Julie United States 19 Comments

Brooks Falls is one of the best places in Katmai National Park to view brown bears. Every July, when the salmon make their annual run, this part of the Brooks River is packed with bears, making it one of the best wildlife viewing experiences in the US national parks.

What is Brooks Falls?

Brooks Falls is a waterfall that is located on Brooks River.

Every summer, the sockeye salmon swim up the Brooks River to their spawning point. By the time they get to the Brooks River, they are already fatigued from the long journey.

Now, they have to swim upriver and cross several more hurdles, to make it to their spawning location.

Just leaping up out of the water, to get up and over the Brooks Falls, is a huge task. But add in a hungry brown bear, perched on top of the waterfall. A bear on a mission to fatten up as much as possible before winter arrives.

Katmai National Park Brooks Falls

The lucky salmon are able to get past both the falls and the bears. Those that aren’t so lucky help the bears put on pounds before heading into winter. I read that between 200,000 and 400,000 salmon successfully make it upriver each year!

The brown bears aren’t the only ones who go fishing for salmon in the Brooks River. This river was, and still is, a very popular fly fishing destination. In fact, Brooks Lodge was originally built to accommodate people on fly fishing trips.

Later, people caught on that this is also a phenomenal wildlife viewing spot. Viewing platforms were erected and now thousands of people visit Katmai in the summer months to see brown bears.

Brooks Falls Katmai National Park

Brooks Falls

 

Brooks Falls Katmai National Park

Where is Brooks Falls?

Brooks Falls is located in Katmai National Park & Preserve. It is located near Brooks Camp and Naknek Lake.

How Do You Get to Brooks Falls?

The only way to get to Brooks Falls and Brooks Camp is by plane and by boat.

The fastest way to get here is by plane. You can hire a taxi that takes you directly to Katmai National Park from Anchorage, Homer, or other towns in Alaska, or fly through King Salmon, which is the main transportation hub for Katmai. For more details on how to get to Brooks Falls, read our Things to Do in Katmai article.

Once you are at Brooks Camp, it’s an easy walk to get to the Brooks Falls viewing platforms.

The Brooks Falls Trail is a 0.6 mile one-way trail to the Brooks Falls viewing platforms. This trail is flat and easy to walk. Just keep an eye out for bear. They use the trail too, to get to Brooks Falls, and bear sightings here are very common.

The Brooks Falls Trail starts on Lake Brooks Road. From the visitor center and Brooks Lodge, it is a 0.5 mile walk one-way to get to the Brooks Falls trailhead.

So, from Brooks Lodge, it is a 2.2 mile round trip walk to get to and from the viewing platforms.

Map of Brooks Falls Trail

Map of Brooks Camp and Brooks Falls, courtesy of NPS.org.

Getting to the Brooks Falls Trail Trailhead

From Brooks Lodge, cross the very long Brooks River Elevated Boardwalk to the other side. On this walk, keep an eye out for Bald Eagles and brown bears. In the river, you might be able to spot fish. If the salmon are running, you can see sockeye salmon in the Brooks River.

Katmai Boardwalk

The elevated boardwalk and Brooks Camp.

On the far side of the bridge, follow Lake Brooks Road. It only goes in one direction at this point. You will be walking through a forest and bear sightings are frequent here.

Bear on Lake Brooks Road

A young bear on Lake Brooks Road.

Keep a lookout for the Brooks Falls Trailhead, which will be on the right, and the toilets, which will be on the left.

It is a 0.5 mile walk from the visitor center and Brooks Lodge to get to the Brooks Falls Trail trailhead.

Brooks Falls Trail

Distance: 1.2 miles out-and-back
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 30 minutes average. This is just the walking time on the trail. It does not account for any time spent at the viewing platforms. It also doesn’t take into account bear jams.

The trailhead is marked with the sign below. See the scratch marks on the bear’s nose? A park ranger told us that the bears get confused and think that the bear is real and scratch at the face.

Brooks Falls Trail Sign

From here, it is a flat, gravel path through the woods to the viewing platforms.

Bear sightings are common. The first time we hiked this trail, we met a sow and cub right on the trail. As we rounded a bend, the two bears were on the side of the trail, munching on the plants. We were probably 30 yards away from them, so we kept talking and backed down the trail a safe distance. The bears were slowly browsing on the plants and moving towards us, so we had to hike off trail, into the brush, to allow them to pass.

Brooks Falls Trail

A sow and her cub on the Brooks Falls Trail.

 

Brooks Falls Trail July

Another view of the Brooks Falls Trail.

The last tenth of a mile is on a boardwalk trail. This boardwalk has several gates. The gates keep the bear from entering the boardwalk, so it’s very important that you shut the gate behind you.

The boardwalk is elevated and it is possible to see brown bear below you. The National Park Service has signs posted to speak in a quiet voice and keep moving so you don’t disturb the shier bears.

Katmai Boardwalk Trail

Final boardwalk trail to the two viewing platforms.

At the end of the boardwalk, there are two viewing platforms: the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform and Riffles Platform (discussed next).

Once you are finished at the viewing platforms, to get back to Brooks Lodge, you will retrace your steps and keep an eye out for bear on the trail.

Brooks Falls Viewing Platform

With its very close proximity to Brooks Falls, this is the prime location to see brown bears catching the salmon. From here, you are really just a few feet away from the river. It’s not uncommon for brown bears to walk right below the platform. At times, it almost seems like you could reach out and touch them.

The viewing platform has an upper and lower level. The lower level is the best for photography in my opinion. But if it’s crowded, it’s best to just get a spot up against the railing, in order to get the best photos.

Brooks Falls Viewing Platform

Want to see the bear at Brooks Falls? The National Park Service has several webcams set up. Watch the brown bears in real time as they fish for salmon in the Brooks River.

There is a 40 person maximum for the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform. This is enforced by the National Park Service rangers. Once the number hits 40, a waitlist is formed. Those on the platform have 30 minutes to photograph and watch the bears. Then, they are asked to leave and the next people take their place.

During peak season (midday in July), wait times can be as long as 2 hours. The busiest time of day to be here is between 10 am and 4 pm, when the day trippers are here.

While you are waiting, you can hang out at the Riffles Platform.

Here are photos from the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform.

Bear By Falls Viewing Platform

Photo from the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform. Not only will you see bear at the falls but they also walk along the shoreline and under the boardwalk trail.

 

Brooks Falls Katmai

A salmon making a leap up Brooks Falls.

 

Bear Fight

This can be a common sight, two bears challenging each other for a prime spot on top of the falls.

 

Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park

Brooks River

Looking down Brooks River.

 

Hungry Bear

Riffles Platform

The Riffles Platform is located a short distance down river from Brooks Falls. The view of the falls is not as impressive from here, since you are farther away, but it can still be a great place to view bear.

From here, you look up and down Brooks River. During peak feeding times, there can still be quite a few bears right out in front of the platform.

Riffles Platform Katmai

This is the view of Brooks Falls from the Riffles Platform using a 70 mm lens.

 

Brooks Falls from Riffles

This is the view of Brooks Falls from the Riffles Platform using a 500 mm lens.

 

Brown Bear Brooks Falls Katmai Photo

There is no maximum number of guests for Riffles Platform.

IMPORTANT: Both viewing platforms are closed from 10 pm through 7 am, June 15 to August 15. This is to give the bears easy access to the trail to Brooks Falls during this time.

Photography Gear

Bring your best camera gear, including the largest zoom lens in your arsenal.

The majority of our photos were taken with a Canon R5 and a 100 – 500 mm lens and a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 70 – 300 mm lens. We used a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24 – 70 mm lens for back up.

It is not at all unusual to see people walking around Brooks Camp with multiple cameras hanging from their necks. And you will see people with some massive telephoto lenses.

Expandable and rail-mounted tripods are not permitted on the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform from June 15 through August 15. Monopods are allowed.

For more on our photography gear, take a look at our Travel Photography Gear Guide.

Brooks Falls Photo

Photo from the Brooks Falls Viewing Platform with a 300 mm lens. I cropped this photo in Lightroom, just a small amount, to get this final result.

When is the Best Time to See Brown Bears at Brooks Falls?

July is the best month to visit Katmai, if you want to see the brown bears feeding on salmon at Brooks Falls.

We talked to a lot of people about when exactly is the best time to be here…park rangers, guides, pilots, other guests, and the staff at Brooks Lodge, both before and during our visit. Plus, we kept an eye on the bear cam after our visit, which shows exactly what bear viewing conditions are like at Brooks Falls.

We were told that the bear start arriving in at Brooks Falls at the end of June. The salmon start arriving sometime between the end of June and very early July. It’s possible to see bear and salmon at the end of June, but I think it’s best to wait until the first or second week of July, just to be certain that the salmon will be there.

On both of our visits, the salmon were late in arriving. A late spring snowstorm, lots of rain, and cooler then average temperatures in June delayed the arrival of the salmon.

2023 was very atypical, one of the latest arrivals of salmon in recent history. Talking to one of the Brooks Camp staff members who has been working here for over 10 years, she said that the latest arrival she’s seen was July 15. But she has also seen it where the salmon stopped running by July 15.

So, there’s never a guarantee, but the second and third weeks of July are usually the best time to see the bears and the salmon.

In August, the salmon have made it upriver, so the feeding ends.

After the salmon spawn, they die and then they float downriver. As they drift back over Brooks Falls, the brown bears feed on the dead salmon. It’s not quite as spectacular, since you don’t see the salmon jumping up the falls, but you will still be able to see a lot of bear.

Brooks Lodge is open from June 1 through September 18.

The photo below was taken by Mark Gniewyk. Mark shared his awesome photos with us prior to our trip to Alaska. On our first trip to Katmai, when we did not get to see the bear feeding on salmon that typically occurs in July, he very kindly agreed to allow us to share his photos on our website. This photo was taken July 8, 2018. Thank you, Mark!

Bear Salmon

Photo credit: Mark Gniewyk

Where Can I Stay at Brooks Falls?

You can stay at either Brooks Lodge or Brooks Camp Campground. Brooks Lodge is expensive (it’s roughly $950 per night for a room that accommodates 4 people) and, due to its popularity, you have to enter a lottery to get a reservation. The lottery opens up in December, about 18 months before the summer season. For example, in December 2023, you can enter the lottery for the summer season of 2025.

If you don’t get a reservation in the lottery, you might be able to get a space from someone who cancels. This is how we got our two night reservation for July 2021. We called Brooks Lodge in April, just checking to see if they had any availability in the summer. They did and we then designed our entire Alaska itinerary around our 3-day stay in Katmai.

Near the lodge is a campground. This is operated by the National Park Service and reservations need to be made in advance. 

Bear Safety

When you first arrive at Brooks Camp, a National Park Service Ranger will give you a 15 minute lesson on bear safety. Travel in groups, make noise, leave all of your food in your cabin, do not approach the bears, stay at least 50 yards from the bears, and other rules and tips are discussed.

I also recommend that you read the National Park Service website for bear safety tips before your visit.

Do not carry any food around Brooks Camp. You will hear this again when you take your bear safety class upon arrival at Katmai, but do not carry any food on you. The bear can smell the food, even if it is in an airtight container in your backpack. You will be sharing the same trails as the bear and it’s possible you could cross paths with a bear. If they smell the food, they could get curious and want to check it out, leading to an unnecessary encounter with a bear.

While in Katmai National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Katmai National Park Bear

For more information on things to do in Katmai National Park & Preserve, with tips on how to plan your visit, read our article Best Things to Do in Katmai National Park.


If you have any questions about how to visit the Brooks Falls viewing platforms or walk the Brooks Falls Trail, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Alaska

KATMAI NATIONAL PARK: In our article Best Things to Do in Katmai, we cover the top experiences in the park. For a unique experience, take a photography tour to capture the action at Brooks Falls from Brooks River. You can also visit the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, the site of one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in recent history.

LAKE CLARK NATIONAL PARK: Learn how to plan your visit in our Lake Clark National Park Travel Guide. We also have a article about the Best Things to Do in Lake Clark and photos from Lake Clark National Park.

BEST OF DENALI: Eielson is one of the most spectacular areas in Denali to visit since it offers some of the best views of Denali. Taking a Denali flight seeing tour is also a great thing to do, as are hiking one of the many trails in the park. Get the full list in our article Best Things to Do in Denali.

KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Kenai Fjords National Park Travel Guide for  important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.

BEST OF WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS: Top experiences in Wrangell-St. Elias include hiking the Root Glacier Trail, taking a flightseeing tour, and hiking to Bonanza Mine. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do in Wrangell-St. Elias.

ALASKA ITINERARY: Take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Alaska with our Alaska road trip itineraries.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries. You can also learn more about the national parks and get a FREE printable checklist in our US National Parks Checklist.

 

Read all of our articles about Alaska in our Alaska Travel Guide and the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

 

 

Brooks Falls Katmai National Park Alaska

 

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 19

  1. Avatar for Rick
    Rick

    When you put your name on the waitlist for Brooks Falls viewing platform, do they give you a time to come back or how do they get ahold of you?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      They give you a general time to come back. We waited at the Riffles Platform and they will come get you here. It’s the best option, since it is such a long walk on the trails to get anywhere else near Brooks Falls. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for KP
    KP

    Hi,
    Absolutely loved your blog and I have followed your blogs for Glacier Np and Badlands. And now we are planning to visit Alaska in August mid. Can you please provide the travel links/Air Services to travel from Anchorage to Katmai?

    Thanks,
    KP.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That’s very exciting that you are planning a trip to Alaska! You can call Katmai Air, which is one of the airlines that flies to Brooks Lodge/Katmai. Bristol Adventures works with a variety of airlines to get you to Katmai. We flew Ace from Anchorage to King Salmon and Katmai Air from King Salmon to Brooks Lodge. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for KP
  3. Avatar for Vili
    Vili

    Thanks a lot for the very informative article and fantastic photos!
    We are planning to visit the Brooks Falls in the middle of July 2024. I was wondering if you felt safe on the trail. Is there a possibility of bear encounters on the trail?
    Cheers 🙂

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Vili. Yes, there is a very high probability that you will come across some bears on the trails. On our 2 visits we walked back and forth to the platforms many times and at least 50% of the time we saw a bear at some point (usually from a good distance…about 100 meters). Even with seeing the bears, we still felt safe. You’ll go to “bear school” when you arrive, and if you follow the “rules” and stay alert you shouldn’t have any problems. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Vili
        Vili

        Thank you so much for your reply, Julie!
        I love your website! Everything is awesome – the articles, the photos! Wishing you many more adventures in the future :-)!

  4. Avatar for Michal
    Michal

    Hello,

    first of all thank you for this article, its very informative!!
    We gonna try to book spots in camp for this year and I would like to ask few questions. We are still trying to figure out when to go. July is the peak of salmon run (of course we d like to see them jumping), but September offers those huge fat bears. Besides these two facts, is there something I am forgetting, some important factor that would influence your decision? (I understand there ll be the largest amount of people in July). If you were coming in July and you could choose any date for couple of days, would you try for the beginning, middle or the end? I understand you never know with nature and I am asking for educated guess, no certainty 🙂
    Second question is about viewing spots. Besides platforms, is there any other spot you d recommend for shooting e.g. from the trails? Some that would provide little bit different scenery? When it comes to platforms, I ve read they are closed between 10pm and 7am, but if you arrive for example soon in the morning, are bears already there, or they like to sleep a bit longer? 🙂
    Lastly, I saw your photogear and I would probably also come with Canon 100-500. Did you ever feel like that longer end wasnt long enough? I am trying to figure out second body for our Alaska trip and I am wondering if you d pack rather second FF camera (probably 5DIV) or some with crop sensor to have even further reach .
    Uuufff, I am sorry for so many questions. Anyway, if you found some time, I d be very grateful for your tips 🙂
    Best regards
    Michal

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Michal. As far as when to go, you just never know. This past year we picked mid-July because we thought that the bears were almost a definite at that time. We did get to see some bears, and took some awesome photos, but it still wasn’t the typical salmon run of other years. However, I’d still recommend mid-July. I think that’s your best bet because if the salmon start a little late or end a little early, you’ll still be there to see them. The chances that the conditions of 2023 happens again in 2024 is unlikely (but unfortunately, not impossible). And I’d rather see the bears catching the jumping salmon than seeing the fat bears at the end of the season. The bears wander through camp and in front of the platforms all day. From our experience, there wasn’t a best time of the day to see bears from the platforms, they seemed to come and go at all times, rather than having a few select hours of the day when they were most active.
       
      If you are into photography, take a photography tour like we did. This is essentially a fly fishing tour but rather than carrying fishing gear, you carry camera equipment and can photograph the bears from the river. It was awesome when we did this.
       
      For me, having the 100 to 500 was enough. I had an extender I could have used but never felt as if was necessary. We had 2 full frame cameras going, the second one went up to 300 mm. The 300 mm was not enough (this is what we used on our first trip to Katmai).
       
      Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Natalie
  6. Avatar for Tamera Kelly
    Tamera Kelly

    My husband is a Type I Diabetic. Is there a place where the water taxi docks at Brooks Falls that he can leave snacks in case his blood sugar gets too low?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, there is a food cabin at Brooks Camp that is operated by the National Park Service. It is located next to the visitor center and next to the beach where the plans land and near where the ferry docks, so it is a convenient location. There is also a designated eating/picnic area next to it. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for timothy snyder
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Just a week or two to go! Tim and I are returning to Katmai in July…it’s one of my favorite national parks. Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Marty Biscan
    Marty Biscan

    Thank you for this informative post.
    Question:
    After your hour of viewing on the platform, can you get back in line to get another hour of viewing or is it an hour max per day?
    We are planning to stay in King Salmon and do 2 day trips by water taxi in mid July, but I can’t figure out if we can get on the viewing platform multiple times.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, you can get right back in line once your time runs out, so you should be able to get on the viewing platform at least twice, maybe even three times, depending on how many people are there. We spoke to someone who did this during our visit…they waited at the Riffles Platform while awaiting their next turn. Have a great time in Katmai! Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Ryan Baer
    Ryan Baer

    Thank you so much for the very helpful information and pictures. I am planning a big trip to Alaska this summer and I am looking at being in Anchorage in late June 27th or 28th wondering if you think it would be worth going to Brooks Falls then? Does the National Park Service have any predictions for the salmon run this year? Any additional info would be fantastic. Thanks again fir your time and article I love it.

    Thank you,
    Ryan

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Ryan. From our experience, and what we know, the 27th and 28th is a bit early, if you want to see the bears feasting on salmon in Katmai. They do start rolling into the park around that time, so they will be there, but the big salmon feast may still be a few days to a week away. But that is just a generalization. And as far as I know, the NPS does not make predictions.
       
      The bears are relatively predictable, rolling into the Brooks Lodge area around the end of June. It’s the salmon run that tends to vary from year to year, and it is somewhat weather dependent. Last year, it stayed cold longer than normal, which delayed things. But if it warms up earlier than normal, the salmon might start arriving by the end of June. But from what I know, I recommend waiting another week if you can. With that being said, we still LOVED the experience, even though we didn’t get to see the bears feasting on salmon. We still got to see quite a few bears and Katmai National Park is beautiful.
       
      Cheers, Julie

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