Bear Encounters

Three bears walk along a paved path.
Bears can be active anywhere in the park.

NPS Photo/J. Bonney

Bears are active throughout Grand Teton, and an encounter can happen anytime and anywhere. Use caution, stay alert, and be prepared should you encounter a bear in the park.
bears on the road in front of a line of cars
Bears on a road.

NPS Photo/C. Adams

Bear Encounters

Bear behavior is complex. Like people, bears react differently to each situation.

Bears may appear tolerant of people and then attack without warning. A bear's body language can help you determine its mood. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression.

Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these are not necessarily signs of aggression; the bear may not have identified you as a human yet.

If you encounter a bear:

  • DO NOT RUN. Bears can easily out run any human. Running may elicit attacks from non-aggressive bears.
  • If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly.
  • If the bear is aware but has not acted aggressively, back slowly away while talking in an even tone or not at all.
  • Use your peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
  • Do not drop your pack - this teaches bears how to obtain human food. Your pack can also protect your body in the case of an attack.
  • Do not climb trees - all black bears and some grizzly bears can also climb trees.

The vast majority of bear attacks have occurred when people surprised a bear. In this situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver. The bear may be protecting young or defending a carcass.

If a bear charges you:

  • DO NOT RUN. Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping suddenly.
  • Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly back away.
  • If you have bear spray this is the time to use it!
  • If the bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart slightly and play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Keep your pack on to protect your back. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.

In rare cases, bears have attacked at night or after stalking people. These attacks are very serious: it may mean the bear sees you as prey. If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, fight back. Use your bear spray, shout, and try to intimidate the bear with a stick or rock. In this type of situation, do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.

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a woman sprays bear spray while a man and two kids stand behind
Carrying bear spray is recommended in all areas of the park.

NPS Photo/C. Adams

Bear Spray - Know How to Use It

Bear spray has proven to be an effective, non-lethal, bear deterrent capable of stopping aggressive behavior in bears. The proper use of bear spray will reduce human injuries caused by bears as well as the number of grizzly bears killed in self defense. When carrying bear spray, it is important that you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive behavior from bears. Personal defense, jogger defense, and law enforcement or military defense spray's may not contain the correct active ingredients or have the proper delivery system to divert or stop a charging or attacking bear.

Using Bear Spray

Bear spray should be used as a last resort when encountering an aggressive or charging bear. Carry bear spray in a place where it immediately available, not in your pack. Keep the safety in place until you are in a situation where you may need to use your bear spray.

If you encounter a bear, grab your bear spray in case you need to use it. Do not spray a bear just because it's there: only spray a charging or aggressive bear. To use bear spray:

  • Remove safety clip and hold cannister with both hands.
  • Point nozel towards bear, aiming at the bears feet.
  • Wait until the bear is about 30ft away then hold down the trigger for 1-2 seconds. The spray will leave the cannister in a cloud.
  • Continue spraying if the bear continues to charge.
  • After using bear spray, leave the area. Do not run.

Selecting a Bear Spray

  • All bear sprays must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Only use bear spray products that clearly state "for deterring attacks by bears." The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label.

  • EPA registered bear sprays, have an active ingredient, clearly shown on the label, of 1% to 2% Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids. This active ingredient is what affects the bear's eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and lungs.

  • EPA registered bear sprays have a minimum duration of at least 6 seconds or more to compensate for multiple bears; wind; bears that may zigzag, circle, or charge multiple times; and for the hike out after you have stopped a charging bear.

  • EPA registered bear sprays shoot a minimum distance of 25 feet or more to reach the bear at a distance sufficient for the bear to react to effects of the active ingredients in time to divert or stop the bear's charge and give the bear time to retreat.

  • EPA registered bear sprays have a minimum content of 7.6 oz or 215 grams.

  • Visitors in bear country should carry a can of bear spray in a quickly accessible fashion. Bear spray should also be readily available in the sleeping, cooking, and toilet areas of backcountry camps.

  • Be sure the expiration date on your bear spray is current.

Bear Spray Safety

  • Make sure you are carrying EPA approved Bear Spray as your bear deterrent, don't depend on personal defense products to stop a charging bear.
  • Make sure the canister is immediately available, not in your pack. Attach to the hip belt or shoulder strap of your pack for easier access.
  • Leave the safety clip on the trigger unless you are ready to spray an agressive bear. The spray may accidentally discharge otherwise.
  • Consider the use of bear spray when affected by wind, rain, cold temperatures, and age.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions, know how to use the spray, and be aware of its limitations, including the expiration date.
  • If you use the spray to stop a bear, leave the area immediately.
  • Bear spray is NOT a repellant! Do not spray it on people, tents or backpacks.
  • Do NOT store your bear spray in a vehicle. It may overheat and explode.
  • Bear spray is oil based. If you get bear spray on you, remove all affected clothes and wash skin with water.
  • Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear county.

Learn More

A mother grizzly and cub walk through a field.
Bear and Wildlife Safety

Learn how to stay safe in bear country.

a black bear walks down a trail
Recreating in Bear Country

Learn about hiking, camping, and backpacking in bear country.


Explore Grand Teton

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Plan Your Visit

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Things to Do

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Last updated: August 2, 2021

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Moose, WY 83012


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