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Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes



6.6 mile 10.6 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 746' 228 m
Descent: -351' -107 m
High: 1,555' 474 m
Low: 860' 262 m


Avg Grade: 3% (2°)
Max Grade: 16% (9°)


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Trail shared by Abe H


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A trail from the park road to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Abe H

Features Commonly Backpacked · Geological Significance · Historical Significance

While Katmai NP is open year-round, access to the trailhead (20+ miles from the visitors center where float planes and boats drop people off) is limited to June through September when shuttle services are available.

Need to Know

You'll want to wear long sleeves and long pants through the vegetation near the beginning of the trail due to the prevalence of cow parsnip. It can also get very hot in the valley (the rangers said it hit 100 4th of July weekend 2019) with no shade once you enter the valley. Windy Creek crossing at mile 1.5, the waterfalls at mile 6 and the streams/lakes at the base of Mageik are your best sources for water. The trail was easy to follow in July 2019 but since most of the trail lies on sand, it is possible for the trail to get blown over or washed away.


Not far from Brooks River, the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century began on June 6, 1912. The eruption was so violent that the summit of Mount Katmai collapsed, villages were abandoned, and explosions were heard as far away as Juneau. In the wake of this violence, hardy adventurers and scientists discovered the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a spectacular ash covered landscape.

Backpacking the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes takes a bit of planning as you first have to get to Katmai NP, which requires at least one float plane ride from Anchorage. You'll also likely need to spend a night at Katmai, which is either pricey and/or requires reservations well in advance, in order to take the morning bus ride to the end of the park road that crosses three streams. The park's concessionaire tour bus driver will know where the trailhead is, as it is located about a half a mile from the end of the road where the tour bus stops for lunch.

From the park road, the trail descends rather quickly through vegetation filled with cow parsnip. Once the terrain flattens, the woods open up and you are able to get a view of the valley. At about mile 1.5, you'll encounter Windy Creek, which is a great place to camp for the return trip. After crossing the creek, the trail takes you up above the creek drainage, and you continue eastward to the valley. The trail follows the base of the Buttress Range and vegetation becomes more and more scarce and the trail becomes more and more sandy. At mile 6, there is a nice waterfall, which makes for another camping option. From there, there is no distinct trail as there are several destinations: the dilapidated hut, lakes at the base of Mageik, Katmai Pass, Novarupta, Mount Griggs, among others.

This trail is rated difficult due to the hazards present, such as Knife Creek and River Lethe that have resulted in several deaths. The trail itself is otherwise quite flat with a few obstacles.

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Photos, Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna


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