As we began our trek through the wilderness of Denali National Park we knew we were not alone. Fresh footprints marked our trail, and the chew marks on the wooden sign which noted our location at Sable Pass were quite obviously the jaw imprints of a grizzly.
Though far from being afraid, we had actually come for the bears, attempting to track them by their prints and scat which led from right outside our camp deep into the backcountry throughout the park.
One of the things that makes Alaska so special is the presence of all three species of North American bears. Grizzly/Brown Bears are found from Southeastern Alaska up to the arctic, Black bears frequent the forests, and Polar Bears live out their days on the pack ice and tundra of the extreme north and west.
Regardless of where you travel in the State, there is a chance that you may be lucky enough to see a bear. They often frequent popular campsites throughout Alaska’s national parks, use human trails as the path of least resistance, and tend to spend time on the beach in coastal parks.
But even if you don’t catch a glimpse you will never be far from one. Alaska is bear country after-all!
Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals, and every year millions of travelers have the opportunity to safely observe them without any confrontation. But undue fear of bears can endanger both bears and people.
Conflicts with wildlife are primarily caused due to inappropriate human behavior, and people are usually only injured if they get too close or in the animal’s way. Human injury is generally only the animal responding to a perceived threat, and attacks are commonly the direct result of people approaching animals for close-up photos, hiking off trail into dense brush, or attempting to feed the animals (which you absolutely should not do).
It is so important to be “bear aware” when camping and hiking through Alaska – staying calm and having knowledge of the proper behavior will increase the odds of a positive outcome for both you and the bear.
These are our top tips on being bear aware, and our favorite photos from our recent trip to Alaska. All photos are our own.
Tips for Being Bear Aware
Stay calm and don’t panic! Probably easier said than done! Buddy up, because you’re safer in a group, and carry bear spray. Have the bear spray accessible, and know how to use it.
DO NOT RUN from a bear. Like-wise, don’t make sudden movements. This might instinctively cause the bear to charge you, though most of the time a bear charging will be a bluff. Hardly any charges from a bear end in actual contact, though if you take flight the bear may take chase. And not even Olympic sprinters can outrun a bear.
If you spot a bear but realize it hasn’t spotted you, slowly and quietly leave the area. If the bear does spot you, STAND YOUR GROUND, slowly wave your arms and start talking to the bear.
The bear needs the chance to identify you as human and not a threat. If it stands up, it is trying to see, hear and smell you better. Talk firmly in a low-pitched voice while backing away. Avoid direct eye contact as bears may perceive this as a challenge or threat.
Bears HATE surprises. Do not sneak up on a bear. Make loud noises to alert any bears that you are in the area. You could carry an air horn to sporadically use as an early warning system, hike with a bear bell or whistle, or even sing as you go.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times and get rid of your headphones. While Justin Beiber may be your jam, nature rocks more. You need to be able to hear a bear if it is rustling in the brush and take steps to avoid an encounter. Remember, bears hate surprises, and you don’t want to deafly stumble upon one. Also, slow down. High speed = high risk in bear country.
If you do surprise a bear, it will often confront you by turning sideways to appear larger. If it makes woofing and teeth clacking sounds, or begins to slap the ground with its paws, these are warnings for you to leave the area. “They’re saying, ‘I’m not comfortable, you’re too close, give me some space”.
Always maintain a safe distance. Animals may look or act tame, though they are wild and may change quickly and unpredictably from passive or “friendly” to aggressive behavior.
Defensive attacks will generally come from a brown bear. You should drop to the ground and play dead. Lay on your stomach, clasp your hands behind your neck, and use your elbows and toes so the bear can’t turn you over. If you do roll you over, keep rolling until you land back on your stomach.
If wearing a backpack, leave it on – it could protect your vital organs. Remain still and try not to struggle or scream. Surprised bears will stop attacking once they think there is no longer a threat, i.e. that you’re dead. Do not move until you are absolutely sure the bear has left the area. If the bear begins to feed on you, start fighting back. This has changed from a defensive attack to a predatory one.
NEVER play dead with a black bear. These are generally predatory, and you should prepare to physically fight back. Make yourself big, get loud and prepare to fight with any weapon available — bear spray, firearm, knife, stick, whatever. Kick, poke, punch, and fight any bear that attempts to enter your tent.
Related Article: Surrounded by Black Bears: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
DO NOT FEED BEARS, and know how to handle your food responsibly. When camping, keep your food away from the camp in bear-proof containers and stored in your vehicle. Never leave food out when not in use, and cook at least 100 feet away from camp, downwind. Pack away all trash and do not bury your garbage. Bears have an excellent sense of smell.
Do not sleep in the open if camping. Pitch a tent. Minimize the risk of having your gear destroyed by never leaving your belongings unattended.
NEVER travel into bear country without: adequate travel health/medical insurance. In the unlikely event that you find yourself requiring medical attention after an encounter with a bear, you will need adequate coverage for an emergency evacuation and medical treatment.
We recommend GeoBlue for Travel Medical and International Health Insurance globally. International Health Coverage with GeoBlue provides fantastic insurance for emergency medical evacuations, and this service is available 24/7 no matter where in the world you may be.
Related Article: Why You Need Medical Evacuation Insurance
For more information about coverage with GeoBlue, or to obtain a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at IndividualHealth.com.
Always review the latest information on what to do in an encounter or attack by contacting the wildlife and land management agency where you are recreating. Bear behavior varies from species to species and as a result of their individual experiences.
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wow that’s a pretty scary Bear! I m glad we dont have any of those down here …!
But such majestic creatures though :D
Great post meg!
some good info we didn’t know about bears and what to do when tracking them.
Good to know when we hit up bear country. We saw a Black bear in Ontario Canada, but we were in our car and when he saw us, he ran straight for the bushes.
Amazing post (as usual) and the pics are beautiful!
Glad you enjoyed it Carolann! I hope you have the chance to travel into bear country again soon – they’re such amazing creatures – obviously it’s important to know how to behave safely, but such a rewarding experience when you do!
The food prints are similar to human’s ones. actually when I saw the pics I thought they are for human, but when I read it I found out the truth
If you click on the individual photos they will enlarge for you to see the footprints a bit more clearer :) Bears have a very distinctive paw print :)
Glad you enjoyed the post!
WOW. First of all, I think I’d be jumping around with excitement if I saw footprints of a bear. INCREDIBLE. Thank you for all your tips. I would love to spot bears – I never thought of it before but then I read your post and thought hey, I want to add this to my bucket list. Most people go on safaris in Africa to see wild animals, but this is also pretty wild!!
So glad we’ve contributed to making your bucket list that little bit longer :D Seriously, it really is just such an incredible experience, and absolutely re people traveling to Africa for the wildlife – North America has experiences to offer which are just as spectacular.
Glad you enjoyed the post!
Oh my goodness…reading this was almost un’bear’able. We walked through a forest in Victoria Island once. The signs said we should talk loudly. My Hubby, who is usually a talker clamed up. And I was so upset that he didn’t say a word that I scolded him the whole time. I guess that did the trick. No bears were in sight. :-)
Love what you did there … I tried to put as many puns as I could throughout the photo captions and tips :D
Lol sounds like you reached a pretty good compromise on the speaking loudly – that’s the biggest piece of advice we were given by everyone when we went to Alaska. Lol which was amusing because they were telling us to not worry, if we talked loudly we would never see them…we’re thinking, that’s kind of not the point of why we came :D
No Bear hugs or Beiber !
Fantastic trip away…jealous :)
Bahaha I was wondering if anyone would make a comment about Beiber being their jam :D
Glad you enjoyed the photos!
wonderful pictures and some very sound advice. I doubt I’ll ever venture into bear country but I’m off to check out your travel insurance recommendation because I’ve been looking for something a bit broader than the package I have at the moment
Thanks Fiona! So glad you enjoyed the photos and advice. Definitely check out GeoBlue – even if you’re not heading through bear country, we highly recommend their insurance mainly because it’s so extensive and has you covered for pretty much everything you’re ever going to need :)
I started reading this post with interest, which did not wane at all, but the I got scared! LOL! I wonder whether I’d remember when t play dead. If I see a bear up close, I’ll probably freeze anyway. BTW, this reminds me of the precautions listed on a sign in a Canadian park about coyotes. Some were similar to these, oddly, enough.
OH no! Well we’re sorry to have scared you! But seriously, it’s really rare that a bear will attack. It’s just always the best idea to be totally prepared though just in case :D
I think a lot of these tips are very similar for dealing with a coyote actually – when I was researching before we left a lot of the articles were about coyotes and bears in the one set of tips. Would have been so awesome to have seen one as well, though no complaints with the wildlife experiences we did have :)
Although from your post and lovely pictures meeting a bear looks pretty cool, I’m still thinking that’s not my cup of tea. I’m usually pretty scared by hiking into the nature itself, always worrying about meeting a snake or other dangerous and other animals… the only possibility of meeting an actual bear would be too scary for me!
You could always hit up the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center if you’re in the area though hiking in the wild is not your thing :) It’s set up for injured and orphaned animals who cannot be released into the wild, and each of the enclosures are really large and set in the natural environment each animal would normally expect.
So this was a really great way to see the wildlife Alaska is famous for without necessarily getting up close and personal in a wild situation :)
In the beginning I was supper excited with your post, but then you started talking about protecting vital organ, play dead, fight big black bears…
I’m not sure If I´m prepared for that!
Thanks for sharing the information, people who want to explore Alaska should be bear aware! :-D
Glad you enjoyed the post :D … well the first half anyway :D It’s really very rare that you’ll ever find yourself in this kind of a situation with a bear, but it’s just always the best idea to know how to react if you do stumble across one because it could save the life of both you and the bear.
You could definitely hit up the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center if you’re not prepared for hiking through the wilderness; such a fantastic organization who care for orphaned and injured wildlife, and you an view the animals without putting yourself in potentially harms way :)
I have zero experience of hiking in bear country and had no idea of the things one needs to be aware of. This is a really well put together and informative post, Megan. Definitely one I’m going to bookmark and share with my readers too.
Glad you enjoyed the post Natasha, and thanks for sharing it with your readers too! Hopefully we can spread as much awareness as possible so the maximum amount of people can enjoy positive experiences with wildlife here :)
When we visited Alaska’s Chugach area , we were in the midst of weekenders, many with their dogs who were wearing “bear bells.” The rationale was that noise would alert the bears who might then avoid humans. I thought it probably signified lunch for them instead. I’m happy to see bears not so up close and personal, and we were rewarded with grizzly sightings in Denali National Park. The brown females have been known to try to board the tourist buses during mating season in attempts to elude amorous males. LOL
I’ve heard about bear bells being a great way to make noise while you’re hiking through…especially when you have pets. Though I would be worried about taking a pet into bear country…as you said, probably just signifies lunch for them instead :S!!
I’m so glad you were rewarded with bear sightings in Denali from the bus. I imagine it would have been amusing watching them try and board the buses!!!
Great tips, Megan! I have never been close to a bear in the wild but I would be absolutely terrified and wouldn’t know what to do! Thanks for all your helpful advice!
Thanks guys! Glad you found the tips informative and helpful – hopefully now if you do ever come across a bear in the wild you’ll be much more calm knowing exactly what to do :)
This is such a great list of tips. My husband was camping with his family when he was younger, and a bear wandered into their site. The rest of his family was down by the stream and so he started banging pots together trying to scare away the bear. He said the bear looked at him like he was crazy, sniffed around the camp site, realized there was no food and left.
Glad you think so Dana! And so glad to hear that everything went ok for your husband when he was young; sounds like he acted perfectly :) That’s the thing – they’re generally only ever looking for food if they approach, and if you’ve locked up your campsite correctly then there’ll be nothing for them to find and they’ll head elsewhere :)
great tips, I think a lot of travelers are fascinated and want to treat this experience like going to a zoo without taking a lot of precautions so these tips are quite handy to travelers that do take that opportunity.
OH absolutely – and that’s the biggest problem when people do treat these animals as if they were tame and in a zoo. Not quite!!
Awesome tips! I plan to do some camping in Canada, so I’ll make sure to reread this before heading out. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Amanda – so glad you enjoyed the article – have a blast in Canada; same tips most definitely apply :)
I appreciate your comment that most injuries occur because of inappropriate human behavior – so true! That said, you bear pictures are pretty chilling. It must have been a great experience!
I really was such a great experience – we travel for the wildlife so we were psyched to get such close up pictures :) And yes, like anything I’ve come to realize most human tragedies in situations like this are due to inappropriate behaviour and a dismissal of the warning signs!
Great tips! We lived in Washington for 4 years and saw plenty of black bears but I really wanted to see a grizzly on our cruise in Alaska. No such luck but our trip barely scratched the surface of all the things we wanted to see so we’ll definitely be going back!
Thanks Christa! Defintely plan to spend some time on land in Alaska – we decided a land based trip was best for the sightings of bears, and next time we go we’ll probably hit up a cruise itinerary for the other parts we missed which were too inaccessible by land. But highly recommend it!
Wow! I didn’t know a lot of these things. I knew not to run but not to stand my ground and wave my arms and talk.
I look forward to visiting Alaska again soon but hopefully I won’t need your tips ;)
Glad you found the post informative and we could help expand your knowledge Lesley :) Have a fantastic time in Alaska…hopefully you’ll get some fab photos without needing to practice any of the tips :D
Phew, good tips! I was scared just reading this! I haven’t seen a bear in the nature although I do go camping in areas where bear canisters are necessary. This year a new thing to consider for me is my dog, haven’t been camping with a dog before so I’m not sure if that would be a good or a bad idea on an area where bears are around!
They say to make sure your pet is on a leash always if you’re camping in bear country with them. Sad when there’s so much amazing countryside for them to run around and enjoy, but definitely necessary for their safety. In Denali I believe the rule was that pets were’nt allowed to leave the campsites but I’ll have to check that up again.
Happy travels – just read up on the requirements for pets in the area you’ll be camping and don’t let them wander out of your sight you’ll be fine :)
I LOVE bears. I realize they can’t be my pets, but I would love to see them in the wild. They are such majestic and awesome creatures. However, yes, it would be a little frightening if I ran across a Grizzly bear.
Yes absolutely agree!! We too are so sad that they can’t be our pets lol. But there really is something just so majestic about them in the wild – Alaska was at the top of our bucket list for this reason. I think seeing a Polar Bear would be just amazing so I have to try and see if we can organize a trip to the Arctic at some point!!
Wow, I didn’t realize that you could technically see all three species of bear in Alaska. I’m not a camper, and I know I’d panic if I ‘ran into’ one in the wild! I love all of your photos. Thanks for such an informative post!
Yep! You would have to go really out of your way to get up to the arctic and see a Polar bear, but they’re definitely there and the tundra still forms part of Alaska :)
Glad you enjoyed the post Michele – you could definitely check out the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center if you didn’t want to camp and head into the wild but still wanted to view the wildlife – we loved our time there too :)
This is a great read! Thanks for the helpful tips, too. What awesome pictures! We’ve camped in bear areas before but without knowing all of these great Bear Aware tips. Thanks for sharing!
Glad you enjoyed it Lisa! Hopefully there is a lot more camping in your future travels :) Travel safe!
Spot on Meg.
I have these down pat from watching a million nature shows as a kid LOL!
Thanks for sharing.
Glad to hear Ryan! I love those shows as well.. I still watch them to this day :D
Great advice about bears! I´ve never encountered a bear, not even Yogi Bear… I did know about bears getting into the garbage and food! This post is a great resource, well done.
Oh absolutely – they’re main purpose is survival, so if they smell food, even if it’s garbage, then they’ll all over it! Glad you found the tips resourceful Orana – let us know if there’s anything else we can help with if you end up going into bear country :)
These bears look very beautiful in your pics, but I’m not sure I’d actually enjoy seeing one in person. I’d have a really hard time not running away screming!
You should definitely check out the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center then if you do end up traveling that way. Fantastic organization set up to care for injured and orphaned wildlife, though you can watch them from above their enclosures so there’s no risk associated at all :) No running away screaming either :D
great resource! when i hiked the Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island we used the bear cache’s every night! makes you aware that they are out there but we didn’t see anything more thank bear skat (and I’m happy for that!)
Thanks Lindsay – glad you found the post useful, and glad to hear you were using bear caches during your trip. Fairly certain if you hadn’t been using them you may have seen more than skat!
I recall being in the woods in BC, Canada and seeing lots of Be bear aware signs everywhere.. sad I didn’t get to see any! Will have to try Alaska next time :D
Definitely try hitting up Alaska next time – that’s the thing about being in the wild, it’s never a guarantee that you’ll actually see them! We got really lucky :)
Cute overload! This is awesome ;)
Glad you enjoyed the photos and the post :)
Brilliant advice. I’d love to go into bear territory. Canada and Alaska are big destinations on my list. Your photos look amazing and I’m glad I know more about staying safe around bears
Definitely hit up both Canada and Alaska when you have the chance…especially if you’re a wildlife fanatic and seeing bears in the wild is on your list! Glad we could set you up with some knowledge for being bear aware :)
Great advice and tips. While I would love to see a bear in the wild, I hope it far enough away that I don’t have to use too many of them.
Here’s hoping! As long as you’ve got a good zoom, totally set maintaining a decent distance :D
I’ve never been to Alaska but have spent some time in Nat’l Parks in WV and other parts of the U.S. Bears aren’t everywhere here but are always a concern when visiting the parks. I guess concern is less accurate but more of a running joke when hearing someone say “I’ll be right back!” Ok maybe we’re just stupid because they’re serious.
On the Bear Bell note, I was recently hiking here in Korea and this guy behind us had this annoying and loud bell that followed the time of his footsteps. I wonder if his was a Bear Bell. That makes me laugh though, because are hardly any bears here. Maybe he traveled to the U.S. or somewhere and brought it back to show off. Haha.
I loved your shots of Alaska, Meg. I’ve always wanted to visit and seeing your wonderful photos further confirms that. Thanks for sharing this wonderful guide. I’ll be passing this onto my friends as well:)
So glad you enjoyed the photos and the post Duke, I hope you manage to make a trip to Alaska happen soon!
It’s funny – I never imagined Korea to be a destination with an abundance of bears either! I’m sure it is a genuine concern, though it probably would have made me giggle a little bit too. You can never be too overly cautious I guess!! But can totally see how a bell on a crowded tourist trail would be uber annoying!!
Oooo Bears!! They get a bad rap, Im So Happy to have discovered you on the Xray Cat Blog. I will Defiantly refer to this Blog more. I NEVER knew Play dead was a NO GO with Black Bears!
Thanks for stopping by Tara! Love the Xray Cat Blog and was very honored to have that feature :) Glad you’re enjoying our blog!
Playing dead with the black bears is definitely a no go – I think as soon as you realize they’re trying to attack you for lunch as opposed to just defending their young is the turning point at when people would start to fight back!! Luckily the different species of bears are fairly easy to tell apart at first glance :)
Safe travels! & thanks again for stopping by!
“If the bear begins to feed on you, start fighting back. This has changed from a defensive attack to a predatory one.” Lol. This kinda scared me, though.
Lol thought I would throw that in there – hopefully it would never come to that though :D But yes, if you feel like you are being preyed on as opposed to just being told to back off, it’s important to fight back.
Alaska has some phenomenal country though, and honestly there’s so much land that it’s not too common to run into a bear. We were seeking them out :D
My husband and I are going to vacation in Alaska for a week. These are really helpful survival tips! We have started roughly planning out what we want to do there. My husband loves to fish so we might go on a guided fishing trip for a couple days. Thank you for the helpful information!
Sounds fantastic Wendy – you’ll have an amazing time :) We didn’t go fishing, though I’ve heard it’s amazing country for it – maybe if you’re there at the right time of the year you can catch sight of bears going for the salmon run!
That would be so fun! I would love to see some bears.
This is bad. I want to live in Alaska but am terrified of Grizzly Bears. Black bears I don’t mind though.
You can pick parts of Alaska which see bears less frequently :) There is so much land that they’re honestly pretty rare to come across, and we had to look pretty hard.
It is bear country, and they are obviously there, but don’t let their presence put you off a dream of living there, just be prepared with the knowledge of how to react on the chance that you do happen to come across one and you’ll be fine :)
Great post! Very informative. Alaska is very beautiful and we love to camping there so having knowledge about bears is really important to us so we’ll know what to do in case we come face to face with a bear.
Thanks Robert! And absolutely, it’s so important to know how to interact safely with bears and how to behave when hiking or camping in their domain.
Happy & safe travels!
Thank you very much for this information. I’m about to visit Alaska for the first time.
You’ll have a wonderful time Ndi – Alaska is absolutely beautiful :) Happy travels!
Great Stuff! We just spent 4 weeks exploring Alaska and it was Amazing! So many adventures to list a few off the top of my head that we loved… Our new favorite city is Juneau Alaska. We did it all from Hiking, Glacier Ice Climbing, Ice Caving, Gold Panning, Heli-hiking, to Cruising. One huge one was wild bear viewing and camping in Lake Clark NP. It is a worlds top 100 travel adventure and an experience of a lifetime.
Glad you had a fabulous time in Alaska too David! Such a hub for adventure isn’t it! We didn’t make it to Juneau so obviously have to carve out some time to head back! Sounds like you fitted pretty much everything in!
Would love to camp in Lake Clark NP, especially if it’s a hot spot for bear viewing. Denali was great though we didn’t see as much wildlife as we were expecting.
Thanks for the tips!
Last year I visited Alaska, it’s unforgettable!
So glad to hear you had an incredible time!
Also never go travel in bear lands alone. Always have buddy is much better than to be alone. for me i would not spent a night in the woods thinking anytime there’s a bear sneaked up on you.
Great advice. And also i would hang my food few meters away from my campsite.
Great advice… thank you
Great advice Jasper – it’s always a good idea for safety to be traveling using a buddy system :)