What to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, camping in Colorado | VailDaily.com

What to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, camping in Colorado

Many of Colorado's hiking and camping sites are located in bear country. Knowing what to do when encountering a bear can be the difference between an amazing wildlife sighting and a grisly situation.
Rick Spitzer | Daily file photo

Have you ever wondered, “What do I do if I encounter a bear while camping or hiking?”

The good news about bears in Colorado is they aren’t grizzlies. The bad news? Black bears are still bears.

As hiking and camping season get underway Colorado Parks & Wildlife has some helpful tips for people vacationing and also long-time residents.

First, it’s important to remember that bears are not naturally aggressive toward humans and most bears are naturally wary of people. Physical encounters between bears and humans are rare and usually happen when a bear becomes too comfortable around humans or finds an easy food source nearby.


When camping in bear country, which is all around us in Eagle County, the easiest way to avoid bears is to not attract them.

Safely store food: If it smells good, a bear will try to eat it. Store food, beverages and toiletries in airtight containers and place in campsite lockers if available, in your trunk or a bear-proof container away from your tent.

Stash your trash: Some camp sites offer bear-proof trash receptacles, but if there aren’t any, then double bag your trash and lock it in your car or a bear-proof container when backpacking.

Keep it clean: Scrape grills, clean all dishes and be sure to clean up waste near your site. Never bring food or anything that smells like food — which includes toiletries, sunscreen and even clothes you wear when cooking — into your tent.

Lock it up: Be sure your car or RV windows are closed and vehicles are locked whenever leaving your site or before going to sleep for the night.

Follow signs (and instincts): Where printed signs or natural signs such as tracks or scat, if you have evidence that a bear has been in the area recently, then consider leaving and finding another campsite.

If a bear is seen in your camp, then try your best to haze it away with loud noises such as yelling, banging pots and pans together or using a car horn or air horn. Be sure to notify the campground host and other campers.


With their tremendous sense of smell and hearing, bears will usually be award of your presence well before you are aware of theirs. A bear’s natural instinct will be to leave before you know they are there. However, understanding bear behaviors and being aware of surroundings will help you avoid unwanted encounters on the trail.

Hike with friends: Conversation and extra noise will alert bears to your presence and make them more likely to retreat. If your group includes furry friends, then be sure to keep dogs leashed in bear country. An unleashed dog will be more likely to be injured, and could possibly bring a bear right back to you.

Stay alert at all times: Leave your headphones behind, be extra cautious around dawn and dusk and pay closer attention to visuals when hiking in an area with noise from running water or high winds.

Never feed a bear: Never approach a bear of any size for any reason, especially to feed it. Double bag food and pack out all food waste. Do not think “natural” waste like apple cores or banana peels are OK to leave behind — they’re certainly treats for bears.

Respect forage areas: In late summer and fall, bears are entering hyperphagia, the period before hibernation when their only concern is getting calories. If your usual hike or run goes through berry patches, oak brush or other known food sources, then be extra vigilant. Make extra noise by periodically clapping or calling out to alert bears to your presence.

If, Then

If you’ve done everything listed and still manage to surprise a bear on the trail, then stay calm, stand still and speak to it in a firm tone of voice. Never run from a bear.

If the bear does not leave, then slowly wave your arms over your head, trying to look bigger and continue speaking loudly. If the bear huffs, stomps or pops its jaws, then that’s a sign that it needs space. Continue facing the bear, slowly back away and keep slowly moving away until the bear is out of sight.

Finally, if a bear approaches before you have a chance to try to force its exit, then stand your ground. Yell or throw smaller rocks in the direction of the bear. If the bear gets within 40 feet, utilize bear spray.

If a bear attacks, then don’t play dead — fight back with anything available, including trekking poles, small knives or even your bare hands.

It is important to remember that most human-bear interactions are relatively benign; bear sightings and witnessing standard bear behaviors are an awesome sight for most outdoor enthusiasts. Staying bear aware on the trails and at your campsite, and keeping respectful distances for photos and viewing, keeps these interactions safe for humans and bears alike.

For more information on camping and hiking in Colorado’s bear country, visit http://www.cpw.state.co.us.

Entertainment & Outdoors editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill. Leonhart has seen bears while camping near the Colorado River and crossing the fairway at the Eagle-Vail Golf Club.

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