Bear Country Safety

Skar, eating some
Remember, you are a guest in bear country.

One of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America is found on Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Due to their mobility and expert swimming skills, bears may be found on just about any of the Apostle Islands. Sometimes mainland bears will swim out to the islands when pressured. Tracks have even been seen on the Outer Island sandspit!

Although bears (Makwa - Black bear) are naturally very wary and avoid people, human-bear contacts have become more frequent when the population increases. When competition for natural food supplies increase, bears tend to expand their search for food and sometimes that brings them into campgrounds. When a bear finds food left by campers, they learn that people equals food. Proper food storage is essential to prevent bears from being attracted to campsites and becoming "troublesome" in the eyes of a camper.

To avoid bear problems:

  • Never feed wild animals.
  • Store food in bear-resistant food storage lockers where provided.
  • Hang food-cache away from your tent at least 12 feet off the ground, and at least 4 feet away from the tree trunk.
  • Prepare food well away from your tent.
  • Do not eat or keep food, garbage, toiletries, or unwashed dishes in your tent.
  • Do not bury or scatter food scraps.

If you encounter a bear near a dock, campsite, or picnic area, use a tone of voice and body posture to show you are in charge, yell and make noise until the bear leaves the area, then report the encounter to park staff.

A drawing of a bag of food tied up in a tree at least 12 feet high and 10 feet away from the trunk.

Bear Precautions & Proper Food Storage

Black bears may be on any of the Apostle Islands, but are most common on Oak, Sand, Manitou, and Stockton islands. To avoid a close encounter:

  • Make noise when you hike. Travel in groups on established trails.
  • Watch for bear signs such as tracks, scat, claw marks on trees, diggings, and torn-up stumps.


  • Avoid strong smelling foods.

  • Do not cook in, or take food, garbage, dish towels, or toiletries into a tent.

  • When cooking, wipe your hands on a small hand towel and store it with your food.

  • Have separate kitchen and sleeping areas.

  • Wash dishes and clean the site after cooking.

  • Wastewater from cleaning dishes attracts bears. Use minimal amounts of water to clean dishes.

  • Wastewater must be filtered through a strainer to remove food particles. Pack out food scraps with other garbage.

  • Strained wastewater must be broadcast on the ground at least 50 yards from camp or disposed of in a vault toilet.


  • All food, beverage containers, garbage, cooking materials, condiments, utensils, and toiletries (such as toothpaste or soap) must be secured from wildlife. Bear resistant storage lockers are provided for this purpose at all designated campsites.

  • Where lockers are not available, campers should hang their food and related items in a tree away from their tent, at least 10-12 feet from the ground and five feet away from the trunk. Suspending the food cache between 2 trees or counterbalancing two bags over a branch are effective methods.

  • Cook stoves may not be left unattended until they have been cleaned of food scraps.

  • Never leave food or water bottles unattended.

A black bear with its face up against a metal bear resistant food storage locker.
NPS Photo

Always keep food, condiments, and toiletries in the metal bear resistant food storage lockers as not to attract bears.

A black bear approaching 2 kayaks on the shore of a lake from the forest.

NPS Photo

If You Encounter A Bear

  • Never approach a bear, even to take a picture. Keep at least 50 yards away.

  • Never feed a bear. A fed bear is a dead bear.

In the backcountry:

  • Walk away while facing the bear.

  • Do not look directly in the bear's eyes.

  • Speak quietly, act passively, letting the bear know you are not a threat. Leave the area.

  • If the bear approaches, wave arms and talk louder so the bear can identify you as a human.

In a Visitor Use Area (campsite, dock, picnic area):

  • Make yourself look as big as possible. Show that you are in charge by using a loud/strong voice.

  • Bang pots, yell, make noise until the bear leaves the area.

  • Put food and trash away.

  • Throwing small rocks in the direction of the bear should be done with caution. Do not try to hit the bear.

  • Report the encounter to park staff as soon as possible.

If the Bear acts aggressively towards you:

Last updated: October 14, 2021

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 770
Bayfield, WI 54814


715 779-3397

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