A wet brown bear facing the camera

A wet brown bear peruses the tidal flats for food on the park's Cook Inlet Coast.

NPS/K. Jalone


Brown bears and American black bears flourish in Lake Clark. This remote, mostly undeveloped setting provides pristine natural habitat for both species, which are present in most non-glaciated areas of the park and preserve.

Bears are most numerous along the park's Cook Inlet coast where there is a concentrated abundance of food. This environment provides a rare and excellent opportunity to observe brown bears that gather in high numbers to feed. However, while black bears are present on the coast in similar numbers to brown bears, they are cautious of their larger cousins and thus are rarely seen.

Bear Identification

Remember, bears are wild animals, and can be dangerous. There are a combination of characteristics to look for that can help you identify between black and brown bears. Knowing the difference between the two can help you make choices to stay safe in bear country.

Brown Bears

  • Distinctive shoulder hump
  • Rump is lower than shoulder hump
  • Face profile appears dished in between the eyes and tip of the snout
  • Ears are short and round
  • Front claws are 2-4 inches, depending on how much digging the individual bear does, and slightly curved. Claw marks are usually visible in the tracks.
  • Brown bears are larger than black bears, standing 3-5 feet at the shoulder when on all fours.

  • Shoulder lies level or flat with back/lacks shoulder hump
  • Rump is higher than front shoulders
  • Face profile is straight from between the eyes to tip of muzzle.
  • Ears are taller and more oval shaped and can appear to be very prominent on the head.
  • Front claws are less than 2 inches long and curved. Claw marks do not always show in the tracks.
  • Black bears are smaller than brown bears, standing 2 - 3.5 feet at the shoulder when on all fours.
a line diagram comparing the paw prints, claws, facial profiles and silhouettes of black bears and grizzlies. in general, grizzlies have larger paws, larger claws, an indented face profile, and a shoulder hump

Use tracks and the physical appearance of a bear to determine whether it is a black or brown/grizzly. Do not use color for identification.


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