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Located west across Shelikof Strait from Kodiak Island in Alaska’s southwest region on the Alaskan Peninsula, Katmai National Park and Preserve was first declared a National Monument in 1918 to preserve the unique volcanic features of the area.  The park also protects 10,000 years of Native Alaskan cultural sites, the abundant natural resources that feed the descendants of those earliest inhabitants, and the world’s largest population of brown bears.

The 15 active volcanoes that line Shelikof Strait make Katmai one of the world›s most active volcanic centers. These Aleutian Range volcanoes are pipelines into the fiery cauldron that underlies Alaska›s southern coast and extends down both Pacific Ocean shores, forming the Pacific Ring of Fire. The most violent Alaskan eruption recorded occurred in June 1912 from Novarupta Volcano, releasing ten times the volume of magma as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and three times more than Mount Pinatubo in 1991. When the eruption was finally over, more than 40 square miles of once lush, green land were buried under volcanic deposits as deep as 700 feet.  The landscape was riddled by thousands of steam vents, and named by explorer Robert Griggs "The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes." Today, the steam vents are gone and the valley continues to recover. Visitors to the area can still see evidence of the eruption and are reminded of the awesome power and destruction volcanoes can unleash. Many of the bear viewing operators fly over Katmai’s volcanoes on their way back to home base and flightseeing excursions can be arranged.

Another much more predictable type of eruption occurs annually in Katmai: Sockeye salmon burst into park waters from the northern Pacific Ocean where they have spent 2 to 3 years growing fat, returning to the headwater gravel beds of their birth to deposit their spawn before dying. The salmon run begins in late June and by the end of July a million fish may have moved from Bristol Bay into the Naknek system of lakes and rivers. Sockeye spawn during August, September and October, when they cease feeding upon entering freshwater and exhibit the physiological changes that lead to the distinctive red color, humped back and elongated jaw they develop during spawning.  Stream bottoms must have the correct texture of loose gravel for the eggs to develop and water must flow freely through winter to aerate the eggs. By spring the young fish that have just hatched emerge from the gravel beds migrate into the larger lakes, living there two years before beginning the cycle once again. Salmon provide food for the bears, bald eagles, rainbow trout and other creatures that forage along these streams. 

Katmai is also known as one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world. About 2,200 brown bears are estimated to inhabit the park, with more bears than people living on the Alaskan Peninsula.  As many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai provides some of the few remaining unaltered habitats for these amazing creatures. At Katmai, scientists are able to study bears in their natural habitat, visitors enjoy unparalleled viewing opportunities, and the bears are able to continue their life cycle largely undisturbed. Maintaining this fragile balance between people and bears is the key to Katmai’s success as a bear-viewing destination. It is important that all who visit Katmai respect bears and are armed with the knowledge to stay safe in Bear Country.  In recognizing the needs of the bears and giving them space, each of us plays a role in keeping them wild and safe as well.


Kodiak Island Expeditions
Feature Story

For 25 years, Jen Culbertson worked for the state of Alaska as a river ranger, boat ranger, and a backcountry patrol officer. Her husband, Willy Fulton, has over 25 years of experience flying tourists, mail, and medivacs throughout Alaska. Put these two together and you have the power couple of Kodiak Island. Though Jen doesn't remember their first meeting, Willy says he remembers flying her into Shuyak Island State Park when she was a park ranger. Fate would have them meet again several years later after Jen left the park service to start her own wilderness guiding service. Their love for nature and adventure drew them together and formed their new business, Kodiak Island Expedition. Kodiak has a 1.5 million acre wildlife refuge, plus a grocery store.

"I have no problem living in the Alaskan bush, but sometimes it's nice to have fresh produce," says Jen. The city of Kodiak is located on Kodiak Island, which is 100 miles long and the largest island in Alaska. Home to one of the top three fishing ports, the island boasts hundreds of boats and crab vessels, 12 shore-based processing plants, and the largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the country. Known as the Emerald Island, Kodiak is a magnet for wildlife enthusiasts looking to explore the beauty of the island's natural resources or for photographers wanting to capture the iconic Kodiak bear, the largest brown bear species in the world.


Kodiak Island Expeditions is distinctive among guiding services as they offer a tremendous amount of expertise in safely navigating the backcountry of Alaska. "As a guide, it is most important that you understand the animal. You have to respect what the bear is trying to tell you in order to keep your customers safe." Currently, they offer half-day and full-day bear viewing tours in Katmai National Park. Each tour includes two hours of flight time where Willy shares his love and history of the many hidden and special places that few visitors get to see.


On land, Jen guides groups to where the bears are, allowing visitors to get up close and personal, while at the same time respecting the bears' normal routines. During one guiding tour, the group was sitting on a log watching a mother bear and her cubs fish in a stream. Tired of fishing, or maybe just needing a break from caring for her offspring, the mother bear sauntered up to the group, sat down next to them on the log, and watched her cubs. "It was an incredible moment," says Jen. "Many people think there are bear attacks all the time in Alaska and really there isn't. To be this close to an apex predator is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience."


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