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Essential National Park Skills: The Ultimate Park Pass

Write your own ticket to new adventures with these 10 territory-expanding skills.

You’ve trained, you’ve planned, you’re

amped. The national park trip you’ve dreamed about for months-maybe years-is just around the bend. There’s only one hitch: You’re missing a critical skill. Whether it’s self-belaying with an ice axe in Grand Teton, paddling a kayak through Acadia’s surf, or fording a glacier-fed river in Denali, there are special techniques that go hand in hand with safely and successfully exploring our premier landscapes. Learn them, and you’ll cross new thresholds-to higher peaks, rarer views, and memories you’ll one day share with wide-eyed grandchildren. To get you there (and back), we’ve compiled a Top 10 list of national park skills. Consider it your syllabus for adventure.


©Ken Archer

The Parks: Yellowstone, Glacier, Katmai/Alaska

The Skill: Hiking safely in grizzly country

Seeing a grizzly in the wild is a rare and wondrous experience-when you do it from a distance. Minimize the odds of a close encounter by following these guidelines.

1. Hike in a group, stay close enough to see one another, and make noise in dense brush, berry patches, and wherever you see fresh bear tracks or scat.

2. Avoid hiking at night, in the early morning, or at dusk, when bears are most active.

3. A breeze can prevent a bear from noticing your scent or sound; when hiking into the wind, slow your pace and call out loudly. Ditto near noisy streams.

4. If you come upon a carcass, leave quickly-it could be a bear’s meal.

5. If you see a grizzly and it…

>>> hasn’t noticed you, move quietly in another direction.

>>> notices you, back away slowly without making eye contact, speaking in a low, calm voice while waving your arms slowly overhead.

>>> stands on its hind legs sniffing the air, it’s trying to identify you. Back away slowly.

>>> snaps its jaws or makes a low coughing sound, it’s issuing a warning. Back away slowly.

>>> charges you, don’t run. Instead, stand your ground without making eye contact or acting aggressively. Many charges are bluffs.

>>> attacks, play dead. Drop to your stomach, legs spread-eagled to prevent the bear from turning you over, hands covering the back of your neck. If it keeps attacking after the first few seconds or swipes (that is, once it shows an intent to feed, rather than just scare you), use your pepper spray and fight back.

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