Bear Safety On the Trail

Here’s how to avoid a problematic bear encounter while out hiking, trail running or mountain biking.

No doubt, it can be thrilling to spot a bear in the wild. And from a safe distance, observing (maybe even photographing) a bear can be the highlight of a trip. But a close encounter with a bear can be dangerous—for you and the bear—so it’s important to know how to behave when traversing trails in bear country. For your next trip out hiking, trail running, mountain biking (or even snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the late or early seasons) follow these guidelines from the National Park Service, which apply to both grizzlies and black bears. They’ll help you avoid surprising a bear, and keep any sightings that you might have on the right side of exciting.  

Don’t Surprise a Bear  

The number one rule in bear country is this: Avoid surprising a bear. A surprised bear may act defensively. If you see a distant bear and it doesn’t see you, detour well away from the bear and try to stay downwind. If the bear does see you, retreat slowly and try to get upwind of the bear, to better alert it that you’re human. 

Don’t Hike Alone 

This is the simplest thing you can do to avoid a dangerous encounter. Hike in groups of three or more. Since 1970 in Yellowstone National Park, only 9% of people injured by bears were in groups of three or more. 

Be Aware 

Pay attention to signs of bear activity (fresh scat), feeding (berry bushes, digging holes and clawing logs), and terrain that limits visibility. Be especially alert to the presence of bears—and alert them to your presence—in these conditions. Don’t expect bears to see you first. 

Make Noise 

Talk loudly, sing, clap, yell “Hey bear.” Make human noises frequently, to alert bears of your presence. This is especially important when dense vegetation limits visibility (avoid it if you can), or when traveling upwind, on windy days, or near a loud stream. 

Don’t Hike at Dawn, Dusk, or at Night  

Bears are most active at these times and visibility is poor. 

Use Established Trails 

Research from Yellowstone National Park shows people are more likely to be attacked when hiking off-trail

Avoid Carcasses 

If you come across a dead ungulate—deer, elk, etc.—leave the area by the same route you approached and report the carcass to rangers when you get out. Bears will defend a carcass, so it’s risky to approach it or stay in the vicinity.  

Carry Bear Spray 

Studies show that bear spray is the most effective deterrent. Not only can it save you from an unwanted encounter, bear spray will help convince bears to avoid the next human encounter. Carry it in a holster where it’s accessible and know how to use it.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.