Katmai National Park and Preserve

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Quick Overview

This is the audio-only described version of the park’s brochure. Side one contains text, contemporary and historic photos and an illustration, which highlight the natural and cultural history of the park. Side two contains a large map of the park, text, and photos to help plan your visit.

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Introduction to the Park

The top half of side one provides an introduction to the history of the park and its vastness. A photograph of an expansive park landscape is at the top. Five smaller photos, mostly of bears, is across the bottom of the large photo. Text is underneath the photographs. The text and photo descriptions are presented under their own sections. 

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Introductory Photos

The six photos at the top of side one are described in this section. The large background photo is described first. The five photos placed over the bottom of this large photo are described next from left to right. All six are color photographs.

  1. Photo caption: The River Lethe in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Photo description: A sweeping, panoramic landscape includes multiple jagged mountain peaks mostly covered in snow. They rise from a tan-colored, gently-sloping valley of barren rock. Across the foreground is a wide stream, shallow in parts. The stream’s bank, made up of the barren rock, cuts steep and has an almost cliff-like appearance. Photo caption: NPS
  2. Photo caption: Advice to Salmon: look before you leap. Photo description: A brown bear stands at the top of a small waterfall. With its open mouth, the bear reaches forward trying to catch a salmon leaping from the water. The bear’s top and bottom fangs can be seen and the salmon’s head is pointed in the exact direction of the bear’s open mouth. Photo credit: Patrick J. Endres/ Alaksaphotographics 
  3. Photo caption: These are the continent’s largest land predators. Photo description: In the left of the photo, a large brown bear walks forward at a slight angle to the right. It is surrounded by tall grass. Its fur is pale brown. Its head is large and round and it has a longish snout. Behind its ears at its shoulders is a slight hump, which distinguishes it from other bear types. Photo credit: Patrick J. Endres/ Alaksaphotographics 
  4. Photo caption: Mothers teach cubs to fish—and protect them from adult males. Photo description: In the center of the photo in right profile, a mother bear sits on her hind legs on a grassy river bank. She gazes alertly across the water. Behind her, a cub, maybe a fifth of her size, sits on its hind legs with its right paw resting on the mother’s lower back. Behind it, another cub stands on its back legs with its front right leg and paw resting close to the other cub’s shoulder. Both cubs look out at the water from behind their mother’s back. Photo credit: Tom Bean
  5. Photo caption: Never get this close! Photo description: A large brown bear faces forward. He stands at a distance on a trail cut through a spruce forest. The bear takes up the vast majority of the trail’s width. Photo credit: Patrick J. Endres/ Alaksaphotographics 
  6. Photo caption: Open uplands are easiest for backpackers. Photo description: At the left of the photo, a backpacker walks on a green-covered mountain ridge above the treeline. Behind the backpacker, is an expansive view of distant lakes and mountains. Wide, white clouds span the sky. Photo credit Jim Gavin. 
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Introductory Text

Katmai was declared a national monument in 1918 to preserve the living laboratory of its cataclysmic 1912 volcanic eruption, particularly the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Since then most surface geothermal features have cooled, but protecting brown bears has become an equally compelling charge. To protect these magnificent animals and the varied habitat, the boundaries were extended over the years, and in 1980 the area was designated a national park and preserve. Katmai looms so vast that the bulk of it must elude all but a few persistent visitors. To boat its enormous lakes and island-studded bays, to float rushing waterways, to hike wind-whipped passes of imposing mountains, or to explore its Shelikof Strait coastline requires great effort and careful logistical planning.

This unseen Katmai lies beyond our usual experiences of fishing from Brooks Camp, walking up to Brooks Falls, and riding the bus out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. We come to Katmai to sample but an edge of its enormous raw natural force, a sampling itself constituting a rare and endangered opportunity.

Katmai’s awesome natural powers confront us not only as volcanics but as brown bears. In summer, North America’s largest land predators gather at streams to feast on salmon runs, build weight from this wealth of protein and fat, and prepare for the coming long winter. Alaska’s brown bears and grizzlies are now considered one species. Generally, grizzlies are those living 100 miles or more inland. Browns are bigger than grizzlies thanks to their rich fish diet. The Kodiak brown bear is a subspecies geographically isolated on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Mature male bears in Katmai may weigh up to 900 pounds.

Mating occurs from May to mid-July, with the cubs born in dens in mid-winter. Up to four cubs may be born, at a mere one pound each. Cubs stay with the mother for two years, during which she does not reproduce. The interval between litters is usually three years. Brown bears dig a new den each year, enter it in November, and emerge in April. About half of their lifetimes is spent in dens. Because each bear is an individual, how that bear will act in given situations cannot be predicted with any precision. These great and awe-inspiring bears symbolize the wildness of today’s Katmai.

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IMAGE and TEXT: Volcanics

A photo caption and its description are presented first. Associated text follows.

Photo caption: Mount Katmai’s Crater Lake formed after Novarupta Volcano erupted and Mount Katmai collapsed. Photo description: From above, a deep lake is at the center of a large, bowl-shaped crater of the erupted volcano. The water is a deep green and the brown volcanic rock of the crater has many jagged edges, portions of which are snow-covered. Photo credit: Roy Wood

Text: The 15 active volcanoes lining Shelikof Strait make the park and preserve one of the world’s most active volcanic centers. These Aleutian Range volcanoes are like pipelines into the fiery cauldron beneath Alaska’s southern coast, a cauldron that extends down both Pacific Ocean shores.This Pacific Ring of Fire boasts over four times more volcano eruptions above sea level than elsewhere in historic times. 

Nearly 10 percent of the 400-plus eruptions took place in Alaska, less than two percent in the rest of North America. Plate tectonics theory attributes this to collisions of the plates making up the Earth’s crust. The ring of fire marks edges where crustal plates bump against each other. A map of earthquake activity superimposed on a map of active volcanoes will show violent earth changes ringing the Pacific Ocean from South America around to and down the Indonesian archipelago.

Major eruptions deposited ash across the Katmai area at least 10 times in the past 7,000 years. Under the now quiet floor of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and deep beneath mountains around it, molten rock is still present. The most visible clues to this are the steam plumes rising occasionally from Mounts Mageik and Martin and Trident Volcano. The plumes show the potential for new eruptions to occur. Trident erupted in 1968, and Fourpeaked Mountain awoke from 10,000 years of dormancy in fall 2006.

A volcanic eruption capable of bringing major change could occur at any time in this dynamic landscape. Since the great 1912 eruption, the resulting massive deposits of volcanic ash and sand have consolidated into tuff, a type of rock. In the valley, streams rapidly cut through these ash deposits to form steep-walled gorges. The thousands of fantastic smoking fumaroles that greeted the scientists entering the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes after that powerful eruption have now cooled and ceased their ominous smoking. But the fiery cauldron—whose intense heat and pressure can be forcefully released to alter the landscape in mere hours—still lurks near the surface in the park’s part of the volcanic Aleutian Range.

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Wildlife

A photo caption and its description are presented first. Associated text follows.

Photo caption: Salmon crowd up small creeks to spawn in the waters where they hatched. Photo description: Dozens of sockeye salmon crowd the edge of a stream. The water is so shallow that their bright red, humped backs break the surface. A few fish have their heads above water, showing the hooked jaws that males develop during spawning. Photo credit: NPS

Text: Another predictable eruption takes place each year as salmon burst from the northern Pacific Ocean into park waters. Sockeye (red) salmon return from the ocean—where they have just spent two or three years—to the headwater gravel beds of their birth. Their size averages five to seven pounds, varying proportionally to how long they have spent feeding at sea.

The salmon run begins in late June. By the end of July a million fish may have moved from Bristol Bay into the Naknek system of lakes and rivers. Salmon stop feeding when they enter fresh water, and body changes lead to their distinctive red color, humped back, and the elongated jaw they develop when they spawn—in August, September, and October. Stream bottoms must have the correct texture of loose gravel for eggs to develop. The stream must flow freely through winter to aerate the eggs. By spring the young fish, called fry, emerge from the gravels and move into the larger lakes, to live there two years. Then the salmon migrate to sea, returning in two or three years to repeat the cycle. Salmon are food for bears, bald eagles, rainbow trout, and—directly or indirectly—for other creatures who forage along these streams. They also have been important to Katmai people for several thousand years, and commercial fishing—outside the park—still anchors the local economies today.

Lake edges and marshes are nesting sites for tundra swans, ducks, loons, grebes, and a 20,000-mile annual commuter, the arctic tern. Sea birds abound along the coast, grouse and ptarmigan live in uplands, and some 40 songbird species summer here. Seacoast rock pinnacles and lakeshore treetops are nest sites for bald eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. Brown bears and moose live in both coastal and lake regions. Moose feed on willows, water plants, and grasses. Caribou, red fox, wolf, lynx, wolverine, river otter, mink, marten, weasel, porcupine, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and beaver all live here. At the coast are sea lions, sea otters, and hair seals, with beluga, orca, and gray whales sometimes using Shelikof Strait.

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People

A photo caption and its description are presented first. Associated text follows.

Photo caption: Salmon drying on racks exemplify the continuing traditional subsistence uses of the park and preserve. Photo description: In the foreground are tallish brown and green-colored grasses. At a distance in the center middle of the photo, is a person facing away. The person is barely visible and made to look small as he or she faces wooden racks with hundreds of bright red salmon fillets hanging from them. The racks of hanging salmon span the entire width of the photo. The person and the drying salmon racks are on the open tundra. In the distance is a body of water. Behind it a massive mountain range. Photo credit: NPS

Text: People have been coming to the place we call Katmai for thousands of years. Some found a good life in the heart of the park near the present-day Brooks River. Others made their lives on islands and shores of the rugged Shelikof Strait. The Alaska Peninsula’s rich natural resources brought these people to this land of fierce storms, high seas, and steaming volcanoes.

Streams filled with salmon, tundra plains covered with migrating caribou, and ocean shores teeming with life were the attraction. Some came to stay, building partially underground homes to protect them from the howling winds and frigid winter temperatures. Others came to take advantage of rich summer salmon runs, building summer shelters but retreating from the mountains for winter. Many traveled through the park, crossing from the east side of the peninsula to Bristol Bay. The trail over Katmai Pass was not only a link between peoples but a route that gave access to a greater variety of food sources and to a rich sharing of both stories and cultures.

For over 9,000 years people have called Katmai home. Concentrations of prehistoric sites in the Brooks River and Amalik Bay areas are recognized as national historic landmarks. Several other prehistoric and historic sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Savonoski Archeological District.

Today the abundant natural resources of Katmai National Preserve provide critical food supplies for descendants of those earliest inhabitants. Native Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle harvest fish and game here, intimately linking their lives with the life of this land.

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Eruption! And the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

The bottom quarter of side one addresses volcanic action with text, photographs, and a geological illustration. Each is presented under its own section. 

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Photo Descriptions: Eruption! And the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Three photo captions and their descriptions follow. They are presented from left to right as they appear in the brochure.  

  1. Photo caption: Novarupta vents steam in 1916. Photo description: A black and white historic photo is of a volcanic crater in what was once a gently rounded mountain. A steaming lava dome bulges up inside the crater. Photo credit: National Geographic Society/ E.C. Kolb
  2. Photo caption: Pack train crosses the smoking valley four years after the eruption. Photo description: A black and white historic photo of three men. They stride across a barren, rocky landscape. They wear bulky backpacks and two carry walking sticks. Steam rises from numerous vents in the ground nearby, as well as off into the distance. Photo credit: National Geographic Society/ F. L. Jones
  3. Photo caption: None. Photo description: In the foreground center of this color photo and traveling from front to back, a deep fissure cuts into a plain of volcanic ash at a slight zig-zag. There is no discernible vegetation. The front portion of the image is in shadow and then becomes sunnier in the distance. In the background, a massive snowy mountain with multiple, pointed peaks, rises through patches of hazy, thin clouds. Photo credit: NPS/ Jim Gavin
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Text: Eruption! And the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

It was apparently a nameless valley when the 20th century’s most dramatic volcanic episode happened. Robert Griggs, exploring the volcano’s aftermath for the National Geographic Society four years later, stared awestruck off Katmai Pass across the valley’s roaring landscape riddled by thousands of steam vents. And so Griggs named it The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

The June 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano dramatically altered the Katmai area. Severe earthquakes rocked the area for a week before Novarupta exploded with cataclysmic force (diagram at right). Enormous quantities of hot, glowing pumice and ash were ejected from Novarupta and nearby fissures. This material flowed over the terrain, destroying all life in its path. Trees upslope were snapped off and carbonized by blasts of hot wind and gas.

For several days ash, pumice, and gas were ejected. A haze darkened the skies over most of the Northern Hemisphere. When the eruptions subsided, over 40 square miles of once lush green land lay buried by volcanic deposits that were up to 700 feet deep. In nearby Kodiak, for two days you could not see a lantern held at arm’s length. Acid rain caused clothes to disintegrate on the clothesline in distant Vancouver, Canada. The eruption was over 10 times stronger than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980. Eventually Novarupta fell dormant again. In the formerly lush valley, gas and steam escaped from the countless small holes and cracks in the volcanic ash deposits.

”The whole valley as far as the eye could reach was full of hundreds, no thousands —literally, tens of thousands—of smokes curling up from its fissured floor,” Robert Griggs wrote in 1916. A thousand steam vents reached 500 feet in the air, with some reaching over 1,000 feet.

Just two eruptions in historic time—Greece’s Santorini in 1500 BCE (Before Common Era) and Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815—displaced more volcanic matter than Nova-rupta. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, belched out just over half as much yet killed 35,000 people. The vastly isolated Novarupta’s eruption killed no one. Had it occurred on New York City’s Manhattan Island, Robert Griggs calculated, people in Chicago would hear it plainly. The fumes would tarnish brass in Denver. Acidic raindrops would burn your skin in Toronto. In Philadelphia the ash would lie nearly as deep as this brochure is wide. Manhattan would have zero survivors.

Today you can make the trip from Brooks Camp out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes (photo at right), where a turbulent Ukak River and its tributaries are still at work cutting deep gorges in accumulated volcanic ash. The landscape slowly recovers. In the natural world of stupendous Earth forces, destruction often leads to creation of new life and new landscapes.

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What Blew? Geologic Illustration and Text

Text: Robert Griggs thought Mount Katmai had blown—he found its new crater lake. But it was Novarupta Volcano that blew. A deeper source of magma intersected Mount Katmai’s older magma chamber and the surface, so that both erupted through Novarupta—and caused Mount Katmai’s summit to collapse.

Illustration caption: Novarupta (”new eruption”) Volcano (color photo pictured right--see the “Photo Descriptions: Eruption! And the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes section”). Illustration description: The inside of the volcano is depicted in gray with horizontal lines running through it. A blue sky is behind it on the surface. On the left is a small orange circle filled with many black dots about midway from the bottom of the volcano, which is labeled “Mount Katmai.” Connected at the top of the circle is a black line that widens once it reaches the surface. From the bottom portion of the volcano traveling upwards to the right is a wide arrow that crosses part of the orange Katmai circle and tapers as it travels towards the surface. The arrow is labeled “Novarupta.” A line of black dots from the orange Katmai circle migrate into the wide orange arrow and also travel upwards. At the tip of the arrow, which is where the surface meets the sky, smoke billows upwards. Illustration credit: NPS

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Planning Your Visit

Side two of the brochure presents six photos across the top, text that highlights activities within the park and a map that fills the rest of this side. Descriptions and captions of these photos, trip planning topics, and the map are presented under their own sections. Please familiarize yourself with the Regulations and Safety section in particular.

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Access and Information

Katmai National Park and Preserve lies on the Alaska Peninsula 290 miles southwest of Anchorage. Scheduled flights connect Anchorage with King Salmon daily, six miles from the park’s west boundary. Commercial float planes go daily between King Salmon and Brooks Camp, June–September. Year-round air charters are available in King Salmon. The nonprofit Alaska Geographic Association sells books and maps at www.akgeo.org and at the Brooks Camp and King Salmon visitor centers.

More Information

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Accommodations and Services

A concessioner offers meals and lodging at Brooks Camp from about June 1 to mid-September (lodging reservations required). Private lodges offer meals and lodging in King Salmon. Limited camping and food supplies and fishing tackle are sold at Brooks Lodge. Commercial operators provide air taxi, flightseeing, backpacking, canoe, and fishing guide services in the park and preserve. Visit the park’s website for a list. The National Park Service conducts guided walks and evening programs at Brooks Camp in summer.

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Regulations and Safety

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Planning Your Visit: Text and Photo Descriptions

From left to right across the top of side two are six color photos with captions, described in that order.

  1. Photo caption: Glaciated volcanic peaks of the Aleutian Range, like Mounts Denison and Steller, form the spine of Katmai’s dramatic coast, which is not seen by most visitors to the park and preserve. Photo description: Snow-capped mountains tower behind rocky, rounded foothills not covered in snow. In the distant center, a glacier flowing off the mountain has carved a steep-sided valley through the rock. In the foreground, a few spruce trees and shrubby alders grow on level land. Photo credit: Roy Wood 
  2. Photo caption: Porcupines eat bark, twigs, leaves, buds, and sometimes a piece of camping gear. Photo description: Up close, a porcupine sits at an angle on its haunches with relaxed quills throughout its entire body. The color of its body is a mixture of light and medium browns. Its face is darker and barely visible are its eyes and mouth. Photo credit: NPS 
  3. Photo caption: Partially underground houses provided all-year shelter for Brooks River area natives. A reconstructed house at Brooks Camp helps tell the story of survival in sub-arctic Alaska. Photo description: Sitting on the ground is an open timber frame that could be used to support sloping walls and a roof. Inside the framing, the ground is dug out flat and level to a depth a few feet below the surface. Photo credit: NPS 
  4. Photo caption: Float planes provide access to main visitor use areas, like Brooks Camp, and an opportunity to see some of the most remote parts of Katmai. Photo description: To the center and right, a line of six people unload the float plane in the center of the photo. Its single wing is perpendicular to the body of the plane and above where the pilot would sit. There is a small propeller attached to the plane’s nose out front. The plane rests on top of the shallow water on it floats, which look like two long tubular skies on either side. The floats are the length of the plane and extend past its front end. One man stands in the open door of the small aircraft holding a box of supplies. Another man steps along the float, preparing to take the box. A third stands in the water, passing a similar box to the three people standing on the shore. Photo credit: NPS/ Jim Gavin 
  5. Photo caption: Red-necked grebes build floating nests in vegetation along shallow lake margins. Photo description: A bird with a duck-like body and a long, dagger-shaped bill sits on a mounded nest made of dead vegetation. The bird is surrounded by water. Photo credit: NPS 
  6. Photo caption: Catch-and-release fishing is encouraged parkwide and required for rainbow trout in many backcountry streams. Anglers: be alert for bears and move out of the river when a bear moves toward you. Photo description: A man holding a fly rod stands knee-deep in a river. He wears waders, a fishing vest, and a hat with spare flies pinned to the band. Photo credit: Tom Walker 

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Map: Katmai National Park and Preserve

The map of the park and its surrounding area takes up two-thirds of side two. At the top center of this map is a tiny map of Alaska that locates the park within the state. Katmai National Park and Preserve lies at the base of the Alaska Peninsula in Alaska’s southwest. In the lower right corner, is a small map of the Brooks Camp vicinity where most amenities are located. Brooks Camp is described under its own section. The park map is described below.

The main map is oriented with north at the top and shows all of the national park and adjacent national preserve. Together, their area of 4.1 million acres forms an irregularly-shaped rough circle. Text states that “All islands within 5 miles of the mainland are included in the park. The water and submerged land seaward of the coasts, beyond the mean high tide line, are not included.” The map legend indicates that about two and one quarter inches equals 20 miles and a little less than one and one half inches equals 20 kilometers.

The park’s topography indicates a mountainous region with a complex system of connecting creeks and rivers and a multitude of lakes. Most amenities are found within the center section of the western area of the park where Brooks Camp and the park’s visitor center is located.

At 12:00 on the map on the northern border of the park is Kukaklek Lake. Right below it is a small portion of land labeled as Katmai National Preserve. Below it is Nonvianuk Lake. The much larger mass of land is identified as Katmai National Park.

At nine o’clock on the map is the town of King Salmon where the King Salmon Visitor Center, Park Headquarters, and a commercial airport are located. It is about ten miles outside of the park’s boundary at about the middle point of the park’s north-to-south traveling western border.

Due west of King Salmon and right inside of the park’s boundary is Lake Camp where there is a boat launch, restrooms and picnicking. Just west of Lake Camp and continuing further west into the park is Naknek Lake. The lake is long, running east-west with a number of lakes connecting off of it. Further west within the lake and closer to the area labelled as the lake’s “North Arm” is Brooks Camp where you can find camping, lodging, and dining. In this area is also Lake Brooks (to the south of Naknek Lake) and the Iliuk Arm.

There is only one road in the entire park and preserve, which is unpaved. This road does not connect to any other roads outside the park. It starts at Brooks Camp and travels in a southeasterly direction into the center-southern area of the park. The road leads to the Three Forks Overlook, where there is a shelter and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which is the valley area of ash flow from the 1912 eruption.

The eastern edge of the park is a rugged coastline, with many inlets and bays along the Shelikof Strait in the southern half of the eastern border. Amenities and services along the eastern border of the park from north to south are the Swikshak Patrol Cabin ranger station, the Hallo Bay Wilderness Camp where there is lodging, the Katmai Wilderness Lodge where there is lodging, and the Amalik Bay Patrol Cabin ranger station.

Along the eastern border, just inland from the coast, is a chain of mountains and volcanoes oriented roughly southwest-northeast. Numerous rivers are shown draining off these mountains toward the ocean. On the other side of these mountains, particularly within the southern section, the rivers flow onto flat lands and then form the large lakes some which were already mentioned within the Brooks Camp area. The lakes are generally elongated and oriented roughly east-west.

Bodies of water and land surround the park. At the top and going clockwise they include: Iliamna Lake, McNeil River, State Game Sanctuary, Kamishak Bay, Cook Inlet, Shelikof Strait, Upper Ugashik Lake, the Alaska Peninsula Wildlife Refuge, Berchoff Lake, Berchoff National Wildlife Refuge and the Alagnok River. 

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Brooks Camp Map

This map shows an area about one mile by one mile, oriented with north at the top. The facilities at Brooks Camp include the visitor center, restroom locations, the campground, and the picnic area. Brooks Lodge is in this area and its amenities include lodging, food service, showers, and restrooms.

A portion of the Naknek Lake is to the east and Lake Brooks is in the southwest corner. The Brooks River connects Lake Brook to Naknek Lake. Trails to access bear viewing locations are at the Falls Platform and Riffles Platform, both of which are close to each other and the Brooks River in the western area of the map. The Lower River Platform is in the eastern section of the map, also on Brooks River, but close to Naknek Lake. The meeting location for the bus to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is near the Lower River Platform. There is also a trail to the Cultural Site and an auditorium is in the vicinity. 

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