Review Your Skills for Hiking in Bear Country
While it's almost time for most bears to tuck into their dens for winter (except in some coastal areas, where bears may not hibernate), autumn can still be a pretty active time for Washington black bears. These furry omnivores can forage as many as 20 hours a day as they store up for winter, so it never hurts to refresh your skills for hiking in bear country.
Find out how to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. (Hint: if you see the bear in Washington state, it's probably a black bear, even if it's brown.)
Refresh your skills for avoiding encounters:
- Make noise by singing or clapping your hands while in bear country, and especially around streams and blind corners. (The goal is to avoid surprise encounters.)
- Hike in small groups during daylight hours.
- Keep a clean camp and hang a bear bag (if you plan to overnight).
Learn what to do if you do encounter a bear:
- Do not look the bear in the eye; this can be perceived as a challenge and a sign of dominance.
- Never turn your back to a bear; if safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and give the bear as much space as possible.
- If you are hiking with small children, pick them up (so they do not run, scream or panic).
- Talk calmly and quietly so the bear can identify you as a human, and do your best to diffuse the situation.
Photographing a bear:
- Follow good Leave No Trace principles and observe bears from a safe distance. If you encounter a bear on trail, put some distance between you and the bear before pulling out your camera.
- Use a powerful telephoto lens for capturing your close-ups.
- Try to keep extra distance when photographing bears during sensitive times (like when they have young cubs).
Tell us your bear story
Did you see any bears while you were hiking this year? Tell us about it in the comments section (or share the link to your Trip Report).
*Some of the tips above adapted from the Washington Trails magazine January + February 2012 article, "Bear in Mind", written by Tami Asars and the September + October 2011 article "Wolves and Grizzlies," written by Eric Neumann.