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Hiking and Camping
in Bear Country

Although the risk of an encounter with a bear is low, there are no guarantees of your safety. Minimize your risks by following the guidelines below.

While most visitors never see a bear, all of the park is bear country. Whether you plan to hike the trails, drive the roads, or stay overnight in a campground or lodge, take the time to learn the special precautions bear country demands. Report all sighting of bears as soon as possible!

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 loud enough. Calling out and clapping hands loudly at regular intervals is are better ways to make your presence known. Hiking quietly endangers you, the bear, and other hikers.

When bears charge hikers, the trail may be temporarily closed for public safety. While the trail remains closed, other visitors miss the opportunity to enjoy it. A bear constantly surprised by people 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 bears along the trail. Even if other hikers haven’t seen bears along a trail section recently, don’t assume there are no bears present.

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.

Keep children close by. Hike in groups and avoid hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark.

Inform Yourself About Bears
Park staff can help you identify signs of bear activity like tracks, torn-up logs, trampled vegetation, droppings, and overturned rocks. 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.

Don’t Approach Bears!
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.

A fed bear is a dead bear! Bears are intelligent and learn very quickly how to obtain human food once they have tasted it. Bears that obtain human food may have to be destroyed. Leaving food, packs, or garbage unattended, even for a few minutes, sets up a potentially dangerous situation.

Pepper Spray
This aerosol pepper derivative triggers temporarily incapacitating discomfort in bears. It is a non-toxic and non-lethal means of deterring bears.

There have been cases where pepper 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 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. Under no circumstances should pepper spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear country. Be aware that you may not be able to cross the U.S./Canada border with pepper spray; check before attempting.

Roadside Bears
It’s exciting to see bears up close but we must act responsibly to keep them wild and alive. Do not approach bears for pictures or entice them to come closer. Never feed bears! Bears that receive human food may have to be destroyed.

If you see a bear from your car, stay inside. Leaving your vehicle endangers your safety and the bear’s, and exposes you to traffic hazards. If traffic is heavy, keep your eyes on the road and don’t stop. Accept the fact that, while your passengers may get a quick look, you may not. If traffic is light, slow down and pull over when it is safe to do so. Don’t stop in the middle of the road, or close to a hill or curve where other drivers may not see you in time to avoid a collision. Exercising some common sense during the excitement of sighting a bear is important to you, the bear, and other visitors.

If You Encounter a Bear
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
Almost 2 million people visit Waterton-Glacier yearly, and it seems that one or two bear attacks occur each year. The vast majority of these occur because people have surprised the bear. In this type of situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver.

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 appear to 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.

In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people.

This kind of attack is very rare. It can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.

  • 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.

Camping & Bears
Odors attract bears. The 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 will likely result in confiscation of items and/or 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 bearproof containers

  • Pets, especially dogs, must be kept under physical restraint.

  • Report all bear sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately.

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Grizzly or Black Bear"
What Kind of Bear Is That"
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is home to both black and grizzly bears. Even for experts, it is often difficult to distinguish between the species. The following clues will help to tell the species apart:

Color is not a reliable indicator of species. Contrary to their name black bears also come in brown, cinnamon, and blond. Grizzlies range from blond to nearly black. Grizzlies sometimes have silver-tipped guard hairs that give them a "grizzled" appearance.

Physical features
Grizzly bears often have a dished-in face and a large hump of heavy muscle above the shoulders. Their claws are around four inches (10 cm) long. A black bear’s facial profile is much straighter from tip of nose to ears, without the dished-in look. Black bears lack the distinctive hump of a grizzly and have shorter claws, generally around one and a half inches (4 cm) long.

Grizzly or Black Bear?

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Information provided by the National Park Service

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