Bears and Food Storage

Black bear in field
A black bear walks through a field


Approximately 150 black bears live in Voyageurs National Park. These bears symbolize the wilderness quality of northern Minnesota and can make for a memorable wildlife observation.

Unfortunately, human-bear incidents can occur. While human injuries are rare, black bears can cause significant property damage.

Help prevent bear problems by following the procedures below. Report human-bear incidents to park personnel as soon as possible.

Hang food packs in a tree
Hang your food pack in tree 14-feet above the ground and 10-feet away from the tree.

Preventing Bear Problems

When camping:

  • Food must be properly stored in a park bear-proof food locker, in a certified bear-proof cooler or canister according to manufacturer's instructions, hung from a backcounbtry bear pole, or hung fourteen feet from the ground and four feet out from a tree.
  • Bear-proof food lockers hold two standard 48-quart coolers that are: 52" wide x 36" deep x 21" tall.
  • Store anything that has an odor (toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, trash, etc.). In general, if you would put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should be stored away.
  • Store or hang items that a bear might think is food such as water jugs.
  • Cook food away from your tent. Food odors on a tent may attract a bear.
  • Clothes worn while cooking foods with strong odors should be stored or hung away from the tent.
  • Store or hang all garbage including: shore lunch grease, empty cans/jars, foil, and plastic wrap.
  • Pack out your garbage when you leave; don't bury or burn it.
  • Dispose of fish entrails in deep water.
  • Keep a clean site. Pick-up food scraps and wipe off picnic tables.
  • If a bear approaches your site, do not feed it. If the bear is stationary, stand your ground, slowly wave your arms, and talk in a calm voice at the bear. Make sure the bear has an escape route. If the bear is persistent, pack up your food and trash and retreat slowly to a secure area.
  • Bear pepper spray can be used defensively to stop an aggressive bear in Voyageurs. Human pepper spray and bear pepper spray are not the same. Make sure you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop bears. It has no repellent properties, so do not apply it to your equipment.
  • Report all human-bear incidents to a park ranger.
  • Be aware that the presence of dogs may increase the chance of a bear encounter and—in very rare cases—a bear attack. Always keep your dog on a leash and attended to.
Black with cubs on shore
Balck bear with cubs on a rocky shore


When boating:

  • Houseboaters should store food and garbage inside and lock the doors when left unattended.
  • Remember: Bears are excellent swimmers and "island hop" in search of food.
  • Do not feed bears or any wildlife.
  • Dispose of fish entrails in deep water.
  • Pack out shore lunch grease.

When at the cabin or staying at a resort:

  • Keep coolers inside a vehicle or hardsided camper and out of sight and smell.
  • Dispose of garbage in bear-proof dumpsters.
  • Do not leave food as bait for any animals or leave food scraps on the ground.
  • Keep pet food inside.
  • Keep grills and picnic tables clean.
  • If a bear approaches, attempt to scare it away. If it persists, move food and people inside a vehicle or cabin.
  • Report human-bear incidents to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or resort owner.
Young black bear in a tree
Young black bear in a tree

Gordy Lindgren/NPS

Anytime you see a bear:

  • Do not allow the bear to access your food.
  • Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone.
  • Change your direction and do not approach a bear. If it woofs, snaps its jaws, yawns, holds its ears back, salivates, or growls, you are too close. Move away slowly and sideways if possible—this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping, and is not threatening to bears.
  • Always leave an escape route for the bear.
  • Never surround or corner a bear.
  • Never run from a black bear. If a bear approaches you, talk in loud but calm tones and slowly wave your arms.
  • Do not drop your pack, as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
  • Pick up small children immediately.
  • Never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach a mother bear or cubs. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.
  • In the extremely rare case of a black bear attack, do not play dead. Try to escape to a close, secure place such as a nearby car or building. If escape is not possible, fight back using whatever is available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle.
Black Bear walking across a falling tree limb.
Black bear walking across a fallen tree.

Gordy Lindgren/NPS

Bear Behavior

A bear is checking you out when it...

  • Stands on its hind legs to a get a better look
  • Waves its nose in the air to catch your smell
  • Gives low, non-aggressive grunting sounds

A bear is getting upset when it...

  • Clacks its teeth
  • Gives an explosive woofing, growling, or blowing sound
  • Lays its ears back
  • Yawns
  • Salivates

A bear is telling you to move away when it...

  • Blows loudly
  • Snaps its jaws
  • Makes short lunges or slaps the ground or an object
  • Gives bluff charges that stop short of you
Metal food storage lockers found at Voyageurs National Park campsites


Food Storage Lockers

The installation of food storage lockers at frontcountry campsites throughout the park has helped to greatly reduced bear activity in these areas, but as with a life jacket, it doesn't work it you don't use it. Always keep coolers, food, trash, toiletries, and any other odorous items stored securely inside a stroage locker when not in use.

Ensure before your trip that your coolers and other odorous items will be able to fit inside the storage lockers. Small campsites have two lockers and large campsites have four.
  • Dimensions: 52" wide x 36" deep x 21" tall
  • Holds two standard size 48-quart coolers

Last updated: March 4, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Voyageurs National Park Headquarters
360 Hwy 11 East

International Falls, MN 56649



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