Exploring Bristol Bay Public Lands
Katmai National Park and Preserve is famous for volcanoes, brown bears, fish, and rugged wilderness. It is also the site of the Brooks River National Historic Landmark with North Americaís highest concentration of prehistoric human dwellings.
Katmai National Monument was created to preserve the famed Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a spectacular forty square mile, 100 to 700 foot deep, pyroclastic ash flow deposited by the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta Volcano. There are at least fourteen volcanoes in the park considered active, none of which are currently erupting.
Brown bear and salmon are two of Katmaiís best known attractions. The number of brown bears has grown to more than 2,000. During the peak of the world's largest sockeye salmon run each July, and during return of the "spawned out" salmon in September, forty to sixty bears congregate in Brooks Camp along the Brooks River and the Naknek Lake and Brooks Lake shorelines. Brown bears along the 480 mile Katmai Coast also enjoy clams, crabs, and an occasional whale carcass. A rich variety of other wildlife is found in the Park as well.
For more information on Katmai National Park and Preserve, visit their website.
Lake Clark National Park & Preserve
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a composite of ecosystems representative of many regions of Alaska. The spectacular scenery stretches from the shores of Cook Inlet, across the Chigmit Mountains, to the tundra covered hills of the western interior. The Chigmits, where the Alaska and Aleutian Ranges meet, are an awesome, jagged array of mountains and glaciers which include two active volcanoes, Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna. Lake Clark, 40 miles long, and many other lakes and rivers within the park are critical salmon habitat to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, one of the largest sockeye salmon fishing grounds in the world. Numerous lake and river systems in the park and preserve offer excellent fishing and wildlife viewing.
Wilderness travel, backpacking, cross-country hiking, rafting/kayaking, wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing are the primary activities in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Webster defines wilderness as ďan empty or pathless area or region." Most of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve qualifies under that definition of wilderness.† There are no "improvements" for hiking or camping.† All camping is primitive, no facilities†or designated campsites exist.† Use Leave No Trace guidelines to minimize your impacts.† Backcountry permits for camping and hiking are not required, however there are rules and regulations governing one's behavior in all national park areas.† Become familiar with them. Resist the urge to take, shape or alter the wilderness around you.
For more information on Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, visit their website.
Becharof National Wildlife Refuge
Becharof National Wildlife Refuge lies between Katmai National Park and Preserve and Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge. The Refugeís approximately 1,157,000 acres are made up of rolling tundra, towering mountain peaks and wave-battered coastline. The refuge is dominated by Becharof Lake, the second largest lake in Alaska. The lake covers one-fourth of the refuge and is surrounded by low rolling hills, tundra wetlands, and volcanic peaks.
Becharof provides important habitat for many fish and wildlife species. The population includes brown bear, moose, caribou, wolf, wolverine, fox, river otter, and beaver; five species of Pacific salmon, Arctic grayling, dolly varden/char, rainbow and lake trout, northern pike, and burbot. Birds commonly seen include bald eagles, owls, falcons, ravens, ducks, geese, swans, seabirds, shorebirds, and passerines. Sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and migratory whales use shores and offshore waters.
The refuge offers a variety of recreational opportunities including sport fishing and hunting, flightseeing, observing and photographing wildlife, hiking, backpacking, boating and camping. Refuge lands are remote and accessible only by small aircraft, boat or rugged cross country hiking. There are no roads or maintained trails.
For more information on Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, visit their website.
Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge
The Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge is a land of spectacular beauty with rolling tundra, towering mountain peaks and wave-battered coastline. Itís boundaries encompass approximately 2,648,100 acres of impressive land stretching for almost 340 miles along the Alaska Peninsula climbing from sea level to the summit of Mt. Veniaminof at 8,225 feet. The refuge is managed to conserve the fish and wildlife population and their habitats with special emphasis on brown bears, caribou, marine mammals, migratory birds, raptors and salmon.
The Alaska Peninsula Refuge contains many unique geologic and scenic features. Indeed, the Alaska Peninsula Refuge is the most scenically diverse of the Bristol Bay Refuges: the interplay of volcanic activity with shoreline erosion and glacial scour has created outstanding scenery. The Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission listed Chiginagak and Veniaminof volcanoes, Castle Cape, and the Pacific Coast as one of the outstanding scenic complexes of Alaska. The Ugashik and Chignik Units of the Alaska Peninsula Refuge also provide pristine habitat to many significant fish and wildlife resources, and offer many subsistence and recreational opportunities.
For more information on Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, visit their website.
McNeil River State Game Sanctuary
Visiting the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is a unique wildlife experience. Nowhere else in the world can you see up to 100 wild brown bears come and go throughout the day and have the possibility of photographing a group of 40 or more bears at one time! Brown bears congregate at McNeil River during summer because the river and nearby creeks have an abundant supply of spawning salmon. The sanctuary protects about 200 square miles of wildlife habitat and is located approximately 250 air miles southwest of Anchorage, 90 miles northeast of King Salmon and 50 miles southeast of Iliamna. In addition to brown bears and salmon, red fox, arctic ground squirrels, harbor seals and bald eagles are commonly observed. Other wildlife that may be observed in the sanctuary includes moose, caribou, wolves, wolverine, various furbearers, waterfowl, sea ducks and sea birds. McNeil River and nearby Mikfik Creek drain into Kamishak Bay in the shadow of Augustine Island, an active volcano. This is a roadless area with no modern amenities and it is virtually undisturbed by human development.
A permit program administered by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game manages visitor numbers and activities in the sanctuary. The permit program was developed after many years of excessive and uncontrolled public use of the area that often put people and bears in danger. The goal of the permit program is to provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph bears while minimizing their impacts to bears and wildlife habitats. The program limits the number of people who may be present at McNeil River Falls (or the other viewing locations) to no more than 10 between June 7 and August 25.
For more information on McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, visit their website.
Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary
Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary is world famous for its unique concentrations of walrus. Best known among the Walrus Islands is Round Island, where each summer large numbers of male walruses haul out on exposed, rocky beaches. Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haulouts in Alaska; Walrus return to these haulouts every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, remaining hauled out on the beach for several days between each feeding foray. Up to 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day. However, the number of walrus using the island fluctuates significantly from year to year.
Boat access to Round Island and state waters within 3 miles of Round Island is allowed only by permit and when Sanctuary staff are present, usually between May 1 and August 15. Flying low over the island can cause walrus and seabird disturbance and is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Each summer visitors log hundreds of visitor days on Round Island, and twelve camping and five day-use permits can be issued at a time. Because driving rain, winds, and rough seas are common, visits are extremely weather dependent and visitors should come prepared with adequate raingear, footwear, food, and equipment. Access to other islands in the Sanctuary does not require a permit. A visit to Black Rock to view harbor seals and cormorants is a high point for many visitors.
For more information about Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, visit their website.
Source: Bristol Bay Visitor Guide