By Mike Fitz
Brown bears, salmon, and Katmai National Park’s beautiful scenery are the main highlights of the bearcams, but where are the bearcams and where, specifically, do they look?
Brooks River is located in the center of Katmai National Park and about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. The river, only 1.5 miles long, drains out of Lake Brooks and flows into Naknek Lake.
There are currently six webcams along Brooks River and one on nearby Dumpling Mountain. Due to limited bandwidth, not every camera can be streamed at the same time, but each camera provides unique and memorable views of a wild Alaskan landscape.
The following images illustrate the lines of sight for most of the bearcams. The cams can see farther beyond the river in many cases, but I only highlighted the areas where we have a reasonable chance to see bears along the river.
Brooks Falls Cam: This camera is mounted to the elevated wildlife-viewing platform at Brooks Falls. Its line of sight is outlined in white. The falls low cam, also attached to the Brooks Falls wildlife-viewing platform, focuses on the area just downstream of the waterfall.
Riffles Cam: This camera is mounted to a wildlife-viewing platform located about one hundred yards downstream of Brooks Falls. Its line of sight, highlighted by the area in yellow in the image above, is a bit more limited but provides good views looking upstream toward the falls and bears fishing in the riffles below it.
Lower River: This camera is attached to the west end of the lower river wildlife-viewing platform. Its line of sight, outlined in green, looks upstream and downstream across the river’s many meanders.
River Watch: Attached to the east end of the lower river wildlife-viewing platform, this camera offers great views of Naknek Lake and the outlet of Brooks River.
Underwater Bearcam: One of my favorite cameras has the most limited line of sight. Mounted on the floating bridge at mouth of Brooks River, the underwater camera looks downstream to capture views of salmon and swimming bears.
Dumpling Mountain Cam: Located about 2,200 feet in elevation, this camera offers the widest view of Katmai’s landscape especially to the east, south, and southwest. On clear days, several active volcanoes can be seen on the horizon. The camera’s line of sight is highlighted in red.
The Dumpling Cam also provides an up close view of the tundra on the mountain’s upper slopes where viewers may occasionally see wildlife like bears, arctic ground squirrels, and even a wolverine.
The bearcams are located where they are because, well, they show some amazing things, but there are also other practical reasons for their locations. They can be supported by existing infrastructure and remain relatively accessible to staff if maintenance issues arise. Webcams in other locations of Katmai would be very difficult to maintain and would require the installation of new infrastructure in federal wilderness areas, which is generally prohibited. (The Dumpling cam is located in wilderness, but the NPS permitted its installation because it utilized a site already impacted by an existing radio repeater).
These cameras, collectively, cover about a third of Brooks River. Considering the scale of Katmai (over four million acres) and other wild lands on the Alaska Peninsula, we see very little of the bearcam bears’ world. Most of their activity happens off camera, away from the river, so the current bearcams provide us with great insight but only a small peek into their lives.