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TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Birmingham, United...
Level Contributor
178 posts
105 reviews
TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

We visited both Katmai Wilderness Lodge (KWL) www.katmai-wilderness.com and Brooks Lodge (Brooks) www.katmailand.com during our visit to Alaska in August/September 2008.

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.

LOCATION:

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.

KWL 1

Brooks 1

ACCOMMODATION:

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.

KWL 2

Brooks 1

FOOD:

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.

KWL 3

Brooks 2

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.

KWL 3

Brooks 3

EXTRAS:

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!

KWL 4

Brooks 4

OVERALL OPINION:

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:

www.westmidstraveller.com/Alaska.html

Please do not hesitate to ask us questions if you think we have missed anything out…

Bridgewater
Level Contributor
799 posts
2 reviews
1. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

What a great review this was. It's so good to read why something is liked or disliked and the age group of the person writing it. Sounds like you had a good time.

The Netherlands
Level Contributor
34 posts
2. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Love your the tripreport on your website as well. Great pictures too. We hope to visit Brooks Falls next summer.

florida
Level Contributor
285 posts
3. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Bravo!!!!!!

Michigan
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
3,208 posts
265 reviews
4. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Thank you. This post will be a great resource for many oeople who want to see bears while they are in Alaska. Thank you for taking the time to write this great review. Your photos were great. Thanks for sharing.

Alaska
2 posts
5. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

This is a really nice review of two of our favorite places and should be an excellent tool for folks that are researching visiting these areas.

My wife and I are in to wildlife photography and have been to Brooks and Katmai Wilderness lodge several times as well, and have also been on two of the boat operators excursions that operate on the Katmai Coast.

There is actually a very significant difference between Brooks and Katmai Wilderness Lodge that was hinted at, but not really made very clear to folks that may be looking in to these areas: Brooks Lodge while beautiful and offering magnificent bear viewing opportunities, can also be a very busy, and hectic place with planes and boats coming and going and the potential for many people to be there at any one time. If you happen to be at Brooks during peak season, expect lines to the viewing platforms and limits on the amount of time you will be able to spend on the viewing platforms.

The pace at Katmai Wilderness Lodge is much more laid back and is really a more private, and intimate experience in a Wilderness setting on the Katmai Coast. You might not see any other people other than the 2 - 12 people that are staying at the lodge and there are no buses,cars, planes or boats coming and going from the lodge other than the two boats that the lodge owns. Cabins are much more comfortable and private, and we have generally had much better family style meals at KWL as opposed to the buffet type dining we have had at Brooks.

The park rangers at Brooks are very knowledgeable about the bears of Brooks river, but there are guides all over Katmai that are excellent resources for learning about these magnificent animals and have devoted their lives to studying them and observing them. One of the guides that we have had at KWL (the name is escaping me) was a long time employee at Brooks Lodge and if I recall correctly has almost 30 summers in the park. We found him to be very practical and knowledgeable in his observations of bear behavior and hope he is still with them. Another of our favorite guides was from the Coastal Explorer, a boat operation on the Katmai coast. I think he is the owner of the operation and his been out there for over 20 years observing Brown Bears. Both of these bear viewing guides we have found to be very knowledgeable and I believe they are both lifetime Alaskans. Many of the park rangers we have met at Brooks have been there for only one summer or maybe two and while some of them are very knowledgeable, it seems that much of their knowledge has been attained from last years rangers as opposed to direct observation.

Both places are beautiful and fantastic, but we have enjoyed our trips to the coast more for all of the above reasons. Hope this helps anyone planning a trip to Katmai.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
8,228 posts
45 reviews
6. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Thanks for the great trip report . . . and follow-up post in thie thread! Wonderful information to help folks (myself included) understand the options and differences.

Illinois
Level Contributor
189 posts
5 reviews
7. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

This is very interesting. One question which I have never really seen addressed is whether you can take a day trip to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes without staying at Brooks Lodge. We think that if we go on a bear-viewing trip in the future that we would probably prefer one of the coastal bear-viewing trips (possibly from Homer or elsewhere). Does anyone offer a day tour of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes that does not require a stay at Brooks Lodge?

fti
MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
16,197 posts
34 reviews
8. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

You wouldn't necessarily need to stay at Brooks Lodge for the Valley of 10,000 Smokes trip (you could camp). But I don't think there is any way to take that trip without spending the night at Brooks. Even the first floatplane from King Salmon doesn't arrive in time for the tour - at least it didn't the day I arrived 2 summers ago.

John

Alaska
2 posts
9. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

Someone was asking if you could visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and not stay at Brooks Lodge. This can be done, but you will have to arrive at Brooks with a reservation for the tour by about 8:30 a.m. as I believe the bus to the valley departs at 9:00am.

An option for you may be to pay extra and have your pilot fly you over the valley of smokes which gives you an excellent perspective of the scope of this cataclysmic eruption.

Hope this helps.

fti
MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
16,197 posts
34 reviews
10. Re: TR: Katmai Wilderness Lodge V Brooks Lodge

>>Someone was asking if you could visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and not stay at Brooks Lodge. This can be done, but you will have to arrive at Brooks with a reservation for the tour by about 8:30 a.m.

The first floatplane must depart King Salmon earlier now than it did 2 summers ago. I was on the first floatplane at that time from King Salmon and it didn't leave until 8.30am.

But if you do find a plane that gets you to Brooks in time, realize that the tour departs from the "other" side of the bridge from where 99% of the floatplanes land. And if you are stuck in a "bear jam" and can't get across the river, you might miss the tour anyway. Personally I would not try it on a day trip.

John