Glacier National Park - About Bear Attacks and Bear Safety

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What Kind of Bear is That?
Black Bear
Black Bear
Color is not a reliable indicator of species. Contrary to their name, black bears also come in brown, cinnamon, and blond.

A black bears facial profile is straighter from tip of nose to ears. without the dished-in look of the grizzly. They lack the hump, common in a grizzly, and have shorter claws, generally around one and a half inches long.
  Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear
Grizzlies, like black bears, come in a variety of colors. They can range from blond to nearly black. Sometimes they have silver-tipped guard hairs that give them a "grizzled" appearance.

Grizzlies often have a dished-in face and a large hump of heavy muscle above the shoulders. Their claws are around four inches long.


If You Encounter a Bear in the Glacier Park

A commonly asked question is "What do I do if I run into a bear?" There is no easy answer. Like people, bears react differently to each situation. The best thing you can do is to make sure you have read all the suggestions for hiking and camping in bear country and follow them. Avoid encounters by being alert and making noise.
Bears may appear tolerant of people and then attack without warning. A bear's body language can help determine its mood. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression. Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these actions are not necessarily signs of aggression. The bear may not have identified you as a person and is unable to smell or hear you from a distance.

Bear Attacks in Glacier National Park

The vast majority of bear attacks have occurred because people have surprised a bear. In this type of situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver.
In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people. This kind of attack is rare. It can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.
bear attacks in glacier

NPS photo
The Backcountry Camping page has links to Quicktime files and a Podcast of Park Wildlife Biologist John Waller explaining how to hike in bear country.
If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, try to escape. If you cannot escape, or if the bear follows, use pepper spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

If you surprise a bear, here are a few guidelines to follow that may help:

  • Talk quietly or not at all; the time to make loud noise is before you encounter a bear. Try to detour around the bear if possible.
  • Do not run! Back away slowly, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
  • Assume a nonthreatening posture. Turn sideways, or bend at the knees to appear smaller.
  • Use peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
  • Drop something (not food) to distract the bear. Keep your pack on for protection in case of an attack.
  • If a bear attacks and you have pepper spray, use it!
  • If the bear makes contact, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, or assuming a fetal position to reduce the severity of an attack. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.


Hiking in Bear Country

Don't Surprise Bears!

Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Most bells are not enough. Calling out and clapping hands loudly at regular intervals are better ways to make your presence known. Hiking quietly endangers you, the bear, and other hikers.

A bear constantly surprised by quiet hikers may become habituated to close human contact and less likely to avoid people. This sets up a dangerous situation for both visitors and bears.

Don't Make Assumptions!

You can't predict when and where bears might be encountered along a trail. People often assume they don't have to make noise while hiking on a well-used trail. Some of the most frequently used trails in the park are surrounded by excellent bear habitat. People have been charged and injured by bears fleeing from silent hikers who unwittingly surprised them along the trail. Even if other hikers haven't seen bears along a trail section recently, don't assume that bears aren't there.
Grizzly Bear at Oldman Lake
photo by Bob Chin
Grizzly Bear at Oldman Lake
Don't assume a bear's hearing is any better than your own. Some trail conditions make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Be particularly careful by streams, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention.

Don't Approach Bears!

Bears spend a lot of time eating, so avoid hiking in obvious feeding areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies. Keep children close by. Hike in groups and avoid hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark.

Never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears have their own personal space requirements which vary depending on their mood. Each will react differently and its behavior can't be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected equally.


Bear Spray

Bear pepper spray is specifically formulated to deter aggressive or attacking bears. When used properly bear spray causes temporary incapacitating discomfort which may provide a non-toxic, non-lethal deterrence of aggression by bears, and has been found to be effective in deterring or ending most aggressive attacks. However, as with any deterrent method, there is no guarantee that it will be effective in all situations.

Hikers should not develop a false sense of security by carrying the spray, and should follow appropriate bear avoidance safety procedures. If you decide to carry spray, use it only in situations where aggressive bear behavior justifies its use. Pepper spray is intended to be sprayed into the face of an oncoming bear. It is not intended to act as a repellent. Do not spray gear or around camp with pepper spray. To be effective the spray must be readily accessible, not in the pocket of a pack. Wear it on a belt or shoulder or chest strap.

Bear spray is labeled for use against bears, and by law must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Only brands specifically labeled for use against bears can be transported legally across the border into Canada.


Camping & Bears

Odors attract bears. Our campgrounds 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 will likely result in confiscation of items and/or issuance of a Violation Notice.
  • Inspect campsites for bear sign and for careless campers nearby. Please notify a park ranger of any potential problems that you may notice.
  • Place all trash in bearproof containers.
  • Pets, especially dogs, must be kept under physical restraint.
  • Report all bear sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately.
Camping and Bears
NPS photo
A fed bear is a dead bear! Bears that obtain human food may have to be destroyed. Don't leave any food, packs, or garbage unattended, even for a few minutes.


Roadside Bears

It's exciting to see bears up close, but we must act responsibly to keep them wild and healthy. If you see a bear along the road, please do not stop. Stopping and watching roadside bears will likely start a "bear jam" as other motorists follow your lead. "Bear jams" are hazardous to both people and bears as visibility is reduced and bears may feel threatened by the congestion.. Roadside bears quickly become habituated to vehicles and people, increasing their chances of being hit by motor vehicles. Habituated bears may learn that it is acceptable to frequent campgrounds or picnic areas, where they may gain access to human food. When a bear obtains human food, a very dangerous situation is created that may lead to human injury and the bear's death. Please resist the temptation to stop and get close to roadside bears - put bears first at Glacier National Park.
Black Bear in a tree
NPS photo
Black Bear in a tree
Content provided courtesy National Park Service
Glacier Pictures Did you know?
From 1910 to 1914 Louis Hill and the Great Northern Railway commissioned construction of nine chalet groups, Glacier Park Hotel, Many Glacier Hotel and Prince of Wales Hotel.
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