Hiking in Bear Country: What If a Bear Finds Me?

Mother black bear and cub

NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

You’ve taken a lunch break while hiking and sat down just off the trail, when out of nowhere you hear an animal. You see the bushes move not too far away, and then out comes a bear! What do you do now?

If a bear happens to surprise you, stay calm. Do not surprise the bear if it’s unaware of your presence.

Slowly stand up and speak to the bear in a calm, confident manner. Speaking to the bear in a calm, confident tone will distinguish your voice from the noise of a potential prey animal. You’re trying to let the bear identify you as a person and not an animal.

Immediately pick up any small children that are with you and hold onto them. Do not make any loud noises or screams—the bear may think it’s the sound of a prey animal. Slowly wave your arms above your head and tell the bear to back off. Do NOT run or make any sudden movements.

Put away any food and keep your pack on. Do not leave any food or personal items lying around. The bear may become conditioned to associate people with food sources. Do not attempt to distract a bear by throwing food items or backpacks at it.

Avoid direct eye contact with the bear, it may see it as an aggressive move. Slowly back away from the bear and keep an eye on it. If you back away and the bear follows you or begins to act aggressively, be ready to stand your ground and fight.

Remember every bear encounter is different. Bears wil exhibit different behaviors in different situations. Understanding bear's behavior can make the difference between life and death.

Part of a series of articles titled Bear Country.

Last updated: March 23, 2022