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Early June at Brooks Falls

Since returning to Katmai National Park as a #bearcam fellow for explore.org, I’ve visited Brooks Falls repeatedly, mostly to look and listen. Although the waterfall is most famous for its brown bears, few bruins visit it in early June since the salmon have yet to arrive. Standing at the falls from early to mid June, therefore, is an exercise in patience and an opportunity to reflect on the changes soon to come.

With no bears in sight, my attention is free to focus on the larger scene. The sound of the falls is omnipresent, a low roar loud enough to drown out most birds’ song. Looking downstream, where the river disappears from sight, snow-capped Mount Katolinat looms on the horizon. The grass and birch trees are vividly green, a hue attained only in spring.


Many dead standing trees succumbed to winter winds and shoreline erosion. Three large trees are poised to wash over the falls and another straddles the falls’ lip about midway across. Along the banks, new sight lines have opened where birches and spruce formerly held their ground. Over the last decade, insect outbreaks including bark beetles have thinned the forest along the river. Erosion, wind, and decay are now toppling many of the standing dead snags.

If I watch the water long enough, I eventually catch a glimpse of a fish or two jumping the falls. Although the sight is frustratingly brief, the size and color of the leaping fish indicates they are rainbow trout, not sockeye salmon. The first wave of Bristol Bay’s famous sockeye may arrive this week, so I keep an eager watch. Any bears in the area are keen to see these fish too, as salmon are the most important component of their diet in central Katmai. In less than a month, Brooks Falls will once again swarm with bears and salmon, creating one of the most iconic scenes in America’s national parks.

Rivers, even small ones like Brooks River, are in constant flux. Across multiple years and seasons, we’ll be able to see Brooks River change significantly, even if it’s only a few down trees at a time. During early June, Brooks Falls projects a sense of quiet and calm, but it is poised to experience tremendous change.

-Mike Fitz

  • Deborah-TX (2014)

    Thanks for the preview of the changes around the falls Mike. Will you also do a post about changes along the lower river later this week?

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      I can probably write a post on that soon.

  • ♥NotJuergen♥

    TY much Mike for this inside view of Brooks Falls

  • Lovethebears

    Thank you for sharing part of your Brooks experience with us. I’ll bet the falls and river are so tranquil right now, enjoy!

  • Debbie Little

    Thank you Mike!

  • Dave

    Will the dead trees on the falls edge in any way impede the salmon’s ability to navigate past? Do you have any equipment to remove….or just leave it to Mother Nature?

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      In general, the waterways in Katmai National Park are allowed to change naturally, so park staff won’t make any effort to remove the down trees. The whole river is flowing freely and the few down trees in it shouldn’t pose any trouble for migrating and spawning salmon. In fact, woody debris is an important component of salmon streams, offering juvenile salmon shelter from strong currents and predators.

      • mcrae221

        Timmy Salmon: Roddy, where are you going with that whoopee cushion?
        Roddy Salmon: I’m going to place it under the tree so I can prank Billy Salmon.
        Timmy Salmon: I don’t think that’s what Mike was talking about when he mentioned juvenile salmon.
        Roddy Salmon: Really, I guess I’ll just save it for the bears.
        Timmy Salmon: Sorry about that Mike, but thanks for thinking of us fish!

  • Birgitt

    Mike are there any cavity nesters taking advantage of all the snags or are the snags too small?

  • Stacey


    Thanks for posting this, Mike.

  • provopalatka

    Very nice Thanks

  • Nippykippy

    thanks so much R Mike

  • Alice BRT

    Thank you! …and thank you so much for the photo of the island…she still stands, smaller but as grand as ever!

  • lMelanie Linehan

    Thanks Mike!

  • abcayemich

    Wonderful update. Love the way you describe the beautiful scenery. WHEN is your book coming out?? :))))))))) Thanks for sharing this Mike.

  • TDega

    Thank you for this Mike.

  • Leigh Wiethoff

    Thank you Mike. Look at that island just waiting for the bears. Poor tree is pretty much history it seems. Water level high from snow melt?

  • JoeBear

    Thanks Mr. Mike!

  • Sandy

    Thanks Mike! I love the way you are describing what you see, it makes me feel like I am there.

  • Wkay

    Thank you so much Mike, I always enjoy reading your blogs, and the pictures in this one are dynamite.

  • Lesleezee

    Wonderful description, made me feel like I was standing next to you on the platform. I’m so very glad that you will be with us as the Explore fellow. We’ve missed your knowledge, thoroughness, and love of Katmai.

  • KD J

    Beautifully written and well described, could see it in my mind’s eye. Thank You, One day closer to seeing live cams.

  • Luv2fishdarlene

    TYTYTY !!!!!! SOOOO Glad you are back for a while !!

  • MollyGee-TX

    Thank you Mike.

  • Ripple

    Great description. Thank you again Ranger Mike!

  • Dorie M

    Mike: I really enjoyed how you described the falls and I can’t wait until the bears show up again for summer, 2018.

  • Kathy Worley

    Waiting for the cams to come on and watching the bears is so hard… but wait I will. Thanks for a beautiful description of the river and area.

  • naturegirl

    Thank you. I am sorry to see the trees and bushes gone but nature goes on. On another note: I am sorry that you will be gone by the time I get to Brooks, would have loved to meet you.

  • Kathy Caywood

    Thank you Ranger Mike. Glad to hear you’re back at Brooks Falls. Looking forward to the bears again, and seeing who has new cubs this year!. And as always, looking forward to the appearance of the lovable Otis! In looking at your photos, it appears to me that the island is forever growing smaller. Can’t wait for cams to come up!!!

  • Rae Speck

    Thanks Ranger Mike. Love how you describe the beauty of the site.

  • Calaigh

    Mike, Thank you, for the beautiful commentary on the face of Brooks in early June.