From the rugged islands of the Aleutian chain to the volcanic landscapes of Katmai National Park and the verdant forests of Kodiak, the ‘Emerald Isle’, Southwest Alaska is a vast and diverse expanse of awesome wilderness. Many venture west to seek out the bears of Katmai. In July, lured by spawning salmon, dozens of bears are often seen at once along the 1.5-mile Brooks River, allowing for close, unobstructed and extraordinary viewings…and amazing photo opps. Journey on to the ‘Valley of 10,000 Smokes’, also within Katmai National Park, a stark and surreal landscape left over from the eruption of the Novarupta volcano in 1912. Further north, hundreds of mountain waterfalls sustain Lake Clark and its abundant trout and salmon populations. Even though it occupies less than one percent of the state, Lake Clark National Park epitomizes all that is Alaska, with glaciers, coastline, forests, rivers, volcanoes, mountains, lakes, tundra, and wildlife including bear and caribou. It’s only a 1-hour bush plane flight from Anchorage. But make no mistake, this is a rugged place with no trail system so advance preparation and the right gear (and guide) is essential.