Bears in Glacier National Park
Photos and information.
You and a friend are hiking along a trail through a subalpine meadow blanketed with wildflowers and a few stunted fir trees. Here and there, you see telltale signs of a grizzly: earth tilled up in the search for glacier lily bulbs, or a large pile of droppings. The signs are old, but you are still wary. You hear a branch snap. Your heart seizes in your chest. You look in the direction of the sound, and a mule deer steps gingerly from behind a fir. Your friend breathes a sigh of relief, and you look at one another, laughing nervously.
Glacier and Waterton are part of a truly wild area. This wilderness is home to many creatures, including bears. The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) and the black bear (Ursus americanus) are both residents of the area, although the chance that you will spot one is rare. We visit this wilderness with the knowledge that many risks are inherent; that a confrontation with a wild animal, including a bear, is always a possibility.
You are a visitor in one of the few refuges left for bears. Knowledge of bear behavior can reduce the chance of an unpleasant encounter. Bears are naturally wary of humans. However, the only predictable thing about bears is that they are unpredictable. Here are a few guidelines you can follow to reduce, but not eliminate, your chances of having a close encounter with a bear.
before you hit the trail, stop in at a visitor center or ranger station to get an update on bear activity and to find out what trails or campgrounds may be closed. Please help the park staff by reporting all bear sightings.
Don't hike alone. There is safety in numbers. Consider going along on a ranger-guided hike if you have no hiking companions. Leave your pets at home, because dogs and bears are natural enemies. A bear may chase your dog to you, endangering both your lives. It is illegal to bring pets on trails in Glacier and not recommended in Waterton.
Make noise. Bears don't like surprises and will usually move out of the way if they hear people coming. While talking and wearing large bear bells are methods of making noise, these sounds often don't carry well. A loud shout now and then combined with sharp clapping will carry much farther. Use your judgment in deciding how often you need to shout; shout more frequently around a noisy stream, on a blind curve, on a windy day, or when in heavy brush.
Hike during "business hours." Bears may be active at any time of the day or night, but they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk. Plan your hikes accordingly and stay on the trails.
Observe bears only from a distance. Your car makes a safe blind. Never approach bears for a better look or a photograph.
Hiking farther up the trail, you detect movement high on a mountain slope. You see a bear with two cubs. The mother bear's shoulder humps are obvious, even from this distance: grizzlies! Through binoculars you and your friend watch the bear family as it makes its way across a snowfield and out of sight.
While Camping and Picnicking in Glacier National Park, always leave a clean camp. Black bears that obtain human food unfortunately may have to be killed because they grow bold around people at campsites. As necessary, bears are darted or trapped by park rangers for relocation. Any items that may give off an odor must never be left unattended, even for a moment. Put such items as food, coolers, utensils, and toiletries away in a hard-sided vehicle or food locker as soon as you're done using them. Toss garbage in bear-proof garbage cans, not in your fire grate. Dump water used to rinse dishes and hands in a rest room utility sink, not on the ground. Whenever you leave your site, double-check that nothing has been left out that might get you or a bear in trouble. As the number of visitors increases yearly, so does the need to follow these regulations. These are park regulations, not simply recommendations! Ask at a visitor center about these and other campground regulations.
In the backcountry, never leave any odorous items unattended. Every backcountry campsite has a special cable or pole from which you can hang food and garbage. Cook and eat only in the designated food-preparation area, and hang the clothes you cooked in if they might have absorbed food odors. Camp only in the designated sites, which are situated well away from the food-hanging and cooking areas. Be sure to pack out all garbage.
Bear cub picture by Steve, Bigfork Photo.
If You See a Bear
All bears are dangerous. Never approach or feed any bear, even a seemingly "tame" one. Bears will fiercely defend cubs and food (if you see an animal carcass while hiking, report it to a ranger immediately).
Even when following these guidelines, you may encounter a bear at close range. If you do, stay calm and slowly leave the area. Climbing a tree is not always an option; there may be a lack of time and trees. Don't run or scream; this may provoke a chase, and bears can run about 35 miles an hour.
Bear attacks are exceptionally rare. When they do occur, it's usually because the bear perceives a person as a threat. If an attack should occur, act submissive and protect yourself by rolling up on the ground with your fingers interlocked behind your neck and your knees pulled to your chest to protect your stomach area. Leaving your pack on may provide extra protection for your back and neck. When the bear no longer feels threatened, it will usually leave the area. Do not move or make noise until you are sure the bear is gone.
For more information on bear safety, read the park's newspaper and stop in at a ranger station or visitor center.
As you continue your hike, you and your friend take turns shouting to announce your presence to any bears nearby. Your senses are heightened and you are exhilarated. You have seen an animal that truly symbolizes the vanishing wilderness.
Black Bear picture was taken by Mark J. Harlow ©2007.
Visit more Nature Pictures by Mark Here
Camping With the Bears in Glacier
Odors attract bears. Our campground and developed areas can remain "unattractive" to bears if each visitor manages food and trash properly. Regulations require that all edibles (including pet food), food containers (empty or not), and cookware (clean or not) be stored in a hard-sided vehicle or food locker when not in use, day or night.
Keep a clean camp! Improperly stored or unattended food may result in confiscation of items and issuance of a Violation Notice.
Inspect campsites for bear sign and for careless campers nearby. Notify a ranger or warden of potential problems.
Place all trash in bear proof containers.
Pets, especially dogs, must be kept under physical restraint.
Report all bear sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately.
Bear SprayThis aerosol pepper derivative triggers temporary incapacitating discomfort in bears. It is a non-toxic and non-lethal means of deterring bears in Glacier Park.
There have been cases where bear spray apparently repelled aggressive or attacking bears, and accounts where it has not worked as well as expected.
Factors influencing effectiveness include distance, wind, rainy weather, temperature extremes, and product shelf life.
If you decide to carry bear spray, use it only in situations where aggressive bear behavior justifies its use. Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear country.
Bear spray should not be confused with anti-personnel defense sprays. Anti-personnel defense sprays are not suited for bears. Likewise, bear spray is intended as a deterring mechanism for bears, not humans.
Some brands of bear spray may be transported across the U.S./Canada border while others may not; check before attempting.