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The Ultimate Guide to Katmai National Park and Preserve — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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Katmai National Park and Preserve is a massive park located in southern Alaska. This national park and preserve has an intriguing natural and cultural history. Wildlife that can’t be seen in every national park, a valley formed by volcanoes, and wonderful opportunities for hunting and fishing bring nearly 30,000 visitors each year. This remote land has much to offer, so plan your visit today and discover the beauty and wonder of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

How To Get to Katmai National Park and Preserve

Where Is Katmai National Park and Preserve?

Katmai National Park and Preserve is located in southern Alaska on the northern Alaskan Peninsula. This park and preserve is 290 miles southwest of Anchorage. Katmai is as large as the country of Wales and stretches over 3,674,529 acres of land. This magnificent park holds a wealth of opportunities for discovery and exploration within its boundaries. 

Nearest Airports to Katmai National Park and Preserve

Flying into Katmai National Park and Preserve is how most visitors choose to arrive. This remote park is only accessed by boat or plane, and flying is the most convenient choice. 2 airports will be used during your Katmai National Park and Preserve trip, so let’s take a look at what each of those airports has to offer. 

King Salmon Airport (AKN)

King Salmon Airport is a small airport in the town of King Salmon, Alaska, which is located right next to Katmai National Park. This airport offers air services from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

King Salmon Airport is exclusively served by Alaska Airlines and private charter service with Ravn Alaska. When visiting Katmai National Park and Preserve, you will be using King Salmon Airport, which is just a hop, skip, and jump from the park’s entrance. 

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the closest major airport to Katmai National Park and Preserve. This airport is approximately 290 miles from the park. Visitors will fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and then use a connecting flight to take them to the smaller airport next to the park, King Salmon Airport. 

This airport offers flights to and from a long list of destinations worldwide, including Honolulu, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle. This airport is serviced by many popular airlines, such as Aeromexico, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Fiji Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. 

Driving to Katmai National Park and Preserve

Driving to Katmai National Park and Preserve is not a possibility. This park is only accessed by plane or by boat. Most visitors will charter a small plane or boat to bring them to the park from larger surrounding cities like King Salmon. 

Arriving at Katmai National Park and Preserve by Boat

Visitors to Katmai National Park and Preserve are able to utilize private and chartered boats. These services are offered in the nearby towns and villages. There are several commercial businesses that offer services to park guests.

Getting Around Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is one of the few national parks that is not accessible by car. The best way to explore this park is on foot, by plane, or by boat. The National Park Service offers park maps and transportation tips for visitors planning their Katmai National Park and Preserve itinerary. 

What To See and Do in Katmai National Park and Preserve

There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Katmai National Park and Preserve. From world-class fishing and thrilling flightseeing tours to a historic volcanic valley and informative visitor centers, there’s something every visitor will enjoy. Take a look at some of the top activities and sights at Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

Boating

Boating Katmai
Image Credit: NPS

There are hundreds of miles of streams and rivers, as well as several large lakes and small ponds in Katmai National Park and Preserve, making this an excellent location for boating. Canoeing, rafting, and kayaking are possible at Naknek Lake, Savonoski Loop, American Creek, and Funnel Creek. Exploring Katmai National Park and Preserve by boat is one of the best ways to experience the stunning sights and wildlife. 

Fishing

An angler’s paradise, this national park has a multitude of opportunities to cast a line and reel in a big catch. Some of the popular areas for fishing at Katmai National Park and Preserve include the Brooks River and the Alagnak River. The most common types of fish caught in this national park include rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, char, and Arctic grayling.

If you plan to spend time fishing during your visit, be sure to keep in mind that many of the popular fishing areas are also favorite places for bears to fish.

Hot Tip:

Use extreme caution and follow the bear safety guidelines should you encounter a bear while fishing. 

Flightseeing

Katmai Flightseeing
Image Credit: M. Fitz via NPS

One of the best ways to tour Katmai National Park and Preserve is by booking a flightseeing tour. Viewing the park by air is the best way to take in the vastness and diversity of the park. Touring the park by plane provides incredible views of the lowland tundra, the Pacific coast, the sparkling freshwater lakes, the diverse wildlife, and the mesmerizing volcanoes.

Flightseeing tours can be booked in the areas near the park, including Anchorage, King Salmon, Soldotna, and Kodiak. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of this gorgeous park, so be sure to book a tour before your arrival. 

Hunting and Trapping

Hunting and trapping are permitted in Katmai National Preserve. Before venturing out for a hunting and trapping adventure, a license for all hunters age 16 and older must be obtained.

Moose and brown bears are the most common species hunted, but there are other animals, such as caribou. Visitors must plan in advance as access to the park is limited to air taxi service from one of the surrounding villages.

Ranger-Led Programs

There are several kinds of ranger-led programs that take place at Katmai National Park and Preserve. This is a great way for visitors to learn from others who have extensive knowledge of the natural and cultural history of the park. Ranger-led programs take place at Brooks Camp from June 7 to September 17 each year.

There are opportunities for visitors of every age and ability. Some of the programs include the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Tour, Evening Programs at the Brooks Camp Auditorium, and Cultural Walks near the Brooks River. There are even live chats for visitors who can only attend virtually. There is so much to learn about Katmai National Park and Preserve, and one of the best ways is to participate in one of the fantastic ranger-led programs. 

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Mount Griggs
Image Credit: NPS

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is one of the main attractions of Katmai National Park and Preserve. This is the site where one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions has taken place. This area of the park is filled with a mesmerizing history from its iconic explosion in the early 1900s. 

Novarupta was the volcano that erupted in this valley. It shot ash into the sky for 60 hours, some of that reaching 20 miles high. Forty square miles of ash covered the Ukak River Valley and forever transformed this area. 

This valley is a place that provides opportunities to explore a land created by the largest 20th-century volcanic eruption. There are lava domes, waterfalls, towering mountains, and other incredible sights to see in this area. Exploring a landscape that was created by the largest eruption in the 20th century is an awe-inspiring experience.

Visitor Centers

There are 3 different visitor centers at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Each of these makes a great starting point for a day of adventures. 

King Salmon Visitor Center is located right next to the King Salmon Airport. The Brooks Camp Visitor Center is a seasonal center open from the first of June to late September. It is located at the entrance to Brooks Camp. Finally, Robert F. Griggs Visitor Center overlooks the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. 

Each of these visitor centers offers a wealth of information about the cultural and natural history of Katmai National Park and Preserve. They offer exhibits and displays, park films, souvenirs, and the opportunity to chat with park rangers and get assistance planning their Katmai adventures.  

Wildlife Viewing

The animals of Katmai National Park and Preserve are wonderful to see during a visit. Some of the animals found in this national park and preserve include brown bears, moose, lynx, red salmon, birds, red foxes, and wolves.

One of the best places to watch wildlife is near Naknek Lake. Walking around the lake or kayaking out on it provides unbeatable views of the magnificent animals of the park. Other places to check out wildlife include near Brooks Camp, around Brooks River, and close to Brooks River Falls.

Bottom Line:

Watching a massive bear grab its dinner from the sparkling river is a sight to remember forever. 

Best Times To Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is an amazing place to visit, no matter when you are able to go. Let’s explore the best times to visit Katmai National Park and Preserve and see if it helps you plan your itinerary. 

Best Time To Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve in Autumn

If you love fall temperatures and scenery, you will want to plan your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve in the month of September. The temperatures are comfortable, and there is still a good possibility that bears will be near the river. The vibrant colors of the trees changing from green to red, gold, and orange against the bright blue sky make for a breathtaking view and incredible photo. 

Best Time To Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

A solitary trip to a national park is an experience to cherish. To avoid the crowds at Katmai National Park and Preserve, plan a trip in the off-season. A September trip will allow for wonderful wildlife sightings, beautiful scenery, and excellent weather. Enjoy this park without being rushed or crowded by planning a trip in September. 

Best Time To Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve for Wildlife

Bear Watching Katmai
Image Credit: R. Wood via NPS

Animals can be seen no matter what time you visit Katmai National Park and Preserve, but there is a special time to visit if you are hoping to see an abundance of these animals. Early July is the best month to visit this national park to see bears. Salmon have made their way upstream, which attracts the bears for a nice feast. There’s also great birdwatching at this time of year. Seeing the wildlife at Katmai National Park and Preserve always leaves you with a sense of awe and wonder. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve

Saving money while traveling seems impossible, but with proper planning, you can plan a vacation while going easy on your budget. The cheapest time to visit Katmai National Park and Preserve is to go in the off-season. The month of September offers great temperatures, and lodging and flight rates are lower once the crowds from summer travel dwindle down. A September trip is a great way to save money while traveling to Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Fat Bear Week

Due to Katmai National Park and Preserve’s remote location, this park doesn’t offer a lot of events throughout the year, however, Fat Bear Week takes place annually in October. This special week is a way to celebrate the bears of Katmai and their resilience, strength, and adaptability. Visitors, in person or online, vote on their favorite bear, and the winning bear is crowned the champion.

Fat Bear Week
Image Credit: L. Law via NPS

Throughout this week, visitors around the world are able to learn about the lives and history of individual bears while learning about Katmai’s ecosystem. 

Where To Stay In and Near Katmai National Park and Preserve

There are numerous options for lodging in and near Katmai National Park and Preserve. From primitive camping to luxury lodging, there’s something for every traveler in and near Katmai National Park and Preserve. Take a look at some of the best options for lodging in and near the park.

Inside the Park

There are several options for lodging within the boundaries of Katmai National Park and Preserve. Whether you prefer camping in the great outdoors or staying in an award-winning lodge, there’s plenty to choose from when deciding your accommodations. Check out some of the most popular lodging options at Katmai National Park and Preserve, and see which one you will want to book during your stay.

Backcountry Camping

Katmai National Park and Preserve is mostly composed of wilderness, making it an excellent place for backcountry camping. If you prefer primitive camping in the wild, you will want to spend time exploring the backcountry and setting up camp wherever your heart desires.

Hot Tip:

If you plan to camp in the backcountry, be sure to plan ahead. Safety is crucial, so have a plan for what to do in case you encounter wildlife, harsh temperatures, or danger.

Brooks Camp Campground

Brooks Camp Campground is located in a lush forest on the shore of Naknek Lake. Its location, facilities, and opportunities to view wildlife make it a spectacular campground to set up camp for the night. 

This campground doesn’t have designated sites and only allows a maximum of 60 people per day. You can secure your campsite by making reservations in advance online. Brooks Camp Campground is open from May through October each year. 

The facilities that are available at Brooks Camp Campground truly make camping in this remote park a breeze. There are 3 cooking shelters with picnic tables, an electric fence for protection against bears and for keeping deer away, fire rings for easy cooking, food, and gear storage caches, lockers for storing fuel, potable water, and toilets. 

This campground is the perfect place to stay during a trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve. By staying in this beautiful campground, you are able to lengthen the time spent in the park and check off all the sights and activities on your Katmai wish list.

Brooks Lodge

Brooks Lodge
Image Credit: Bristol Adventures

Brooks Lodge is located in the heart of Katmai National Park and overlooks the Brooks River. This lodge has been serving visitors since 1950 and was originally a fishing camp. Today, visitors are able to retreat to the Katmai wilderness and experience the beauty of this Alaskan park to the fullest.

There are 16 contemporary rooms at Brooks Lodge, but each room is in its own private cabin. Each room can accommodate 4 guests. There is a private bathroom and a shared bedroom featuring 2 sets of bunk beds. The rooms also offer heat and electricity. 

Meals take place in the main lodge. A buffet is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, with cocktails available in the afternoon and evening. Brooks Lodge offers astounding opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching, and taking in the sights in different areas like Brooks Falls. 

A stay at Brooks Lodge offers a perfect mixture of modern lodging and adventures. This is the ideal location for accommodations during your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

Katmai Wilderness Lodge

Katmai Wilderness Lodge is an opportunity to stay within the boundaries of Katmai National Park and Preserve. This rustic yet elegant lodge offers more than just a place to sleep during your visit. This lodge has 7 beautiful cabins to choose from, a nationally-renowned chef that makes amazing creations in the kitchen, guides to lead you on Katmai adventures, gorgeous scenery, and incredible opportunities to see wildlife.

The guest cabins at Katmai Wilderness Lodge feature private bathrooms, comfortable furniture, and stunning views. Meals are enjoyed in the dining room, and there is a lodge living room stocked with games, books, and DVDs for the days you want to take it easy. 

A stay at Katmai Wilderness Lodge is memorable, relaxing, and breathtaking. Don’t hesitate to book a stay at this award-winning wilderness lodge during your visit to Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

Towns Near Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a remote Alaskan park. There are a couple of towns near this national park should you want to stay close by. Let’s explore the 2 closest and most popular towns to Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

King Salmon, Alaska

King Salmon is the town where Katmai National Park and Preserve is located. This town is a former military base and offers commercial jet service during the summer months. This community is located on the northern bank of the Naknek River and offers several places for lodging, dining, and recreation.

Most of the lodging options are locally-owned bed and breakfasts and inns, but there are a few lodges as well. No matter what you choose for accommodations, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the landscapes and waters. 

There are only a couple of options for dining, with other restaurants in the surrounding towns. Both restaurants in this town feature fresh seafood, classic American dishes, and signature specialties that will leave you wanting to return again and again. 

There are countless opportunities for adventure and recreation. Many guests enjoy fly fishing, adventure camps, kayaking, hiking, and of course, exploring Katmai National Park and Preserve. For the most convenient town near Katmai National Park and Preserve, you will want to plan to stay in King Salmon during your national park vacation.

Naknek, Alaska

Naknek is a gateway town to Katmai National Park and Preserve that’s only 14 miles away. This town is situated on the northern bank of the Naknek River and is home to the world’s richest sockeye salmon fishery. If you enjoy fishing and spending time on or near the water, you will want to make this area your home base during your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

For accommodations, guests will find several options, such as privately-owned inns, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals. There are a couple of options for more traditional lodging, like motels, in the town as well.

This small town features 2 dining options. There is a diner and a gourmet restaurant in the town hotel. Both restaurants have extensive menus with incredible specialties for you to try. You could eat at the restaurants daily and still have a unique experience time and time again since they offer so many different options.

Naknek brings in thousands of fishermen each year because of its incredible fishing opportunities and abundance of pink, king, sockeye, and silver salmon. Other fish caught in the waters near this town include rainbow trout, grayling, and Arctic char. 

Not in the mood for fishing? The town has other things to do as well. Tourists enjoy visiting the Bristol Bay Historical Museum to learn about the town’s history, archeology, and Alaska Native culture. The St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church is a historic building from 1886. This chapel is featured on the National Register of Historic Places, and many guests like to visit it while staying in Naknek. 

Bottom Line:

With its close proximity to Katmai National Park and Preserve and its abundance of things to see and do, setting up a base camp in Naknek is an excellent choice during your Katmai vacation.

Where To Eat in Katmai National Park and Preserve

There aren’t any restaurants in Katmai National Park and Preserve unless you are staying at one of the wilderness lodges on the property. However, there are several options for dining in the towns and communities near the park. Check out some of the top-rated restaurants near Katmai National Park and Preserve so you can make a plan to stay fueled during your park adventures. 

Eddie’s Fireplace Inn

Eddies Fireplace Inn
Image Credit: Eddie’s Fireplace Inn

Eddie’s Fireplace Inn is located in King Salmon, right next to Katmai National Park and Preserve. This locally-owned restaurant is open year-round and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 

This restaurant serves classic diner specialties that hit the spot. Some of the recommended dishes include the pancake breakfast, the classic roast beef sandwich, the juicy burgers, and the patty melt. For a delicious meal and fantastic customer service, be sure to stop in at Eddie’s Fireplace Inn for an experience you won’t forget. 

Heart O’ The Shire

Heart O’ The Shire is just a 13-minute drive from Katmai National Park and Preserve in the city of Naknek. This restaurant is open each weekday for breakfast and lunch.

This locally-owned restaurant serves piping hot coffee and freshly made breakfast treats, and deli sandwiches. Customers rave about the hot cinnamon rolls, breakfast burritos, and the 3-meat sandwiches. The espresso creations are a form of art, so be sure to grab a latte or cappuccino during your stay. 

Not only does Heart O’ The Shire have an excellent location and an incredible menu, but they also have a charming shop where you can buy books and souvenirs to commemorate your stay. You won’t want to miss Heart O’ The Shire when visiting Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

The PiT

The PiT proudly serves the Naknek community, which is less than 15 minutes from Katmai National Park and Preserve. This restaurant serves dinner and late-night drinks each weekday and brunch and lunch on the weekends. The PiT also features live music, making this an excellent choice for a good meal and a great time. 

The menu features appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizza, and burgers. If you can’t find what you are looking for on the menu, the chef is happy to create a custom order specifically for you. Top menu items include the shrimp and scallop fettuccine, the “world famous” PiT Burger, and the BBQ pulled pork sandwich. 

To refuel after a long day of park excursions at Katmai National Park and Preserve, visit The PiT. Enjoy the delicious meal, awesome company, and lively atmosphere while you are there. 

Sockeye Saloon

King Salmon has a wonderful restaurant near Katmai National Park and Preserve called Sockeye Saloon. This restaurant serves freshly-made specialties as well as an impressive variety of beer, wine, and liquors. Sockeye Saloon is open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night drinks and desserts. 

The menu features hot appetizers, create-your-own signature pizzas, juicy burgers, and specialty sandwiches. The King Salmon pizza, Sockeye Saloon burger, local-smoked salmon sandwich, and chicken wings are some of the most requested menu items and are sure to treat your tastebuds. 

There’s something for every palate at Sockeye Saloon, so add this restaurant to your itinerary when visiting Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Katmai National Park and Preserve Facts

Icefall Katmai
Image Credit: Chad Hults via NPS

1. A New National Park

Katmai National Park and Preserve was first established as a national monument in 1918. This monument was intended to protect the area created by the massive volcanic eruption of 1912, Novarupta. In 1980, after becoming a popular place for wildlife viewing, the border expansions led this Alaskan area to be established as Katmai National Park and Preserve by Congress under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. 

2. What’s in a Name?

Katmai National Park and Preserve was named after a massive stratovolcano named Mount Katmai. This volcano is located in the center of the park and reaches 6,716 feet in elevation. 

3. Original People of Katmai

The original people who lived in the Katmai area were the Alutiiq and Sugpiaq people groups. These inhabitants are estimated to have come to this area 3,000 years ago. Today, their culture is represented throughout the park in many different ways.

4. A Growing Monument

Before Katmai became a national park and preserve, it was a national monument. The monument was extended 3 times by 3 different presidents. The first expansion was made by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. The second expansion took place in 1969 by Lyndon B. Johnson. The next expansion took place in 1978 by Jimmy Carter.

5. Largest Volcanic Eruption of the 20th Century

On June 6, 1912, a new volcano named Novarupta exploded. This eruption is the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The volcano erupted and covered the surrounding town in a foot of ash. The sound of the eruption could be heard hundreds of miles away. 

6. Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes was created by a flow of gas, dust, and ash from the eruption. This area has been preserved and can be explored today. In fact, NASA uses this valley for training astronauts and preparing them for missions. The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is one of the main highlights of Katmai National Park and Preserve. Its intriguing history and phenomenal landscape continuously draw in hundreds of tourists and scientists each year. 

7. Bear Cams

Katmai National Park and Preserve offers 24/7 live streaming for the world to see. These gather at the Brooks River, Brooks Falls, and at Riffles. Sights that can be seen on these live streams include mothers and their new cubs and bears chasing, pouncing, and feasting on schools of salmon. If you are unable to see bears on the days you visit the park, you can still see amazing sights of them on these handy webcams. 

8. An Abundance of Animals

An incredible variety of mammals, birds, and fish call Katmai National Park and Preserve their home. There are 42 types of mammals, dozens of bird species, and countless kinds of fish that can be found at this national park. Some of the most noteworthy animals that are found in this national park include puffins, bald eagles, brown bears, river otters, caribou, beaver, orcas, harbor seals, and gray whales. Wildlife watching is one of the top activities in this national park since there is such a vast array of animals that can be spotted. 

9. Oil Spill Trouble

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill of about 11 million gallons seeped into Prince William Sound in Alaska. Even though Katmai’s coast was over 250 miles away, this spill heavily impacted Katmai National Park and Preserve. Many animals who made their home in and near the park’s water were killed or injured, including sea otters, bald eagles, seabirds, orcas, and harbor seals. 

10. National Historic Landmarks

Alaska has 50 landmarks that have made it to the National Register of Historic Landmarks, and 2 on this prestigious list (Brooks River and Amalik Bay) are found inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.

11. Archaeology at the Brooks River

The Brooks River area is an archaeologist’s dream. This area has been used by communities for over 5,000 years. While this area seems like a large stretch of wilderness today, it actually has been a major hub of human activity for thousands of years. Research and excavation of the Brooks River area have uncovered many clues to the rich cultural history of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Final Thoughts

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a bucket list destination. Whether you are interested in fishing and hunting, hiking, or wildlife-watching, this place offers unmatched sights and experiences. Book your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve and discover the natural beauty, wonder, culture, and history of this remote Alaskan park.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Katmai National Park and Preserve?

There is no entrance pass fee for visiting Katmai National Park and Preserve. There may be other fees that accrue depending on the types of activities and tours you want to participate in during your visit.

What is the weather like at Katmai National Park and Preserve?

The temperatures vary throughout the year at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Winters are dry and cold, with temperatures as low as –35 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 50 degrees. The rest of the seasons are typically wet and cool. Summer temperatures range from 30 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

How many days should I plan to spend at Katmai National Park and Preserve?

It is recommended to plan for a minimum of 3 days at Katmai National Park and Preserve. This allows plenty of time for wildlife viewing, hiking, fishing, and kayaking.

Is there Wi-Fi available at Katmai National Park and Preserve?

Since Katmai National Park and Preserve is located in such a remote area, visitors should not anticipate being able to access cellular or Wi-Fi services.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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