Staying Safe in Bear Country

grizzly bearWhile seeing a bear is often the highlight of a visit to the park it's important to follow bear safety tips provided by the parks. Bears are usually predictable, but each has an individual temperament. Knowledge of bear behavior can reduce your chance of an unpleasant encounter. Before you hit the trail, stop in at a visitor center or ranger station to get an update on bear and/or mountain lion activity and to find out what trails or campgrounds may be closed. Report all sightings of bears or animal carcasses to park staff. 

If You See a Bear:

All bears are dangerous. Never approach or feed any bear, even a seemingly "tame" one. Bears will fiercely defend cubs and food. 

If you encounter a bear at close range, stay calm and slowly leave the area by backing away. Don't run or scream; this may provoke a chase. Climbing a tree is not always an option because there may be a lack of time and trees, and bears can climb! 

Bear attacks are uncommon. When they do occur, it's usually because the bear perceives a person as a threat. If an attack should occur, act submissive and protect yourself by rolling up on the ground with your fingers interlocked behind your neck and your knees pulled to your chest. Leaving your pack on may provide extra protection for your back and neck. When the bear no longer feels threatened, it will usually leave the area. Do not move or make noise until you are sure the bear is gone. To avoid encountering a bear, follow these guidelines:

Don't hike alone. Consider going along on a ranger-guided hike if you have no hiking companions. Pets are prohibited on trails because dogs and bears are natural enemies.

Make loud noises. Bears don't like surprises and will usually move out of the way if they hear people coming. A loud shout combined with sharp clapping is effective. Shout more frequently around a noisy stream, on a blind curve, on a windy day or when near heavy brush (vegetation).

Hike during "business hours." Bears are more active at dawn and dusk.

Never enter a closed trail. It is closed for a good reason—usually recent bear sightings.

Observe bears only from a distance. Never approach bears for a better look or a photograph.

Consider carrying pepper spray. Some backcountry hikers carry pepper spray as a possible nonlethal, nontoxic deterrent against aggressive bears. Note: If you decide to carry pepper spray, familiarize yourself with its use, keep it accessible, use it wisely and only in situations where aggressive wildlife behavior justifies its use.

Always leave a clean camp. Store odorous items such as food, coolers, utensils and toiletries in a hard-sided vehicle or food locker. Toss garbage in bearproof garbage cans, not in your fire grate. Dump water used to rinse dishes and hands in a rest room utility sink, not on the ground. These are not simply recommendations, they are park regulations!

In the backcountry, never leave any odorous items unattended. Every backcountry campsite has a special cable or pole from which you can hang food and garbage. Cook and eat only in the designated food-preparation area, and hang the clothes you cooked in if they might have absorbed food odors. Camp only in the designated sites, which are situated well away from the food-hanging and cooking areas. Be sure to pack out all garbage.