Today, Katmai National Park is best known for the iconic Brooks Falls where grizzly bears hunt for spawning salmon as they swim upstream. It’s the best place in the world to see these beasts in action but it’s not the primary reason that Katmai became a National Park.
In 1912, two Alaskan volcanoes – Mount Katmai and Novarupta – erupted simultaneously, covering a nearby valley in 300 feet of ash (in depth) as the summit of Kamai collapsed into a caldera. The constant flow of steam as the valley cooled gave way to a nickname: the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Katmai was initially designated a national park to protect the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, then thought to be a permanent feature.
The steam has since subsided and Novarupta (not Katmai) is now thought to be the primary force of the eruption, but the name persists and the park has expanded to cover and protect this ideal habitat where thousands of grizzly bears hunt spawning salmon. It can only be reached by boat or plane, but upon visiting Katmai, you’ll witness things you’ll see nowhere else on earth.