your safety in grizzly bear territory
This is information for people traveling with the De Anza Outdoor Club about safety in areas frequented by grizzly bears. It is not everything you should know and it can’t be updated as fast or as well as park service information, so please consult park webpages and use the links in this page to go to park videos.
Bear attacks and other animal attacks are not common, but there are no guarantees of your safety.
Wild animals try to stay away from people. They become aggressive if:
- they are protecting their cubs/fawns, etc.
- you surprise them
- the bear has become used to people and food rewards from people
- your dog provokes them
- you try to get close to them for a photo, pose near them for a photo, try to run by them, pet them, feed them, throw rocks/stones at them, etc.
- people surround them, even if they stay 100 yards away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- you see a bear, get nervous and run. Running can elicit an attack from a non-aggressive bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
- you somehow are not careful enough and a bear gets your food — and — you try to get it back.
- people fly drones around/over them, endangering themselves and others. Use of drones is illegal in National Parks. Please try to get the vehicle license number (and if possible make, model and color) / campsite number of anyone using a drone and report them to Rangers. If you have cell phone coverage, call park dispatch. The phone number for dispatch is usually in the park newspaper you receive when you enter the park. (When people fly drones around forest fires, the helicopters with firefighters and tankers with sprays to put out the fire can’t fly!)
About selfies: “The popularity of smart phone photography with its limited zoom capacity and social media sharing of selfies might explain why visitors disregard park regulations and approach wildlife more closely than when traditional camera technology was used.” is from a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
Each trip member should be certain to
read current info when they enter any park we travel to
consult with rangers before hikes and bike rides
talk loudly, sing, shout, clap hands or otherwise make noise on the trail (‘bear bells’ do not work)
never hike, run or bike alone (it is best to do in groups of minimum three and trail running is discouraged)
stay away from dead animals as bears may attack to defend their food
store food properly according to current methods.
watch for, read and obey warning signs
never approach a bear (stay at least 100 yards from bears)
do not run from a bear
and note that “Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear county.”
NEVER ignore trail closures.
Trip cost for each each Grand Teton National Park trip member includes part of the cost of bear spray, which is required for everyone to carry. Each trip member is required to attend a ranger program on safe bear spray use and watch an online video and read about bear spray before they go hiking, biking, kayaking or even walking away from developed areas. The ranger programs are offered every day at at least one Grand Teton National Park visitor center. (The material to read is at: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/reducing_risks.htm and https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearspray.htm and the Yellowstone bear spray video is linked to at that page.) In a dozen years of club trips no one has had to use (spray) any bear spray.
Do not spray bear spray on your tent, clothes, etc. Glacier Park warns: “It” (bear spray) “is not intended to act as a repellent. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears.” . . . And yes, there was a woman in Yellowstone National Park who required (and got) medical help when she doused herself with bear spray.
Yellowstone park warns:
“Bear spray can explode if it reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t store it in the passenger compartment or near any heat sources.”
“Personal defense, jogger defense, law enforcement or military defense sprays may not contain the correct ingredients, or have the proper delivery system, to stop a charging bear.”
“Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear county.”
Park rules say do not approach wildlife, stay 100 yards from bears or wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife including nesting birds. If you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances.
To visualize 100 yards, picture the length of a football field.
To visualize 25 yards, picture four car lengths, six kayak lengths or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.
Grizzlies are no longer rare in the Grand Tetons and can be found anywhere in the park. In Yellowstone there are 280 to 610 of them. You are more likely in Yellowstone to be hurt by a bison than a grizzly. Read before a bison charges below.
We will probably not see any grizzlies on our trips, but we should be careful nevertheless. They run faster than you. (Bears can run over 30 miles per hour, or 44 feet per second, seven times faster than the fastest human.) Grand Tetons biking has details about rare fatal encounters between bikers and grizzlies.
Rules for people at bear jams in Grand Teton park changed in 2011, after grizzly 610 twice charged people while they were standing on their car roof. Read about safety at wildlife jams
The Grand Teton park newspaper said in summer of 2010/11/12/13/14/15/16 (summer 2013 they removed some of the text, but the main points are still the same):
Make Noise in Bear Country
Grizzly and black bears live in the park and parkway. Some of the most popular trails travel through prime bear habitat. Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Don’t surprise bears! Calling out and clapping your hands at regular intervals are the best ways to make your presence known. Bear bells are not sufficient. Be particularly careful when vegetation or terrain limits line of sight. The use or portable audio devices is strongly discouraged…
Hike in groups
If possible, hike in groups of three or more people. Typically, larger groups of people make more noise and appear more formidable to bears. Keep your group together and make sure your children close at all times. Avoid hiking when bears are active, especially early in the morning, late in the day or when it is dark. Trail running is strongly discouraged; you may startle a bear.
Never Approach a Bear
All bears are wild and dangerous. Each bear will react differently and their behavior cannot be predicted.
Individual bears have their own personal space requirements that vary depending on their mood. Each bear will react differently and their behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are wild and dangerous and should be respected equally.
2016: Never leave your backpack unattended!
Never allow a bear to get human food.
If approached by a bear while eating, put food away and retreat to a safe distance.
The park newspaper said in summer of 2011/12/13/14/15/16:
If You Encounter a Bear
Do not run; bears can easily outrun you. Running may cause an otherwise non-aggressive bear to attack.
If the bear is unaware of you or if the bear is aware of you but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.
Do not drop your pack! This teaches bears how to obtain human food often resulting in the death of a bear.
Do not climb trees. All black bears, all grizzly cubs and some adult grizzlies can climb trees.
If a Bear Approaches or Charges You
Do not run! Most bear attacks result from surprise encounters when the bear is defending their young or defending a food source, such as a carcass. Some bears will bluff their way out of a situation by charging, then veering off or stopping abruptly. Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly backing away.
If a bear attacks, lie on the ground completely flat on your stomach. Spread your legs slightly and clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left the area.
In rare cases, bears have attacked at night or after stalking people. These are predatory attacks and the bear views you as food. If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, fight back. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.
If You Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray has been shown to be extremely effective in deterring bear attacks.
Use only bear spray. Personal self defense pepper spray is not effective.
Keep the canister immediately available, not in your pack.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, know how to use the spray, and be aware of its limitations, including the expiration date.
Bear spray is not a repellent! Do not spray it on people, tents or backpacks.
Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard
safety precautions in bear country.
Park visitor centers can demonstrate proper use of bear spray and recycle it. Come visit for more information.
Besides the above info in the park newspaper, a 2012 – 2016 webpage also said:
Leave the safety clip on the trigger unless you are ready to spray an aggressive bear. The spray may accidentally discharge otherwise.
Bear spray can be adversely affected by wind, rain, cold temperatures and age.
Do not store your bear spray in a vehicle. It may explode.
Read all of that page at: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bear_spray.htm
See also the Yellowstone park videos
Bear Pepper Spray Video Transcript
What do Grizzly bears sound like? Griz vocalizations (“Grizzly bears sometimes vocalize when agitated or nervous. These sounds of huffing, jaw-popping (heard at :35 and :57 seconds in), and low growls are warnings that you’re too close.”) :
photo below courtesy of NPS:
When a bear stands in the movies it is often growling and about to charge, but this is not usual behavior.
Bears are nearsighted. When a real bear in the wilds stands, it often is trying to better smell what it thinks it sees, or see what it thinks it smells.
Photos and notes about how to tell the difference between a grizzly and a black bear are at: Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons
See also: animal sign comparisons (how to use tracks and scat to distinguish species) grizzly:
Please do not handle scat. Wolf scat, for example, can transmit tapeworm eggs to humans.
Food and Bears
Proper food and garbage storage is important to the safety and well-being of both bears and humans. Leaving food where bears can get it is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous for both bears and people. Bears are always searching for food and have an acute sense of smell. If you leave food out unattended, you are inviting a bear to your camp. A bear that eats human food or garbage – even once – may become conditioned to human food and garbage, or reliant on this easy source of food. These bears often become increasingly aggressive and may damage property, threaten, injure, even kill people in their attempts to obtain food. If a bear becomes conditioned to human food and garbage, it will likely have to be destroyed to protect human safety.
Food storage regulations in the Tetons and Yellowstone (and Glacier) are not as stringent as those we are used to in Yosemite, but do include the use of bear-proof lockers in campsites and trailheads.
Food, garbage, and all items used for storing, preparing, or eating food must be properly stored whenever they are not being transported, prepared or eaten, both day and night.
Check the material given you when you enter the park or ask a Ranger for the most current rules on food storage.
Most Outdoor Club regular travelers to Yosemite would be more likely to follow the Yosemite rules of no food, toiletries or food-like items in cars even if the parks in grizzly bear areas say that it is still okay to store items hidden in a closed, locked vehicle with windows rolled up. We don’t want to be the model when the first Grand Teton grizzly or black bear figures out how to open car doors like Yosemite black bears do regularly. See bears for details, including things that don’t smell like food but look like a food container to a bear who sees it through your vehicle window.
Glacier National Park also noted, in the section on if you surprise a bear, “Use peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.”
Please, no trail running in Grand Teton National park: “Trail running is strongly discouraged; you may startle a bear.” Glacier National Park: “Trail running is discouraged as there have been an increasing number of injuries and fatalities due to runners surprising bears at close range.”
Don’t bike or jog/run by yourself, it is safer to bike in groups since there are very large, potentially dangerous and unpredictable animals potentially everywhere.
Data suggest that rates of sudden encounters with bears are much higher among cyclists than hikers.Grand Tetons biking includes statistics about cyclist encounters with grizzly bears.
Most animal attacks are caused by people getting too close to these WILD animals, see also the bears, elk, moose or bison section of: fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering
Camping solutions for women has tips for and answers typical questions from first-time women campers, including the question: Can menstruating women camp or backpack around bears? YES.
Bears has links to general info about bears, then practicalities of camping and backpacking around bears, (food storage, what to do if you see a bear) mostly geared towards De Anza College Outdoor Club trips around black bears in California.
Grand Tetons is the main page about the De Anza Outdoor Club trips to Grand Teton National Park.
see also Grand Tetons trip pages index
A total of eight wolf packs were believed to have used parts of the Teton Valley in 2006, five packs in 2008. 243 wolves were counted in Wyoming in 2013, 53 using Grand Teton park. You don’t need to be afraid if you are lucky enough to hear wolves howling or see wolves. In Rocky Mountain Natural History, by Daniel Mathews, we read: “wolves don’t hurt people. I’m not saying never ever not even once, but it’s so rare, we could have fun listing housepets and house hold objects that pose more danger. Um, pit bulls, bobby pins…”
From a Yellowstone study:
“apparently unusual actions or warning activities by bison just before they charged. Bison ‘false-charged’ in only one case, stamped feet in one case, and snorted in another case. In two cases, the bison shook its head before charging. Rolling on the ground (wallowing) immediately preceded two charges. In three cases, bison butted trees just before they charged toward humans. Tail-raising is commonly considered a sign that bison are agitated. We found that snorting, head shaking, foot-stomping, tree-thrashing, or wallowing may also be warning signals that a bison is about to charge.”
“Despite their size and seemingly slow moving habits, bison are surprisingly agile and can be quick to react.”
(Bison can run three times faster than humans can sprint. Bison can spin around faster than a horse. Don’t count on a bison giving warning. Stay a minimum 75 feet (or more) away from all large animals so you won’t contribute to further studies.)
In this photo of a bison about to cross a road, note the size of the bison in comparison to the people and their cars. (Bison are 10-12 feet long, 5-6 feet tall at the shoulder, males weigh up to 2,000 pounds – about the same weight as a Scion XB or Volkswagen Beetle.) If the bison decided to change his direction of travel, or move quickly, people could have been injured. Children trying to stand/hide behind an open car door could be caught between the door and the vehicle if the bison moved quickly and charged the door.
I moved most of this section when it became too long. Before a Bison Charges
The main page about our trip to Grand Teton National Park is Grand Tetons