Grab your binoculars and track thriving populations in Yellowstone, Denali, and beyond.
BY KITSON JAZYNKA
You might say that National Geographic Explorer Doug Smith is obsessed with wolves. After all, he’s spent his entire career studying them. A wildlife biologist, he leads the Wolf Restoration project in Yellowstone National Park, trekking on foot, riding horseback, and leaping from helicopters to research and protect these native canines.
Though several scientists argue the animal’s recovery is not yet complete, gray wolves are no longer considered endangered in some states, and a 40-year conservation effort has seen their numbers boom—meaning there’s no better time to encounter them in their native habitats.
“The wolf is the poster child of wilderness,” says Smith. “When you see one in the wild, it awakens the senses and everything feels right.” Here are a few of his favorite places to spot them in the United States.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
If you explore these majestic landscapes for three or four days, “you’ll be rewarded with more than just a glimpse,” Smith says. For the best wolf sightings, visit in summer or midwinter and search during the early morning. In Yellowstone, look for packs living in the Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and Blacktail Deer Plateau. In Grand Teton, head to Willow Flats. (Learn how the Yellowstone we don’t see is a struggle for life and death.)
Trip tips: Drive the Great Loop Road to pass through Lamar Valley for a chance to glimpse its local wolf pack, then head southwest to the Mount Washburn Trail, a six-mile loop to a fire lookout tower that provides a sweeping, 10,000-foot vantage point over Yellowstone. Book well in advance at Old Faithful Inn (May-October) to experience the national historic landmark for yourself. At Grand Teton, be on the lookout for other wildlife from beavers to bison, then make your way to Jackson Lake to fish, sail, water ski, and windsurf.