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.
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.