Bear Safety

Portrait of a brown bear laying on the shore of a lake.
A brown bear lies on the shore of a lake

NPS / Kara Lewandowski

Bear behavior is largely motivated by food, breeding, and protection of cubs. Don’t get caught in the middle. There are behaviors you can adopt to decrease the risk of an unwanted bear encounter. Ultimately, you are in their habitat, and being prepared is essential to a safe and enjoyable experience. The recommended viewing distance for wildlife at Serpentine Hot Springs is 200 yards, roughly the length of 2 football fields.

Be prepared:

Make sure you have the proper gear and mental preparation before heading into bear country.

  • Bear spray or another form of bear deterrent that is easily accessible on your person.
  • Whistle / bell
  • Bear-resistant food containers

Be aware of your surroundings at all times:

The landscape, natural or man-made sounds, and wind direction may affect your ability to detect a bear or be detected by a bear.

  • Scan the landscape periodically.
  • Check the horizon and look for any signs of large wildlife moving in the distance.
  • Be aware of wind direction. If the wind is at your back, it will be easier for a bear to catch your scent and avoid you.
  • Streams, lakes, and other water sources attract all forms of wildlife – slow down and be especially vigilant in these areas.
  • Rushing water, howling wind, and other natural or human-made sounds make it difficult for a bear to hear you. This increases the likelihood of you surprising a bear
  • Bears coat color can blend in with their surroundings, especially in the spring and autumn when the landscape is brown. Be extra cautious and watchful during these times.
  • Areas of dense vegetation and low visibility are conducive to surprise encounters with bears or may inhibit your ability to get away in dangerous situations. It is recommended to spend minimal time in areas that will put you in unwanted situations with wildlife

Know the signs:

Stay alert while hiking. Know how to recognize signs of bear presence, but keep in mind that bears may not always leave visible signs.

  • Large piles of scat, often with berries or plant matter
  • Bear tracks
  • Claw marks on the ground
  • Tufts of fur on rock, cabins, or bedded sites
  • Large, dug-up piles of dirt or vegetation
  • Animal trails of cleared brush

Hiking and Camping in Bear Country:

  • Prepare food and clean your cookware away from your tent and equipment. Store toiletries and cosmetics in bear-resistant food containers (BRFC). Keep these items 100 yards away from your tent and equipment (e.g., kayaks, bikes, etc.).
  • Know how to quickly deploy bear spray and always keep it accessible on your person when hiking or camping.
  • Be visible and make noise. Whether or not you think bears are around, be a noisy hiker - sing loudly, clap, make any sounds you can, or call out "hey bears!" frequently.
  • Travel in groups of at least 2 people or more. There is safety in numbers so stay together.

Bear Encounters:

  • If you see a bear, ready your bear spray or deterrent.
  • Never surprise a bear. If you see a bear before it sees you, slowly and calmly back away from the area and keep an eye on the bear.
  • Never approach a bear that doesn’t see you—it will lead to surprising the bear, which will cause the bear to react.
  • If the bear is stationary, move away slowly while keeping your eyes on the bear.
  • If a bear approaches you in a non-defensive manner, do not run, ready your deterrent, speak calmly but loudly to it, make yourself appear larger by waving your arms, and stand your ground.
  • If a bear approaches you in a defensive manner, which may include huffing, snorting, jaw-popping, or charging. Do not run, stand your ground. Talk assertively and loudly, move slowly away while still facing the bear. If the bear continues to approach you, use your deterrent when the bear is within range.
  • If you are charged by a bear, now is the time to deploy your bear spray once the bear is within range for effective spray. Continue to stand your ground! Most charges do not end in contact.In the unlikely event that physical contact is made by a defensive attacking brown bear, protect your neck, stomach, and face. Lie face down, with hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs and elbows for stability so the bear cannot roll you over. Leave your backpack on for protection. Your goal is to have the bear no longer perceive you as a threat. Do not struggle or cry out. Remain motionless for as long as possible even after the bear has left the area. Moving too soon can provoke another assault so make sure the bear is long gone.

In general, brown bears will not attack, but the key is to avoid surprising the bear, approaching, or appearing as a threat. The opportunity to view a brown bear on the tundra is an incredible opportunity. Respect the animal from a distance and your experience in the backcountry will be truly rewarding.


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    Tags: bear safety

    Last updated: August 5, 2022

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