When Bears Wake Up

a grizzly bear feeding on a bison carcass
Bears wake up hungry. Winter kill like this bison carcass is an easy food source.

NPS / Jim Peaco

When spring arrives and the snow begins to melt, bears start to wake up after months of hibernation. It is an exciting time of the year for bears and park visitors.

When bears emerge from their dens, understandably hungry, they immediately begin to search for food. And there is plenty to eat. Receding snow reveals vegetation rich in nutrients. Winter kill - deer, elk, moose or anything else that may fancy a bear’s taste buds, are easy pickings. It’s an important time of the year for a bear as it begins the process of nourishing itself, continually gorging on food throughout the year in preparation for hibernation in the fall.

For visitors beginning their spring and summer vacations, the emergence of bears means a chance to see a bruin in its natural habitat, its home. But it also means that another food source presents itself to bears - the food you may accidentally (or intentionally) leave behind or provide. Storing your food and disposing of garbage properly can mean life or death to a bear. Be sure to always properly store food in bear country.
black bear in a forest
Seeing a bear in the wild is a highlight for many visitors. When a bear is removed from a park, the personal experience and impact on the ecosystem can be diminished.

NPS / Neal Herbert

One of the many reasons people visit national parks with bears is to experience a wild place capable of supporting healthy populations of black and grizzly bears. When visitors become careless and do not properly store their food, bears are undoubtedly going to find it; their sense of smell is amazing. When visitors feed bears, it’s a recipe for trouble. If bears become used to approaching people and eating human food (we call that habituation), the bear no longer seeks the natural food it is supposed to be foraging for. This creates a management and safety problem for park visitors and bears. While park staff work to manage bears and visitors, sometimes there is a need to remove a bear from a park. Imagine what that does to the ecosystem and your experience as a visitor coming to see a bear. For many, it means the park experience is diminished, and the ecosystem isn’t as intact.

When we visit a park with bears, we are entering their home. As guests, proper behavior and etiquette on our part can contribute to a safe and enjoyable visit for us as our hosts.

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Last updated: March 22, 2022