Bristol Bay is the Bering Sea's eastern-most arm. It is 400 kilometers (250 miles) long and 290 kilometers (180 miles) wide, receiving waters from several rivers that flow into the bay. The bay has some of the highest tides in the world, with extremes over 9.9 meters (30 feet). These extreme tides, combined with the many shoals, shallows, sandbars, and strong winds, make navigation around the Port of Bristol Bay difficult.
The Port of Bristol Bay enjoys a primarily maritime climate with humid, windy, and cool weather. The summer brings frequent fog and some 20 inches of rain, and snowfall averages are about 45 inches. Average temperatures range from a low of -8.5°C (16.7°F) to a high of 13°C (55°F) in July.
The Port of Bristol Bay is known as the "Gateway to Katmai National Park and Preserve," a United States national park known for its brown bears and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Located some 114 kilometers (71 miles) east-northeast of the Port of Bristol Bay, the park is about the size of Wales, covering over 19 thousand kilometers (about 7.4 thousand square miles). Named for Mount Katmai and the famous volcano, over two-thirds of the park is designated wilderness.
The park headquarters are located in King Salmon, the Port of Bristol Bay's distribution center. Designated a national monument in 1918 to protect the area around the 1912 volcanic eruption, the modern park supports a range of activities.
In 1912, huge volumes of magma erupted from beneath Mount Katmai, creating a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) lava dome called Novarupta, and the collapse of the mountain, leaving a caldera with a depth of 600-meters (two thousand feet). The eruption formed what is known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes because it created many fumaroles that released ash and gas for some 15 years after the eruption.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is the site of many outdoor recreation activities that include camping, backpacking, hiking, back-country skiing, kayaking, boat tours, fishing, and interpretive programs, although the park cannot be reached by automobile. At least 14 active volcanoes are located within the park. After being dormant for some ten thousand years, Fourpeaked Volcano became active in 2006. There are also many archeological sites in the park that demonstrate the area's long pre-historic routes.
This Port of Bristol Bay attraction supports the world's biggest population (more than two thousand) of protected brown bears. When the salmon spawn, the bears congregate at the Brooks Falls viewing platform, offering spectacular opportunities for photography. Year-round, the most likely brown bear locations include Hallo Bay, Kukak Bay, and Chiniak where they can find clams, salmon and other fish, and coastal sedge.
One of the only developed park areas is Brooks Camp, attracting most of the visitors to Katmai National Park's bear viewing platforms. The only place where services are provided, there is a lodge offering meals that is open from June through September at Brooks Camp. The lodge store offers some sundries.
The bears in the park are relatively unafraid of and uninterested in humans. Hunting is allowed only in the preserve area of the park, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulates all hunting activities.