Be Bear Aware

A black bear standing on a fallen birch tree log.
Keep Our Bears Safe

NPS Photo

Keep You And Our Bears Safe!

While black bear sightings at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are infrequent, they are sighted from time to time throughout the park, usually when crossing a road. Although bears 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.

How can I help?

  • Store food in vehicles, bear proof boxes or lockers, or on bear poles even during the day.
  • Put garbage in bear-proof garbage cans. Put food and garbage away immediately after eating.
  • Medicines, deodorant, and toothpaste may smell like food to a bear. Please store these items with your food.
  • Never feed bears or other wildlife. When bears lose their fear of people, they become dangerous and may have to be destroyed by staff.
  • Report any bear/human interactions to park staff at 906-494-2660 (summer only) or 906-387-3700.
  • Contact Us

An image of how to properly store a food bag from bears in a tree 12 feet off the ground on a limb.
Backcountry food storage technique.

Bear Precautions & Proper Food Storage

Be aware of the signs of bear activity.

  • 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.

Reduce Food Odors

  • 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 toilet.

Store Food Securely

  • All food, beverage containers, garbage, cooking materials, condiments, utensils, and toiletries (such as toothpaste or soap) must be secured from wildlife. Please use the bear resistant storage lockers where provided.

  • 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 a mouth full of plants is poking its head out of a field of green plants.
Black bear foraging

NPS Photo

Be Bear Aware While Camping

Bears can smell food up to a mile away.
The ability to smell food from far away is one of a bears strongest senses. An apple core or banana peel thrown off into the woods or the water from rinsing dishes that gets dumped on the ground all smell pretty good to a bear. All trash needs to be put in bear resistant trash cans and not kept at your campsite. All dishwater, even rinse water from brushing your teeth, needs to go broadcasted or go into the restroom toilets and not on the ground where bears can smell it.

Bears are highly intelligent and creatures of habit.
A bear remembers from year to year where it found food during the different seasons, and a mother teaches her cubs how to find food throughout their territory. If a bear comes into a campsite and finds food even just one time, it will come back again and again and again looking for more. Keep your food safe and make sure a bear cannot find anything to eat.

Bears are very strong.
Bears turn over huge rocks and pull apart fallen trees looking for insects to eat. Ants are one of their favorites! Keeping your food outside in a plastic tote bin or cooler will not stop a strong bear from getting inside and taking your food. Keep any food, even pet food, in your vehicle, hard sided camper, or in the provided bear proof food storage lockers.

Bears can be just as active during the daytime as they are at night.
If bears are not influenced by humans, they hunt for food anytime day or night, napping now and then in a favorite spot. When you go down to the beach or out exploring the area, please do not leave food out at your campsite even for a little while, even during the daytime.

Bears at Pictured Rocks are still afraid of people and will usually stay away from humans and out of the campgrounds.
It is up to YOU to make sure our bears stay wild and free. Your actions while you are here in the park will determine the fate of many bears. Please do not let a bear find any food or food wrappers at your campsite!

A black bear is standing on its hind legs rubbing its back against a tree.
Natural back scratch

NPS Photo


Effect of Beech Bark Disease on Bears

Beech Bark Disease Beech Bark Disease (BBD) has been spreading from New England since first being observed in the early 1900s. BBD first reached Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the early 2000s. The disease begins when the beech scale insect feeds on the inner bark of the tree, leaving the tree weakened and more prone to fungal growth. Larger trees (>7in diameter) are more susceptible to the disease. Beech trees do not begin to produce large amounts of beechnuts (hard mast) until they are around sixty years old.

How will loss of beech trees affect black bear survival?
Recent studies show that loss of beech trees affect reproductive success and survival of black bears. Black bears’ diet consists of a mix of soft mast (i.e. berries and vegetation) and hard mast (i.e. beechnuts and acorns). Prior to hibernation, bears need to nearly double their body weight if they are to survive. This is even more crucial for females, as they need to gain weight in order to reproduce successfully. In late summer and early fall, black bears can regularly spend up to 20 hours per day foraging. Their goal is to obtain more than 20,000 calories per day prior to heading into their dens. In fall, the main food source is hard mast that can consist of hazelnuts, mountain ash, and/or beechnuts depending on the local forest structure. Where beechnuts are a primary food item, studies have shown the number of female bears producing cubs decreases following a poor beechnut crop. This is due to the low body weight of the females. Therefore the loss of beech trees via BBD can have a noticeable effect on local populations of black bears.

Shortage of beechnuts could create more nuisance bears
Nuisance bear activity increases in years with hard mast, berry, and other native food shortages. When natural food sources are not available or are limited, black bears will often turn to other sources in order to gain the needed weight for survival and reproduction. This regularly leads to bears getting into garbage and other human populated areas. Bears that routinely get our food become aggressive, and sometimes have to be killed as a result. Please remember a fed bear is a dead bear!

Last updated: April 27, 2023

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