National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Bears and campers often frequent the same areas in Alaska’snational parks. In coastal parks, both tend to spend time on thebeach, the narrow band of land found between the sea and thebrush, forest, or steep cliffs. Bears prefer these areas because theyoften contain abundant vegetation for grazing and make traveleasy, while campers prefer these areas for cooking and becausethey offer easy access to kayak travel. Inland parks are also hometo bears and it is important that campers respect their space.It is likely that bears and campers will encounter one another, butby remaining calm and following the basic advice of experiencedbear behaviorists, you increase the odds of a positive outcomefor both you and the bear.Some parks require campers to attend an orientation at theVisitor Information Station. During this orientation a parkranger will inform you about areas that are closed tocamping due to high bear activity or recent bear/humanencounters. If the park you are visiting does not have a bearsafety orientation, take the time to read this brochure andlearn how you can camp safely in bear country. Contact parkstaff to obtain current information on bear safety issues.Once in the backcountry you are on your own. Some parksrequire you to obtain a camping permit and may issue freebear-resistant food containers (BRFC).
Bear Signs to Watch for and Areas to Avoid
It is important to be “bear aware” when camping and hiking in Alaska’s national parks and toavoid seasonal bear foraging areas (sedge meadows, berry patches, etc.). Bear signs are easy tofind if you know what to look for. Select a campsite with the least amount of bear sign and awayfrom seasonal bear foraging areas.Here are some signs to be on the lookout for:
Bear scat or tracks
that seem very recent orabundant. Be alert.
are formed because of consistent use. Bearswill often follow the path of least resistance, forexample, lakeshores and ridgelines.
A tree or log that has bear hair or claw marks
may indicate that it is a repeatedly usedbear rub-tree.
Large dug up areas
could be forage sites, daybeds, or belly holes.
Avoid salmon streams!
Bears like fish. And anoisy stream may lessen your ability to hear abear or for a bear to hear you.
Narrow beaches with steep cliffs or extremelydense brush
do not allow a bear to pass safely.Remember that at high tide a bear will nothave as much room to pass between your campand the high water line.
Neither you nor the bear want to be surprisedby the other.
Avoid areas with restrictedvisibility and make noise when exiting your tent.
Can a bear walk by and passmy campsite and cooking area unhindered?Keep all food and cosmetics in the BRFCwhen not in use. Place any snacks, wrappers,lip balm, sunscreen, etc. that were usedwhile kayaking or hiking into the BRFCbefore entering your tent. It is not a goodidea to store food in kayaks overnight. Atnight, store your BRFC and clean cooking gearoff of main animal trails, (in coastal parks abovehigh tide line) and at least 100 yards from yourtent and hidden in thick brush or behind rocks.Prepare and consume food at least 100 yards fromyour tent site and food storage area. Try to selectcooking areas where you can see a comfortable distanceto minimize the risk of a surprise encounter with a bearpassing through the area.If camping in a coastal park, prepare and eat allfood in the intertidal zone, that area below theseaweed debris line and the waterline. Cook andeat as close to the water as possible so cookingsmells and any food particles will then bewashed away by the next tide.Be prepared to quickly stow all foodback into the BRFC if a bearshould suddenly approach.Keep your gear together—minimize the amount of spacethat you occupy. Always askyourself, “Is there room for abear to get around us?” Or “Can Iquickly get all this gear under my control?”
Minimize Bear Disturbance and DisplacementMinimize the Risk of Having Your Gear Destroyed
Do not leave gear unattended.
Thisincludes tents, clothes, pads, waterbottles, etc. Consider using a portableelectric fence to discourage bears frominvestigating your camp.
Keep gear together
and under yourimmediate control. In coastal areasminimize the amount of space you takeup on a beach. Again, ask: “Is thereroom for a bear to get around ourcamp?” A Tip: set up tents after makingdinner and take them down beforebreakfast in order to keep all gearwith or very near you in the intertidalwhen cooking or packing up kayaks.
Elevate your reaction if a bearelevates its inquisitiveness.
If a bearapproaches make noise, wave yourarms, etc. Stand your ground! Neversurrender your gear to a bear!If you see a bear and it does not see you, back away outof sight and change your course. Move out of the areaor quietly observe the bear at a safe distance withoutapproaching or otherwise disturbing it. Disturbance isevident whenever a bear changes its behavior becauseof you. If it stops eating and looks up, sniffs the air withears erect, trying to locate you, you are too close! Bearsonly have 6-8 months to acquire the calories and fatreserves needed for the entire year. Give them space!While many bears seem to be tolerant of humanpresence at distances farther than 100 yards,eachanimal and situation is different. Pay attention to thebear’s behavior and respect its right to feed and travelundisturbed. Use telephoto lenses and binoculars.Allow bears to pass by your camp undisturbed. Ifyou have made sure that the bear is aware of yourpresence so it is not surprised and have kept all yourgear under your direct control, allow the bear topass by unhindered. You may just be afforded theopportunity to safely observe this amazing creaturein its natural environment.
P h o t o © J o h n S c h o e n P h o t o © J o h n H y d e P h o t o © R o b e r t S a b i n P h o t o © T e r r y D . D e B r u y n
Cover photo © Robert Sabin
Bear SafetyIn Alaska’s National Parklands
When choosing your tent site avoid areasfrequented by bears, camping in travelcorridors (e.g., river corridors and trails),and do not camp in the intertidal zone.Do not pursue or harass bears for the sake of aclose encounter or photograph, either on land orfrom your watercraft.
Cooking and Storing Food
National Park Service photograph