Photos: Hiking Katmai's Valley of 10,000 Smokes

A group of hikers walks along the Lethe River in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve, in late June.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
A group of tourists and hikers prepares to board a bus that will take them the 22 miles from Brooks Camp to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
A brown bear snares a salmon while standing atop Brooks Falls, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Sam Sterling photo
Nathaniel Herz walks near a drainage flowing from Mt. Mageik, in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Sam Sterling photo
Sam Sterling walks up towards a hut perched on the slopes of Baked Mountain in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
John Wros scrambles up a slope after crossing the Lethe River in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
A group of hikers sits on the banks of the Lethe River in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve, after wading across.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
John Wros walks across a slope in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Anson Moxness photo
In this panorama, Sam Sterling stands atop Baked Mountain in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, inside Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Nat Herz / Alaska Dispatch News
Nat Herz

BROOKS CAMP -- About seven hours after leaving my desk at work, I found myself fumbling with the door handle of an empty pickup truck near Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve. I was hoping the door was unlocked, so that I could escape the two very large brown bears walking down a dirt road toward me, about 50 yards away and closing.

I’d flown into the park a few hours earlier on a float plane, for a hiking trip with four of my friends to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, a spectacular volcanic area created in a massive eruption a century ago.

Five of us -- myself, three roommates, and one more like-minded 20-something outdoor enthusiast -- had settled on the trip to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes a couple of months earlier, after considering and discarding other options that included packrafting out of a volcanic caldera in another Alaska park (too complicated), and hiking in Southeast Alaska (too wet, too much time required).

The Valley of 10,000 Smokes’ selling points?

It's reasonably cheap, different -- volcanoes aren’t accessible, say, from Anchorage’s popular Glen Alps trail head -- and not hugely technical. (All of the people in my group were young and fit, but some of us, especially myself, had minimal climbing or mountaineering experience.) 

READ MORE: Hike into Katmai's Valley of 10,000 Smokes offers spectacular views -- and chance to see bears feeding