Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Bears


1. Are black bears dangerous?
Black bears are no more dangerous than grizzly bears and in fact the threat from of any bear is substantially reduced with proper human behavior. Always be alert to your surroundings and make noise to avoid surprising a bear. Both species are prone to investigate human made items, especially food and garbage. Never approach a bear and be sure that all your personal gear is secure particularly anything food related or with an odor.

2. Can bears swim?
Bears are very good swimmers and will often swim to cool off, play, chase prey, or cross bodies of water. Grizzlies have been observed swimming in Wonder Lake and other bodies of water in Denali.

3. Can grizzly bears climb trees?
Young grizzlies can climb trees as effectively as most black bears, but adult grizzly bears have more difficulty. Most grizzlies can climb a tree if it has ladder-like branches, but their weight and claw structure prevents them from climbing as efficiently as black bears. Three of the 23 documented bear-induced human injuries in Denali involved grizzlies pulling humans out of trees so don't try to climb a tree to avoid any bear.

4. Can bears run downhill?
Yes. Both species of bear in Denali are quite agile and quick despite their often cumbersome and bulky appearance. They can run well over any slope and terrain. Both species can reach bursts of 35 mph or more so never try to out run a bear.

5. Do companion dogs keep bears away?
Dogs can sometimes keep bears away from a camp, but very often, a dog initially chases a bear and then the bear chases the dog right back to the camp. Dogs may also harass a bear unnecessarily or pique a bear's curiosity. Dogs must be kept on a leash while in the park and are not allowed on trails, in the backcountry, or left unattended at any time.

6. Will bears attack sleeping people?
Incidents between people and bears in Denali are few. In the 23 cases of bear-induced human injury, only two cases involved sleeping campers. Both parties were camped without a tent, and one was camped near a dead moose as well. Bears are curious animals and will probe novel items in their environment with mouth and paws. While such investigation could potentially injure a human, it is not considered an attack and the bear will usually run at the first sign of human activity. Using a tent while camping gives a curious bear something other than an exposed, sleeping human to investigate.

7. Are bears that approach people / camp-grounds in the Frontcountry "tame"?
No! None of the bears in Denali are "tame". Bears that approach people and campgrounds may be habituated to the presence of humans and/or conditioned to obtaining human food. These bears have a higher potential for unwanted encounters with people because they often lose their fear of humans or may attempt to get further food rewards. It is these bears that most often require management action on the part of park staff to keep both people and the bears safe. Never feed or leave food or garbage where a bear might get it, and always discourage bears in close proximity to homes or camps by shouting, honking car horns, or making other raucous sounds.

8. Does pepper spray protect people from bears?
The best protection for people from bears is proper knowledge and behavior when facing a bear encounter. That said, pepper spray can be a very effective deterrent in the event of an aggressive interaction with a bear. Pepper spray has been shown to be effective at deterring grizzly bears over 90% of the time. But don't let pepper spray instill a false sense of security. Always take the proper precautions to avoid an encounter in the first place. Pepper spray should be used as a last resort if all of the proper responses to a bear's behavior do not work (i.e., shouting, waving arms, backing away slowly, etc.). If you carry pepper spray, be sure you know how to use it before it is needed.

9. Do bears have poor eyesight?
Bears do not have poor eyesight. They can generally see as well as most humans. Experiments with black bears have shown that they can learn color-based visual-discrimination tasks more rapidly than chimpanzees.

10. If a bear stands up and looks at me, is it acting aggressively?
No. Bears stand on their hind legs in order to get a better look or a better whiff of something they are not sure of. If this happens, make it obvious that you are human by waving your arms and speaking loudly. Try to position yourself so that you are upwind and the bear can smell you. Signs that a bear is disturbed by your presence include: woofing, jaw chomping, swaying, laying ears back, and yawning. Guidelines on how to act during a bear encounter are available in the visitor's center.

11. When do bears go into their winter dens?
In Denali, bears typically go into their dens in late October or early November. They typically emerge for the summer season in late March or the first few weeks of April. For this reason, bear resistant food containers are required for all backcountry users between mid-April and mid-October.

12. Can I carry a gun or firearm to protect myself from bears?
If you are entitled under applicable federal and State of Alaska laws to possess a firearm, recent changes in federal law make it legal to carry firearms in most outdoor areas of Denali National Park and Preserve.

However, hunting and the use or discharge of a firearm is still generally prohibited by federal law within the national park. Limited exceptions exist for qualified local rural residents engaged in subsistence hunting on lands added to the original Mount McKinley National Park in 1980 by ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). Contrary to the belief of some, firearms are not needed for protection from bears, and studies have shown that pepper spray may actually be more effective in preventing a bear attack than firearms. Any shooting of an animal by non-subsistence users of the park must be immediately reported to park rangers who will conduct a thorough criminal investigation. The State of Alaska's Defense of Life and Property (DLP) regulation does not apply within Denali National Park and there is no DLP regulation in federal law.

Check out wildlife photo galleries or learn more about bears and other animals and hiking in the park.

Did You Know?