Bears and Food Storage

a cinnamon-colored black bear
Black bears are the only bear species found in California. Sometimes they are cinnamon-colored, like this one.

NPS Photo - Isaac Chellman

Bear habitat means food storage is required

Bears can grab unattended food or easily break into cars that have food in them. They become bold and sometimes aggressive in attempts to get more. Too often these bears must be killed.

This is why you may be fined if you do not store food properly. Follow the rules below to reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of a bear break-in.

What items must be stored?

All food and anything with a scent (even if you don't consider it food) must be stored. This includes but is not limited to the following:

  • garbage and recyclables
  • soap, shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first-aid kits, baby wipes, lotion, hairspray
  • scented tissue, air fresheners, candles, insect repellent, cleaning products
  • pet food, tobacco products, baby car-seats
  • any food item, including dry goods
  • any beverages, whether they are opened or closed

Bears are able to recognize items like coolers, camp stoves, and grocery bags, so be sure to store them too. They are likely to have residual food odors, but bears that have recieved previous food rewards from these items may target them even if they are clean and don't contain food.

a large metal box that is resistent to bear entry
Bear boxes like this can be found throughout the park.

NPS Photo - Erika Williams

How to Store Food and Scented Items Properly

  • Use the metal storage boxes provided in much of the park.

  • Shop and pack for your visit so that everything will fit in the boxes (most are 47" long x 33" deep x 28" high) and is easy to store upon arrival.

  • Seal foods in containers to minimize smells.

  • All items should be put in the box before setting up camp.

  • Make sure food storage boxes are completely latched.

  • Remove baby car seats from vehicles when parked overnight.

  • When storage boxes are not available, put all food and related supplies, including ice chests, in vehicle trunk with food sealed in air-tight containers.

  • In vehicles without trunks, all food and related supplies, including ice chests, must be stored out of sight. Cover them completely to hide them from view.

  • Keep a clean campsite. Wash dishes immediately, and deposit garbage and recycling in bear-resistant bins.

  • Food not stored properly will be impounded.

In Picnic Areas

Store all food and related supplies properly, including ice chests. Never leave food unattended. Dispose of all garbage properly.

In Campgrounds

Store ALL food, coolers, related items, and anything with an odor (even non-food) 24 hours a day, when not in use. This includes unopened cans and bottles. Food and related supplies should be placed in the metal storage boxes that are provided at each campsite. Only when camping where there are no metal boxes, store food and related supplies out of sight inside a vehicle trunk. Never leave camp unattended if food is not stored. Take infant car seats out of vehicles when parked overnight. Bears may enter campsites during the day, even if people are there. Put trash in bear-resistant cans and dumpsters regularly.

While Day-Hiking

Properly store all food, scented items, and food-related supplies left at the trailhead inside a provided food storage box. This includes coolers. If no food storage box is available, store food in your car trunk. For vehicles with no trunk, place food items low and out of sight and keep windows closed. When hiking, don't leave your backpack and walk off to take a photograph—always stay within arm's length of your food. Bears know backpacks are a source of food.

When Backpacking

Learn about wilderness food storage as you plan your backpacking trip.


Store all food and related supplies indoors. Put all garbage in bear-resistant cans and dumpsters. Take infant car seats out of vehicles when parked overnight.

When You See a Bear

Never approach any bear, regardless of its size. Before you visit, learn more about bear encounters. Report incidents and sightings to a ranger.

These regulations and precautions help decrease the chance of personal injury or property damage. However, bear damage and confrontations are still possible, even when all guidelines are followed.

Learn More

Read about bear management in these parks and explore photos, videos, and links to other parks with bears.

Last updated: September 26, 2023

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47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271


559 565-3341

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