Staying Safe in Bear Country

Bears and campers often frequent the same areas. In a coastal park, like Lake Clark, both tend to spend time on the beaches and narrow bands of land found between the sea -- or lakes -- and the brush, forest and steep cliffs nearby. It is likely that bears and campers will encounter one another, but by remaining calm and following the basic advice of experienced bear behaviorists, you increase the odds of a positive outcome for both you and the bear.

a brown bear and cub

Sows with cubs can be particularly defensive if surprised or threatened.

NPS Photo / Kevyn Jalone

black plastic cylinder on its side with packaged food spilling out of it

A bear resistant food container must hold all scented items, including toothpaste and sunscreen - not just food.

Proper Food Storage is Required

It is extremely important that bears and other wildlife be prevented from obtaining and habituating to human food and garbage. The park offers bear resistant containers for temporary use by visitors free of charge. You can pick one up at the park visitor center in Port Alsworth. Various outfitters also have them available for rent in Anchorage for those not traveling through Port Alsworth. See the food storage requirements. Please ask before you go if you have any questions.


Basic Bear Safety Tips

  • Stay Alert -- Use your eyes, ears and even your nose to detect the presence of a bear. The sooner you are aware of a bear, the more time you have to react appropriately.
  • Be Visible, Make Noise -- A surprise encounter with a bear is dangerous. Avoid surprises by traveling in open areas with good visibility. Make noise as you walk, particularly in if visibility is poor -- talk, clap or even sing. Be extra alert in windy conditions or near noisy streams that mask your sound.
  • Safety in Numbers -- The larger your group is, the less risk of a bear attacking. Stay together, particularly if visibility is poor.
  • Avoid Bears -- If possible, change your course to avoid bears that you've detected, or move slowly away from it. Never approach a bear, even from a boat or kayak; approaching a bear can cause undue stress and provoke an attack.
  • Store Food Properly -- Keep all food and scented items under your immediate control, at all times. While camping, keep a clean camp and store food appropriately.
  • Report Bear Encounters -- If you have an encounter with a bear, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. This will alert others and enable park staff to respond appropriately to the situation, if necessary.
What Should You Do in a Bear Encounter?

If you encounter a bear, immediately ask yourself: Does the bear see you?
    • If it seems like it does not, simply move away from the bear and the encounter is over.
    • If it seems to have noticed you, analyze whether it appears defensive or not

  • Encountering a non-defensive bear
    If the bear is aware of you but seems untroubled (e.g., not changing its prior behavior at all), or is moving steadily along a route away from you, this can be considered non-defensive behavior.

    • If you are hiking or kayaking, change your course to avoid the bear. Increase your distance from it and stay alert to its whereabouts.
    • If you are camping, cooking or eating:
      • Keep all of your items under your direct control
      • Make sure the bear is aware of you. Talk calmly to it and stand your ground.
      • If in a group, stay together; though do not block the bear's route.
      • If it approaches you, stand together and be more assertive, by shouting, yelling and waving your arms. If available, use noisemakers like air horns or by bang pots and pans together.
      • If the bear charges you, stand your ground and remain assertive. Most non-defensive bear charges do not end in contact. If you have pepper spray, use it as the bear nears you.
      • If the bear does make contact, fight back vigorously. This may have changed into a predatory attack. Kick, punch or hit the bear's sensitive face, eyes and nose.

  • Encountering a defensive bear
    Defensive encounters arise when bears are defending food or offspring, in the case of female bears. Defensive encounters usually occur suddenly and at close distances.

    • Defensive behavior may include snorting, huffing, jaw popping and charging
      • If you note any of these behaviors, stop and stand your ground. Your safety lies in calming the bear, so speak in a calm voice at it.
      • If the bear is stationary, move slowly away in a diagonal direction from it.
      • If the bear renews its advance, stop and stand your ground again. Continue talking calmly at it.
      • If the bear charges, remain non-threatening and stand your ground. Most charges do not end in contact. Use pepper spray if you have it.
    • If the bear makes contact with you during a defensive encounter, your reaction depends on the kind of bear.
      • If it is a brown bear, play dead. Lie face-down with your hands clasped behind your neck and legs spread apart so the bear cannot flip you over. Many defensive brown bear attacks end once the bear no longer feels threatened by you. Do not move until the bear leaves the area. If the attack is prolonged, the bear may have changed its behavior from defensive to predatory -- in this case, fight back vigorously!
      • If it is a black bear, do not play dead. Fight back vigorously! Never pretend to be dead if a black bear attacks - their attacks are almost always predator, rather than defensive.

Finally, if a bear attempts to enter your tent, fight back! This may be a predatory behavior.

Did You Know?