Bear safety in national parks

Bears are amazing creatures and it's a great experience to see them in the wild. While the experience is great, you must remember they are wild animals and potentially dangerous. A bears behaviour can be unpredictable and you must therefore take precautions. Attacks on humans are generally rare but can occur and they often come with serious injury and potentially death.

There is not a single strategy that will guarantee safety as all bears are unique. However, by following some simple guidelines you can minimize the danger. Most bear encounters are without any injuries.

Be sure to check the latest safety information from the visitor center of the park you are visiting.

Bear encounter

Identify yourself

You should calmly start talking so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. You should remain still and stand your ground. Slowly raise your arms to make sure the bear sees you as a human. Sometimes bears will stand on their hind legs to get a better look. This indicates the bear is curious and not threatening.

Stay calm

The bears are usually not looking to attack. They are mostly just looking to be left alone. However, they do have different ways of reacting defensively. They might start charging and then turn away at the last second. There are other ways for the bear to act defensively such as woofing, salivating, growling and yawning. You should continue to talk to the bear in low tones as it won't threaten it. You should avoid sudden movements or high pitched screams or sounds. These could trigger an attack.

Pick up small children

Small children may not understand the seriousness of the situation.

Hike and travel in groups

A group is noisier than a single person. The bear will become aware of a group before it becomes aware of a single person because of noise and smell. A group is also larger in size and therefore more intimidating to the bear.

Make yourselves look as large as possible

One way to do this is to move yourself to a higher ground overlooking the bear.

Do NOT allow the bear access to your food

This indicates to the bear it will be able to get more food from humans. Please read more on how to store your food before entering an area with bears.

Do NOT drop your pack

A backpack can be used for protection in case of a bear attack.

If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways

Moving sideways is less threatening to the bear. You will still be able to keep a close watch of the bear and make sure you don't trip. Do not run as bears will try to chase a fleeing animal or human. Bears can run extremely fast and they are able to climb trees. This is why you should never try to climb a tree. This goes for both black bears and brown bears.

Leave the area

You should try to leave the area. Sometimes you will be unable to leave the area. In this case, you should wait until the bear moves away. Make sure the bear has an escape route away from you.

Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs

Never attempt to approach a bear cub as they are often accompanied by their mother. Never place yourself between a bear mother and her cubs. You are more likely to be attacked if the mother perceives you as a threat.

Bear Pepper Spray

Bear pepper spray can be an important safety measure in some parts of national parks. The pepper spray can be used in the same ways you use a regular pepper spray for humans. However, it is different spray. Bear pepper spray is designed for stopping a charging bear and it therefore stronger than a regular pepper spray. You can always investigate with the local national park centers whether or not a bear spray is recommended. If you decide to bring the psray, make sure you know how to use it. You can find several instructional videos online on this matter.