If you are considering which one of them to stay at hopefully the following will give you an idea of what to expect and help you decide which would be best for you.
Remember this is only our opinions based on our visits during the month of September; the experience may be different at other times of the year. We booked 3 nights at each location direct with the lodges around 11 months before our visit.
About us: we are in our late thirties/early forties we both enjoy viewing wildlife, especially bears. In the past, we have visited Knight Inlet (on the Canadian coast), Yellowstone National Park and Churchill all for the ‘bear’ experience. We like to take photos of scenery and wildlife as a means to record our memories.
Both KWL and Brooks are located within Katmai National Park; follow this link to the NPS website for a park map of their exact locations within the park: www.nps.gov/katm/planyourvisit/brochures.htm
To get to KWL you take a float plane from Kodiak Island.
To get to Brooks you take a float plane from King Salmon.
KWL is located on the coast and Brooks is located on a lake.
Although we saw bear tracks and scat within a close proximity of KWL we only actually saw bears when we went out to the tidal flats. We also saw wolf tracks outside the lodge. At Brooks we were able to see bears from our cabin in the Brooks River and several times right up by our cabin walking through the lodge grounds.
For location we would give both lodges a mark, as both were in remote settings.
The accommodation at both is in log cabin style rooms and relatively basic. However, Brooks cabins are more rustic with less space than the KWL cabins. Also depending on which room you end up with at Brooks you may have a separate cabin with a fantastic view of the river or one as part of a block looking at other cabins. We were lucky and had cabin number 27, separate and with a view.
KWL – 5 Rooms that can accommodate 2 or 3 people, maximum number of guests 12
Brooks – 16 Rooms that can accommodate 2 or 4 people, maximum number of guests 64 plus campers and day visitors.
The private facilities in the Brooks cabins were very basic and ‘in the room’, so privacy is difficult if you are sharing. The facilities at KWL were in a separate room within your room and more modern.
The overall finishes of the KWL rooms were of a much higher standard than at Brooks, we would therefore rate KWL better than Brooks.
The quality of the food was good at both locations.
At KWL a chef produced a choice of two main dishes for dinner, cooked breakfasts to order and prepared soup or picnic type meals for lunch. Food was included in the package price.
At Brooks all meals were buffet style with plenty of variety and choice; including soup, salads, main meals and desserts at lunch and dinner, usual buffet choices for breakfast. Additional cost for all meals.
We enjoyed eating at both lodges, the meals at KWL were more relaxed; however, the choice was better at Brooks. Therefore we would rate them the same.
THE BEAR EXPERIENCE:
At KWL you are taken by boat out to the tidal flats in Kukak Bay around 09:00 in the morning, depending on the weather and tides you may spend most of the day out on the flats or a few hours. You are totally dependant on your guides to transport you to the bears, where you may view them also from the boat if the tides are not right for exiting the boat or if the bears are not on the flats. During September the salmon should be running so the guide takes you to a suitable place to exit the boat and walks you onto the tidal flats where you can set up tripods etc. You then wait for the bears to walk right on by. The closest the bears came to us was 15 yards, not paying us any attention at all. The most bears we saw at any one time was 5. The large male bears we watched spent a lot of time play fighting which helped make some fantastic memories. The only time we were given any bear awareness training was when we left the boat, we were told to keep quiet and stay with the group at all times. We were also asked to stay still and quiet when the bears approached to ensure we did not change their planned behaviour.
At Brooks viewing of bears is mostly done from three different platforms, one by the river/lake (lower river platform) and two near the famous falls (falls platform and riffles platform). When we were there the largest number of bears we saw at any one time at the falls was 5 and by the river platform 25. During September you are free to come and go to the platforms when you want and for how long you want. We were always able to find space and often viewed the bears alone. The only restriction is when the path or bridge is closed due to the close proximity of the bears. The Park Rangers closed the bridge several times during our visit, from 5 minute closures to 3 hour closures. Each time we were kept informed of the reason for the closure and given information on the offending bear/bears.
On bear safety, you are given a bear orientation presentation as soon as you arrive at the lodge to teach you your ‘bear etiquette’. The Park Rangers are then around during the day to ensure that any naughty bears were asked to leave camp and to ensure that people coming and going from the platforms did not disturb their behaviour.
We had more close encounters with the bears at Brooks than KWL. We never felt threatened by the bears, although we were, on more than one occasion, surprised by their appearance near the cabin.
On the ‘bear’ experience we would rate Brooks higher than KWL. This was due to the freedom of being able to go see the bears when we wanted. Also the Park Rangers knew a lot about the individual bears and were able to talk to us about their ages and histories, whereas the guides at KWL did not have that level of expertise.
At KWL you are given a pair of wellington boots (gum boots) to wear during your stay. You don’t have to get bear scat, mud and water all over your own shoes.
At KWL you have the option of using their waterproofs rather than your own, however, the number of sizes they have is limited, so it is advisable you take your own waterproof pants and jacket.
At Brooks you are educated about the bears, location and other wildlife.
At Brooks you are given a ‘bear etiquette’ pin to keep!
OK, so at 4 all, we haven’t necessarily been able to say which was best! However, you may find that some things are more important to you than they were to us. If you want an experience with slightly more home comforts or a smaller crowd to share your bears with then KWL is the place for you. If you want to be educated about the bears and want the relative safety of platforms then Brooks is the place for you.
We managed to gain memories and photos that we were really happy with from both locations.
If you are still trying to decide, you can read more about our experiences at both locations and see our photos on our website:
Please do not hesitate to ask us questions if you think we have missed anything out…