Vacationing or camping in bear country?

What to know before you go


If you’re heading out to get away from it all, chances are good you’re heading into bear country. There are lots of simple steps you can take to discourage bears from getting into your stuff and avoid bear encounters. Teaching bears to associate cars, trails, campsites and people with food doesn’t just put a damper on your outdoor fun. It also creates unnecessary risk for you and your family and can have deadly consequences for bears. Doing your homework and taking some simple BearWise precautions now can help keep people safe and bears wild.

Lock It, Hide It, Or Lose It

Stash anything you’re leaving behind securely out of sight in your locked vehicle or food storage locker. A glimpse of a cooler or a sack full of snacks could tempt a bear to explore your vehicle while you’re out. Black bears are very strong with nimble claws and can easily open most unlocked car doors or peel down a partially open window. Leaving a window cracked open or an unlocked door is an invitation for a bear to come on in and see if there’s anything good to eat. But once inside, bears often have to chew and claw their way out. Why take chances? Stash, roll up and lock up before you leave.

Earn the clean camp award

Odors of all sorts attract bears, whether you are camping in the backcountry or front country:

Don’t store food, trash, the clothes you cooked or cleaned fish in or scented products, including toiletries, in your tent. Store these items in an approved bear-resistant locker or canister or properly hung according to local guidelines. For hanging food, BearWise recommends hanging at least 10 feet off ground and 5 feet from tree because black bears are great climbers and can really stretch out if they think they can snag some food.

If you’re in a drive-in campsite, store anything that could attract a bear out of sight in a locked vehicle with the windows rolled completely up.

Cook downwind and as far from your tent as practical. The gold standard is a 70-big-steps triangle between your sleeping, cooking and eating areas. Your fire ring or grill isn’t an incinerator; don’t burn food scraps or trash.

Don’t store or eat food or spray or slather on anything scented (including lip balm) in your tent. Resist the urge to go to sleep with a midnight snack tucked under your pillow. Keep a flashlight, whistle and air horn in easy reach instead.