fortunate that we can visit there safely to watch these magnificent creatures feast at the buffet and marvel at their beauty, strength, and social interactions.
Last year we got to spend a day at Katmai and I was able to snap the photo there in the cover image. While spending hours watching them in the waters was incredible, the truly interesting part was when we came across them on the trails and in the woods.
The first time a bear crossed our path was a momma bear with her three cubs. We were on the trail headed to the restrooms (urgently) when we were stopped by some park rangers informing us there were bears on the trail ahead and they were heading our way. As we had learned first thing in the morning at Bear School, the rule is “if the bear is on the trail, you aren’t”. So those ahead of us veered off into a safe space in the woods, while we waited cautiously to see if momma and the little ones changed course. We were able to slowly get to the bathrooms safely where we waited for them to pass by. While we were waiting, the group took turns using the restroom (did I say it was urgent before?!) keeping one bathroom vacant in case we needed to dive in there for protection from a mad momma bear. Finally it was my turn for the restroom so I went as quickly as humanly possible. And of course, I missed them walk by. I couldn’t believe it. As I came out, all I saw was momma and three fuzzy tails disappearing into the woods.
"All I saw was momma and three fuzzy tails disappearing into the woods."
Luckily that wasn’t the last time we came face-to-face with mother nature. On our way back to the visitor’s center, we were stopped again by another momma and her cub. This time, they were strolling up the beach and we watched them walk right past us, just a few long strides away. “Huge” doesn’t begin to describe her. She was gorgeous. Big black eyes, rippling brown fur, long sharp teeth, and paws the size of my head. She was perfect. And that little cub that was tripping over his own feet and scrambling to keep up was too cute for words.
The last encounter was when we were back at the lodge enjoying our lunch in a roped off area guarded by rangers. That same momma and little cub that like long walks on the beach went past us again, heading back into the woods. She didn’t really pay attention to us because a sushi lunch was on her mind. We heard a few grunts and grumbles from her as we all remained calm and the rangers urged her to keep moving, but she just kept on walking, leading her cub along the path.
The National Parks are such a wonderful way to see wildlife safely. They teach you what you need to know to stay safe at a distance, what to do if you’re dumb enough to get too close, and provide safe viewing areas to be able to get the photo of a lifetime. If you have a chance to visit Katmai, you should.