Most of the trails my family hiked with little ones were free from bears. They were raised in the desert and the biggest threats were rattlesnacks and the random mountain lion. Now that they are in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot to teach them about our wildlife.
We hiked Paradise Valley Conservation Area which had a notable warning at the trailhead to keep an eye out for bears. My littlest child did NOT want to continue the hike, but I assured him there are ways to stay safe.
As you learn about bear safety, I suggest you turn this in to a family night activity and practice with your children! Have them do this over and over again until they don’t need to think about what they’re doing–they just know!
ENCOUNTERING A BEAR
Here are some tips to remember!
- Do not look the bear in the eye. (This could be perceived as a challenge or a sign of dominance.)
- Never turn your back to a bear.
- If safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and sideways, give the bear as much space as possible.
- Do NOT run.
- Do NOT climb a tree.
- WITH SMALL CHILDREN: Pick them up so they don’t scream or panic.
- Talk calmly. Announce yourself and talk normally. This will help the bear to know you are human.
- Make yourself look as large as possible.
- Do not allow the bear access to your food.
- Do not drop your pack (as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food).
- Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- Keep dogs close and on a leash to prevent conflicts.
IF A BEAR CHARGES YOU:
- This is the bears way of trying to resolve the situation.
- A charge is when they run at you, then stops short and veers away.
- Stand your ground.
- Hold as still as possible without making eye contact.
- Don’t take even one half step backward.
- Once the bear is gone, promptly find a tree to hide behind (not in).
- Alert a nearby ranger station as aggressive bears are not typical.
Different types of bears can mean different strategies. Here is some great information from the NPS. Note the difference between playing dead with brown/grizzly bears and black bears!
Bear attacks are rare; most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs, or their space. However, being mentally prepared can help you have the most effective reaction. Every situation is different, but below are guidelines on how brown bear attacks can differ from black bear attacks. Help protect others by reporting all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. Above all, keep your distance from bears!
- Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay ﬂat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.
- Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to ﬁght back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.
If any bear attacks you in your tent, or stalks you and then attacks, do NOT play dead—ﬁght back! This kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.
If you’re in Washington State, you will most likely come across a black bear. Grizzlies (brown bears) are very rare. Did you know black bears aren’t always black? They can have a cinnamon or brownish coat. Their diet mostly consists of plants, bugs, berries and fruit with only a little meat from fish, small rodents or a random fawn.
BEAR PEPPER SPRAY
Bear pepper spray can be a great resource to have with you as you hike and camp in the wilderness. It is used in defense to stop aggressive behavior such as charging or attacking. Make sure you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive bears. It is not a repellent so do not apply to your body or equipment. Check with your national park to see if bear pepper spray is recommended or allowed for the activities you have planned. Learn more about selecting and using bear pepper spray in this introductory video or by visiting the Using Spray to Deter an Aggressive Bear page on Yellowstone’s website.
Here is a great option on Amazon that is allowed by the EPA and Health Cananda. It has a 3 year shelf life and a 30-foot spray range.
The National Park Service website has some GREAT resources about bears and what to do if you’re going to be staying in bear country.