Yellowstone NP - Bears
Replies: 49 - Last Post: May 25, 2013 11:21 AM Last Post By: geo_nerd
May 15, 2013 8:35 PM
Yellowstone NP - BearsHello everyone!
First of all - thank you all for your help so far. A few months ago I made a post regarding a roadtrip to the states going from NYC to LA and got a ton of help that we've been using a long the way.
At the moment my girlfriend and I are staying just south of Wind Cave National Park and plan to head a bit north to Sheridan and from Sheridan go to Yellowstone NP to spend as many days there as we desire.
So far we've discussed staying there for 4-5 nights, but could very easily be convinced to stay there more nights since we are ahead of our schedule.
We are really looking forward to visiting Yellowstone. We have only heard wonderful things about it!
However, we have had a growing concern ever since we visited Badlands NP. We encountered a snake there - we later learned it waas completly harmles, but it made an impression on us.
Close wildlife encounters was exciting, but getting this close to something (we at the time thought was dangerous) was too exciting.
Our concern about Yellowstone is mainly the bears. Reading through a couple of threads on different forums, people are having a ton of different opinions depending on what kind of hiking they plan, how many days and what time of the season.
Since none of those I read really seemed familiar with our situation I was hoping for a little guidance! :-)
We'd love to see bears and other wildlife, no doubt. But prefer a safe distance.
We plan to drive around the park and see some of the sights from car, but would also like to walk several shorter/moderate paths and possible take on one or two 1 day hikes.
Neither of us are experienced hikers, but we did walk all the established trails in Badlands without much trouble - if that is anything like Yellowstone... Probably not.
Well - to get to the bottom of this, here's what we were hoping you could help us with:
Should we buy a bear spray?
Is there a lot of bear activity hear in mid-May?
- And should we generaly be concerned about wildlife?
We have both read some guidelines on how to behave if we meet a bear in close range, so we have an idea about what to do and what not to do.
Any other tips or information is also highly appreciated! :-)
Thank you for the time and hope this didn't get too long!
May 15, 2013 9:03 PM
1However, we have had a growing concern ever since we visited Badlands NP. We encountered a snake there
I found a snake living under my gas BBQ 2 weeks ago. It's probably still there. No worries.
The bear I saw while hiking at Jenny Lake a few years ago was probably 100' away. It didnt seem to care I was there.
May 15, 2013 9:18 PM
2Ask the rangers at Yellowstone, who are onsite and have current information. Bear spray is useless, use common sense and get information from the source. You will get a range of speculation on here that may or may not be accurate. Bear encounter are ALWAYS possible, but most will pass without danger, but you must know where you can go and what is off limits. Only current conditions are useful.
May 15, 2013 9:57 PM
3There are many trails to the sights in Yellowstone, and most are flat or on gentle terrain.
Sorry to tell you that bears are only one of the dangerous animals in Yellowstone.
The elk are dangerous and the bison injure more people than any other.
You are highly unlikely to be attacked by any animal in the park.
They are very used to seeing people....however...
I can guarantee that you will see many instances of people doing absolutely stupid,
provocative things putting themselves in danger by getting close to wild animals
in order to get photos.
It rarely makes sense to run from an animal. They can all outrun you.
Standing still or very slowly stepping back will usually calm them.
Last Autumn I turned a corner in my neighborhood and saw a bear 50' away.
She huffed and bluff charged me, advancing three lengths toward me.
I stopped in my tracks. It was then I noticed her two cubs nearby.
Slowly, very slowly I stepped back, letting her win to protect her babies.
A rattlesnake will not seek out people to attack them. They will always retreat or freeze
to protect themselves. Most all bites come from stumbling onto them warming themselves
on a trail or stepping over a log or rock onto them where you couldn't see them.
May 15, 2013 10:42 PM
4Yes, be "Bear Aware" when hiking in Yellowstone, but it's important to have some perspective. About 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone every year. The number of recorded fatal bear attacks in or near Yellowstone since 1900 is less than 10, most of which occurred in the middle of the night. Simply as a matter of statistics, the risk is very, very, very small. Most bears are wary of human beings and will either ignore you or lope off in the opposite direction when they scent you. You're more likely to be struck by lightening...and a very great deal more likely to die in a car accident or thousands of other ways. On the short, crowded paths around Yellowstone's geothermal sites you're not going to see bears at all--bears avoid these areas. On longer day hikes through woods or meadows, it's possible you might see a bear, but most likely only from a distance.
And, yes, as above, any Yellowstone ranger will tell you the most dangerous animals in the park are the bison, not the bears. It happens quite frequently some clueless tourist bent on getting the perfect picture gets too close to a bison and gets gored for his trouble. The look like lazy, hairy cows, but weigh 2000 pounds, can run fast, and are easily spooked, so exercise common sense and keep your distance.
May 15, 2013 10:58 PM
5First off, your odds of encountering a bear are in the low-single-digit percent range.
Secondly, if you do encounter one, the odds of being attacked are equally low.
That said, having camped and hiked in the area, I DO understand the anxiety! :)
Look at the references under http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bear_spray The stuff does work.
Look to rent a canister of bear spray in Cody or somewhere else along the way. You want a sizable bottle, something resembling a small fire extinguisher, not a dinky 3 ounce pocket-sized can of uselessness. I know there's a place in Bozeman that rents it. West Yellowstone is likely. Search for 'bear spray rental' and see what's out there and/or just ask at the Yellowstone gate. Worst case, buy a bottle and then sell it on Ebay to recoup some of your $.
Snakes in Yellowstone in May will be hard pressed to move, much less bite. Again, the odds of getting chomped are rather low. (Even down here in Arizona, Rattlesnake Central, you're unlikely you'll see one on any given hike.) The solution is simple, and somewhat self-generated: LOOK before you step or reach. Get into the habit of scanning the trail ahead every few seconds.
Without sounding snarky, I do think you need to relax a little. :) Yea, critters are out there, and from time to time you will encounter them. If you spot them early and give them space, you an the animal will be fine. If a specific sort of critter is causing worry (snake phobia, etc.), a few visits to a local petting zoo or similar program will probably fix the issue.
May 16, 2013 12:04 AM
6If you are close enough to a bear to use spray, you are already in danger, and you will be so panicked that it would be a miracle to spray it on target. Bear spray is false security. Education is the best defense. As has been stated, your chances of being in danger are infinitely small, but get the information you need onsite.
May 16, 2013 3:36 AM
7As others have mentioned - forget the bear spray (except maybe for obnoxious dogs or rednecks).
The trails in Yellowstone are well marked. Also, at the trailheads bear activity will be noted by the Park Service. If you become concerned about bears while hiking, start singing - the bears hear you coming and run away. Remember, bears don't like people and are only a danger if surprised (OK, the purists in the crowd will cite the few unprovoked bear attacks that have happened throughout history, but those are extremely rare - as are bear attacks in general).
Oddly, the last fatal wild animal attack in my state (Washington) was a mountain goat goring a guy in the Olympic Mountains a couple years ago - no bear attacks for decades. Also, strange as it may sound, over time more people have been killed by the common whitetail deer (and no, not by car accidents, but by direct animal on human attacks) than all the bear, wolf, and mountain lion attacks combined. So watch for Bambi out there - you never know.
May 16, 2013 6:23 AM
Seems like the answer all over is to relax and just be aware of my surroundings.
We'll definitely check in at the visiter center for most recent information about bear activity.
Yea, I heard about people doing some incredibly stupid things.
I read about this guy who was unsatisfied with his pictures of a bison laying down, gave the camera to his wife and went over to kick it to get it moving. I think he died from his injuries.
But we'll surely be careful with other animals as well!
Thank you so much for the help! :)
Edited by: RHelms
May 16, 2013 6:25 AM
9Most park visitors spend a lot of time looking for bears, they are not that easy to find. We hiked a lot in Lamar valley, no bears, but at our cabin north of Gardiner in Tom Miners, the bears came out to the pastures and meadows at sunset like clockwork.
You go to national parks for nature, millions visit YSNP every year, how many are attacked by a bear? 0
better off playing the lottery...
Wait to you get to Costa Rica, yikes, snakes, monkeys, lizardsas big as dogs and spiders/bugs galore...
May 16, 2013 7:18 AM
May 16, 2013 8:22 AM
11Without sounding snarky, I do think you need to relax a little.
This is probably the first thing I would say to you. Relax. I'm not dismissive of concerns about wild animals - I've had bears come in my camp at night in California's Seirra Nevada, and I'd be lying if I said I was perfectly at ease with it. But always keep engaged the part of your brain that understands the actual risk of harm is vanishingly small, even more so if you practice some very basic awareness and precautions.
BTW, I am not as dismissive as itzawonder about bear spray. The stuff does actually work, assuming it is used correctly. I'll grant that many, perhaps most, people might not use it well in the moment. But if it makes you feel more secure, and so long as you don't misuse it (like hazing bears that are otherwise not bothering anyone, which yes, actually happens), I don't see any problem with carrying it along if you're going deeper into the woods than the boardwalk around the thermal features (you'll look very, very silly carrying bear spray to every viewpoint and overlook).
May 16, 2013 11:13 AM
12Thanks Longisland (#10), but there are others on the forum with considerable backwoods experience too.
As for bears, my best bear day ever was in Mt. Rainier N.P. about three years ago. Packed into Indian Bar, a fourteen mile backpack from Stevens Canyon and situated in a gorgeous meadow. During the day a sow with three cubs came by, another sow with a single cub, and in late afternoon a big old boar sidled up near camp. That's seven different bears in one day without even leaving camp. They were all grazing on the vast carpets of small white flowers growing in the meadow (not digging the the roots, but eating the flowers). Next day watched a coyote pounce on a marmot and tear it to shreds and another coyote chase a small herd of mountain goats across a snowfield nearby.
Have jumped many a bear on the trails in the North Cascades of Washington and along rivers in Alaska, but have never had any problems with them and have never carried bear spray or a gun (for bears at least). Just keep a clean camp (very clean in heavy bear country), make noise when hiking into brush or areas where visibility is poor, don't keep snacks in your tent and hang your food at night (including your cook kit and toothpaste - bears love toothpaste).
May 16, 2013 12:29 PM
13#12 - I've had a number of uneventful encounters with black bears in Arizona and California, but nothing as memorable as your day in Mt. Rainer!
I did have a very close encounter with a grizzly in Glacier. We were hiking in heavy brush along the Swiftcurrent River, and I have to admit, after a full day of hiking we were no longer making the requisite noise as we ambled along (there's only so many times you can say "hey bear!" in a day). Anyway, we came around a corner and were face-to-face with a full-grown grizz. Maybe 10-15 feet away. It is amazing how powerful the urge to run is - I had one foot in the air before I got control of myself. We froze, averted our eyes, and started to ever-so-slowly back away. The bear made several agressive gestures (lowering and swinging its head, clacking teeth), and then turned and waddled off into the underbrush. When we finally decided we could move along, we found we could hardly walk, we were shaking so badly.
As an epilogue to that anecdote, several other interesting wildlife-related incidents occured that day. A mile or so down the trail, we came upon several more grizzlies, this time well off the trail, grazing some berry bushes. They were not a welcome sight for us at this point, and we shuffled by as unobtrusively as possible...at which point a large boy scout group came around the corner, shouted "bears!" in unison, and ran towards the grazing bears en masse. We had quite enough bear-related foolishness at this point and were not eager to watch this scenario play out. After making some poorly-received remarks to the clueless troop leader, we hurried on our way. Strangely, almost at this very moment, a guy in our group who was already camped at the Many Glacier campground was fishing while waiting for us to arrive, and was actually attacked by a moose. He had to dodge behind trees until the moose tired of chasing him. Finally, we arrived to find out from the park rangers that the rest of our backpacking itinerary was cancelled due to a trail closure - apparently a group of people had decided that some bears on the Ptarmigan Pass trail were hanging out too close to the trail and took it upon themselves to scare them off, by hazing them with bear spray. Rather than deal with a situation that promised to end poorly for either people, bears, or both, the rangers just opted to close the trail until the bears moved on. Thanks guys - we had the best hiking itinerary in the whole park, and it was cancelled by some ignorant punters with pepper spray.
May 16, 2013 1:07 PM
14Note for future reference. (Not directly related to this thread)
Here on the East coast we have black bears but no grizzlies. They are fast enough they could chase you down on the trail kill you and take your food, (or make you into food), but that has never ever ever been known to happen. Bears get into one’s food supply far too often, so hanging one’s food is recommended, but they tend to smell people and avoid them. Reports of attacks on people sleeping in their tents, even tents with food, are so rare they are like difficult -to- verify urban legends.
Here out east, the purpose of hanging your food is so you have the freedom to put on a day pack and hike around a little bit, go swimming etc.. Otherwise you might come back to a shredded tent with no food.
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