Payoff When the shaggy, silver-tipped behemoth materialized from around the willows and rose up on its haunches to sniff the air, the possibilities of this world expanded. I was in Denali, and the park was—all at once—more wild and less moved by my presence than I ever dared to dream. Was I scared? Hell yeah. But that was soon replaced by lifelong wonder. —J. Dorn
Do it God created Denali for backpackers to watch grizzlies, and the National Park Service created quotas to keep it special. Yes, the park’s rules can be a pain for planning, but it’s good conservation policy and part of the reason that every quadrant past the Sanctuary River (about 10 miles into the park on the camper bus) is virtually guaranteed bear-viewing habitat. Our advice: Don’t waste potential backcountry days waiting for the “perfect” permit. Take the first and deepest drop-off you can get, and keep your binoculars handy. With Denali’s incredible sightlines—there are no trees to obscure views—you’re gonna see bears.