Are Grizzly Bears the same as Brown Bears? Is Grizzly Bear just a nickname? It is an interesting question. Really this story is about our visit to Katmai National Park. There are no roads leading to Katmai National Park. How did we get to visit Katmai National Park when we live in our RV?
Before I get to the answers, I feel that perhaps a little explanation of why I haven’t posted anything in the last two weeks. So here it goes. I try to remember that my blog is a collection of stories. It is not news articles. The stories are about our travels in our RV. So, before I write the stories, I first have to have the experiences. Then I try to write the stories in the same order as we live them. This causes a backlog since I am trying to write a new story about once a week.
So, since this story is about our visit to Katmai National Park, it is not real-time. In real-time, we are now in Washington State ready to keep going further south. After all our tires are part of our heating plan. While we were in Canada, miles from any help, we had some engine problems in our RV. We spent a week in Prince George getting the engine fixed. (Yes, it is fixed.) Even though I wasn’t the mechanic who fixed it, the engine problem took all my time.
When we first started having engine issues, we were close to Hyder Alaska, not Prince George Canada. Hyder Alaska is a town furthest south in Alaska that actually has a road connection. There are other towns further south, but you are going to need a boat or plane to get to them. Starting near Hyder, we drove for almost 400 miles with a check engine light and malfunctioning EGR valve.
Anyway, that is the first part of my excuse for not publishing anything new for the last two weeks. Of course, this four hundred miles was part of moving all the way across Canada. In the last two weeks, we have moved almost 900 miles. Before you read this our distance traveled in the last two weeks will be well more than 1000 miles.
At Katmai National Park
We visited Katmai National Park (or one day only) while we were in Homer. It was in July and it was at the start of the salmon run up the Brooks River. The reason the bears we saw are quite skinny (for Brown Bears) is that they are just starting to feed on the salmon. All summer they gorge themselves getting all they can eat. In October is a “Fat Bear Week” contest. These same bears are so fat that their belly almost drags the ground. When the snow flies, the bears go into hibernation and live off the fat all winter. Some of the smaller bears (they are all big) are only a couple of years old.
This year the salmon were about two weeks late in their arrival at Brooks Falls. The bears however were right on time and since the salmon were not on time, the bears were grumpy. All grumpiness was over by the time we got to Brooks Falls. We were early enough to see very hungry, but still skinny bears who were eating all they could eat. Then after eating, they would crawl up on the bank or into the woods and nap. At the end of the nap, more food.
Which bear picture was the best?
In our last post, I made the post all about bear pictures and not about bear stories. Overall the picture I chose as the best picture was at the top of the post. Here it is again.
The picture at the top of this post was selected as the first runner-up. This one was of a female who sat on the top of the falls waiting for a fish to jump in her mouth. Half the time she was staring at the water and the rest of the time was scanning over her shoulder at her cub making sure the cub was safe. The way I could tell it was a female was the cub she was taking care of. Bears don’t use babysitters.
Here is a picture of her cub who sat, nearly asleep, waiting for mom to return with a fish.
About the food
One of the things we learned about these bears is that they do not change their behavior due to comfort. The water at the falls was cold (and wet). They don’t care. They do however change their behavior associated with food. Brown Bears are solitary and territorial except here at Brooks Falls. Because of the abundant food they gather at Brooks Falls for the easy feast.
Lots of people really liked the picture of Mom, (following picture) who seemed to be schooling some younger bears about how to catch fish. When Mom wasn’t sitting there at the edge of the falls, the water looked the same as the rest of the waterfall. When she sat down, she parted the water with her body. There were two obvious places where bears could sit on the edge but we didn’t see both of them occupied at the same time.
It is easy to miss but there are four other bears in the above picture. One is swimming near Mom at the bottom of the waterfalls. When this swimming bear got too close to Mom, she growled a very obvious warning. Translated into English it sounded a lot like, “Don’t make me come down there. You know I will, and you will be sorry.”
Bears don’t share
Even here at Katmai, bears don’t share with other bears (or anyone else) except with close family members. Mom will deliver a fish to her cubs, but as soon as another bear approaches, regardless of reason she is ready for a fight and voices her intent. This is the same for the big males (boars); if any bear approaches, for any reason, their territorial instincts take over and they are ready for a prolonged battle if necessary. I have long known that if a bear gets your food, it isn’t your food anymore.
While at Katmai I also took some videos and posted them on Youtube. They are on YouTube on my channel and I included them below for your enjoyment. They are all short and all about the bears at Katmai looking for salmon at Brooks Falls.
So assuming you watch YouTube, I am sure that you often hear — please subscribe to my channel. I don’t want you to subscribe to my channel on YouTube. Perhaps I have the only YouTube channel that doesn’t care about subscribers. I am writing these stories to hopefully entertain you here on my blog. I don’t want to be a YouTube content creator. The first time I put up a couple of YouTube videos (years ago) they were all taken in the Monterey Aquarium. They are in this story about Monterey. Our Visit to Monterey
Different bears have different techniques when fishing. I already described one technique above which is to sit on the falls and let the fish do all the work. The bear in the video below is much more active.
The following video displays a different technique. Some call it snorkeling. Put your face in the water and look for fish.
In this next video, I thought that this big bear was going to eat the cub on the log. The cub fell in the water earlier and was swept downstream only to end up crawling up on this log. Honestly, I took the video expecting the worst. Had it ended up badly for the cub, I would have kept it to myself. So now that you know the ending, here is the video.
How to get to Brooks Falls?
We didn’t plan to go to Brooks Falls at the beginning of our trip to Alaska. Rather by luck, we ended up in Brooks Falls because we happened to be at the right place at the right time. We got our reservation the same week. Typically, a good time to get a reservation would be January for the following July.
The best way to get to Brooks Falls is to start in Homer where you can take a float plane directly landing on Naknek Lake. After your flight, you can then walk to Brooks Falls. Brooks Falls is on a very short river between Naknek Lake and Brooks Lake. By far this is the easiest and least expensive way to get to Brooks Falls. (Getting to Brooks Falls and visiting Katmai National Park is expensive. Other than Gates of the Arctic, it may be the most expensive U.S. National Park.)
If you are not in Homer, then the way to Brooks Falls involves flying from Anchorage to King Salmon and then taking a float plane to Naknek Lake. If you win the lottery (they have a Brooks Falls lottery every year) you can stay in one of the cabins at Katmai. My guess is this would make your trip much more expensive than the day trip that we took. So, to do that you may need to win two lotteries, one for the cabin and the second one to pay for the cabin.
The fish make it to Brooks Falls by first swimming up Naknek River, past King Salmon then across Naknek Lake. The fish then spawn in the small rivers and gravel beds around Brooks Lake.
Bears at Katmai National Park
The estimate is that over 2200 brown bears occupy Katmai National Park. Some of these bears feed at Brooks Falls. The estimate is that eighty bears frequent the Brooks Falls area each July and August. All of the bears at Brooks Falls when we were there were cubs when they first encountered people watching them.
Pretty much the bears at Brooks Falls have seen us humans watching them every summer for more than 30 years. The assumption is that the bears don’t care about the humans. Dangerous encounters between bears and humans at Brooks Falls are rare.
After arriving by float plane, we walked to a room where the rangers explained to us how to have a safe and successful visit to Brooks Falls. The above information about how these bears didn’t care about humans only applies to the bears at Brooks Falls. If you encounter a Brown or Grizzly Bear in the wild, you have to remember that you are on the potential food list. At Brooks Falls, only fish are on the food list.
These bears are dangerous
In fact, all bears are dangerous. Most bears would rather depart quietly or even run away rather than risk a fight. However, these same bears earlier in the spring, without an easy food supply are dangerous to everything that moves. These same bears will hunt, attack, and eat anything larger than an insect all the way up to a moose. People and pets are on the potential food list if they are hungry. For the most part, the bears ignore people while they are at Brooks Falls.
Until our visit to Katmai, I had no idea how quiet bears could move through the woods. When they walk their feet make nearly zero sound. It really helps to have padded feet. They can also go through the brush without any sound. If they make a noise, they are either focused on food and don’t care about sound or they are letting you know they are there. Any vocal sounds should be taken as a warning. Attacking bears, however, don’t give warnings.
If a bear stands up on its hind feet, it does so to get a look around. If it stands up and looks directly at you, then it is probably curious about you. Sometimes after getting a good look, they will charge. See the paragraph about bluffing found below.
When I was growing up, we used to think that bears had poor eyesight. This has been proven to be a false assumption. Overall a bear’s eyesight is about as good as your eyesight.
Another myth of my youth was that Black Bears (the species, not the color) would climb trees and that Brown Bears could not climb trees. I assure you that this is false. All bears can climb trees. If you are being attacked they can come up the tree after you. If you climb a tree with cubs above you, I assure you that Mom will climb the tree, and at a minimum, she will knock you out of that tree. The myth about tree climbing may have a small grain of truth in that bears may choose not to climb trees; assuming you don’t make the fatal mistake of climbing a tree with cubs in it.
Perhaps, in October, at Katmai, these bears are so fat that they might have a hard time climbing trees. In the early spring, the same bear wouldn’t have any problem.
These bears do not lose their territorial instincts while at Brooks Falls. Instead, they tolerate other bears (and humans) while the fishing is good. Pretty much, as long as you don’t enter their territory or approach them they don’t care. If they feel approached usually they will walk away. Females, with cubs, are the least tolerant of other bears (and humans).
Bears are curious and like to investigate things around them. This is especially true for younger sub-adult bears. If a bear is in the village, it probably is curious and looking for its next easy food supply.
I have no personal experience with bears bluffing. I also have never endured a real attack. Sometimes, a bear will charge with no intention of attack; these are called bluff charges. If a bear is going to attack you, it probably will not make the attack obvious. Until our visit to Canada and Alaska, nearly every bear I had ever seen was going the other way. Some were going the other way at very high speed. Others were just wandering off.
Are they Brown Bears or Grizzly Bears?
I tried to explain in my previous posts that Grizzly Bear is the most common name that describes Brown Bears in Alaska and Canada. Grizzlies have now been re-introduced to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. I say re-introduced because even though they never really left these states, they were very rare. I even had an Alaska wildlife biologist comment on the distinction between Grizzly Bears and Brown Bears. He said that all Grizzly Bears are Brown Bears but that the Brown Bears at Katmai are not called Grizzlies.
Genetically, Brown Bears including all the sub-species, including Grizzly Bears are identical. In North America, the name Brown Bear is used for the bears at Katmai and Kodiak Island. The name Grizzly Bear applies to all the rest of the sub-species. Brown Bears at Katmai and Kodiak Island are bigger than Inland Grizzly Bears due to their diet based on fish. This size difference is based on diet, not genetics. Using the name Grizzly Bears to describe the bears at Katmai and Kodiak is incorrect but way more people know the term Grizzly Bear than the far less common term Peninsular Brown Bear.
I mentioned my other post with bear pictures taken at Katmai as I described our trip. In case you missed it, here is a quick link. My 100 Best Grizzly Bear Pictures at Katmai National Park
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As you know, our blog income is zero – this allows us to be independent and just tell the truth. We do not get income or commissions. No, we don’t make paid endorsements. We don’t make recommendations but instead, we will tell you what we like (or dislike). The links are only provided as a quick reference to help our readers.
This video link below is from the Katmai National Park, National Park Service hosted by explore.org.
Valley Center History Museum (the largest recorded Brown Bear)