Katmai National Park sprawls over four million acres in southern Alaska. So why does its only established campground allow for just 60 people per night — a limit that leads to an online booking fray every January? The answer is also one of the park’s main draws, and its primary claim to national fame: bears. Lots of them — about 2,200 at the National Park Service’s last count, with 60 or so regulars that hang around Brooks Camp every summer. In theory, you can camp elsewhere in Katmai, but the campground has an electric fence and constant activity, making it an unlikely place to find a bear too close to your tent for sleeping comfort.
By last spring, just about a year into my life as a full-time Alaskan, I had designs on spending time at Brooks Camp, long considered one of the state’s premier bear-viewing spots.