Black Bears

Black bear in tree

NPS/ Ann Schonlau


Only the black bear is known to exist in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its northern cousin, the grizzly bear, is no longer found in Colorado. Black bears make a point to avoid humans, so they are not often seen.

black bear sits in a tree
Despite their bulky size, bears climb trees very well.


Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Black bears are large mammals that can be five to six feet long and weigh 200-600 pounds. They have stalky bodies with short, powerful legs that allow them to climb trees by gripping the trunk with claws on their paws. They are fast and can easily outrun a person. Despite the name, black bears are not always black in color. Their fur can also be dark brown, cinnamon colored or even lighter.

Life History

Black bears are solitary animals except for females (called sows) with cub families. They wander through home ranges of 10 to 250 square miles as snow recedes, plants sprout and berries open.

Mating season peaks in May and June, but egg implantation is delayed until the fall when the sow is ready to den up for the winter. This allows the female to conserve fat reserves and energy during the growing season. If she doesn't gain enough weight before hibernation, her body can reabsorb the eggs for her own survival.

Black bear stands on a rock
Black bears can travel long distances in search of food.


Males can breed at three years of age, while females first have cubs around five years old. Females with cubs do not breed again until the cubs leave. Females give birth to litter sizes of one to five cubs every other year. Cubs are born in the mother's winter den after a two to three month gestation period. They are born toothless, with closed eyes and fine, soft fur. They may nurse throughout their first summer, and remain with their mother for up to a year and a half.

Bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. About 90 percent of their main diet consists of roots, berries, nuts and insects. They can be active anytime, but most often during the morning and evening twilight. When not feeding, they rest in day beds next to logs in windfall trees, dense brush or in a depression. Black bears can live up to 30 years, but the average is 20 years. They are very opportunistic and can easily develop a taste for human food and garbage. Bears who become habituated to obtaining this kind of food are often killed.

backcountry bear food canister and campground storage locker
Top: A bear canister stores all scented items in the backcountry.
Bottom: Rocky campgrounds provide lockers to store food.


Bear Sightings

If you see a black bear, stop and do not run. Stay calm and pick up small children. Make lots of noise, shouting and clapping your hands. Back away slowly. Stand tall, but if you are attacked, fight back.

Food Storage

Black bears will eat almost anything. Most conflicts between bears and people are linked to careless handling of food or garbage. Once a bear has found food which is easily accessible, it will overcome its wariness of people and visit the site often.

If you are on the trail, keep food with you at all times and do not leave your pack unattended. At backcountry campsites, all food, cooking equipment, garbage and other scented items must be stored in a carry-in/carry-out bear-resistant food storage canister. This is required from April 1 to October 31 at all backcountry sites below treeline.

In campgrounds, all scented items as well as water containers and pet food must be stored in a closed vehicle or storage locker provided at the campground. Storage in tents, pop-up campers, sleeping bags or under tarps is prohibited. If left unattended, these items are subject to confiscation by park rangers. The only exception to these rules occur during food transport, preparation, eating and clean-up.

Last updated: May 12, 2018

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1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


970 586-1206
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