Terra Galleria Photography

More Than Bears at Brooks Camp: the Dumpling Mountain Trail, Katmai National Park


Visitors to Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park, come for the bears, and few are even aware of the Dumpling Mountain Trail. However, the hike offers superb scenery and an environment very different from the Brooks River. Follow me up the mountain on an autumn day with changing weather.

As the first part of the trail wandered up in the woods, at each turn I yelled out loudly to warn the bears of my arrival. Brooks Camp has one of the highest concentration of bears in the world, and you don’t want a close encounter with a surprised one. I nevertheless enjoyed the subtle tapestry of autumn colors found in that forest, quite different from the taiga that grows at more northern Alaska latitudes.

Brooks Camp is forested, with few views besides the lakeshore, but after about 1.5 miles (about 800 feet elevation gain) along the Dumpling Mountain Trail, I got the first open view over Naknek Lake, the largest in Katmai National Park, 40 miles long and up to 8 miles wide. I watched the play of wind over the lake’s surface until a calm patch reflected the hilltop.

Shortly after coming out of the woods, the terrain changed abruptly from forest to tundra. Since it became open, I enjoyed the panoramic views and was relieved not to have to call out for bears. Although the trail starts right from the campsite, for the entire day, I saw only another party up there, and they stopped at that overlook.

Alaskan autumn tundra is so colorful that from a distance, you could easily think that the ground is covered with wildflowers. Nowhere else does the Albert Camus quote apply as well: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

Amidst the spectacular Alaskan scenery, it is easy to forget to delight in the smaller details. A close look near my feet revealed a wealth of colors and textures surpassing an abstract expressionist painting. And the fresh berries were a welcome change from granola bars.

The further up the trail went, the more faint it became, until it was easier to just aim cross-country than to try to follow it. The more colorful the tundra became too. In mid-Septembers, the colors were at their peak.

One of the reasons I like to climb mountains is to see what is on the other side. From the flat summit of Dumpling Mountain (8 mile round trip, 2,440-foot elevation gain), I glanced at unnamed lakes. The weather had been variable all day, and I could observe rain showers dancing in the distance, before having to put on rain gear.

On the way back, the rain stopped and the sun peeked from below the clouds for a few minutes, lighting up the Brooks River, which joins Naknek Lake and Lake Brooks. Despite being only one mile and half, the Brooks River is known worldwide for its bears.

The sky closed out again, but not before the last sunray of the day pierced the clouds, creating a rainbow which despite its small size added a striking accent to the scene. Not wanting to be caught on the trail in the dark, I hurried up.

Autumn in Alaska: Part 9 of 9: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9


  1. Sally says:

    You have such a discerning eye for the photos.
    This is just stellar, and the mood of the sun over the river is near palpable.

    Lovely work. Thank you for sharing!

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