Grizzly Bear Country Hiking Guide – Glacier National Park Close Encounter

Most would say there is no better feeling after a long exhausting day than sinking our heads down at night in our comfy pillows alongside a cute and cuddly teddy bear wrapped in our arms. Of-course the real biological version of this animal is the infamous grizzly bear, and you definitely don’t want that thing crawling into your tent at night. This animal is one that is to be respected and given its distance at all costs, yours truly can attest to that, but we’ll get to that later. While these animals no longer dominate the majority of the American West they still can be found in popular hiking areas like; Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park.

Knowing Grizzly Bear Activity

While some may say this is obvious, knowing about activity in the area can help you plan your hike to avoid these animals. The US Department of Fish and Wildlife manage grizzly bear recovery zones for the lower 48 states, if you’re hiking trails in Alaska… you’re more than likely in bear country. Current grizzly bear distributions in the lower 48 states reside;

  • Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (Glacier National Park, Montana)
  • Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (Montana)
  • Selkirk Ecosystem (Montana)
  • Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park)

Current plans by US Fish and Wildlife also are attempting to establish recovery populations in the Bitteroot ecosystem (Idaho), and Northern Cascades ecosystem (Washington) . Before hiking in any of these areas be sure to check with rangers for bear activity. While hiking, be sure to be on the lookout for bear sign, this includes; scat, tracks, and rubs on trees.

Hike in Groups while in Bear Country

Hiking in groups can significantly decreases your odds of having a bear attack. We’d recommend hiking in groups of 4, but the more the merrier. Often when a bear charges they will charge in closer, then stop to evaluate the situation, once the bear sees its a large group rather than an individual they’ll abandon the charge.

Make lots of Noise

Making your presence known is a crucial factor in preventing a bear attack, simply put if they know there is a human on the trail, they’ll avoid you. Most bear attacks happen when a bear is surprised, so don’t hike in silence. Here a few suggestions of things you can do to make noise while hiking:

  • Play music with a portable speaker
  • Sing a camp song with your fellow hiking friends
  • Ask your fellow hikers deep questions like;
    • “What’s your life about?”
    • “Who do you most look up to and why?”
    • “If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go?”

Be sure to have a Clean Camp

Always make sure to never leave food in your packs unattended, if you decided to stop and camp for the night, we recommend hanging your food in a tree at least 150 yards away from camp using a bear hanging system or finding a bear box. If neither of these are an option, be sure to leave food as far away from camp as possible. When packing a food pack you should include the following items to stow far away from camp;

  • Any food you brought with you
  • plates, dishes, and cooking utensils
  • bug spray and sunscreen
  • dish soap
  • any article of clothing or cloth food has spilled on

Always Carry Bear Protection (and make sure it works)

This is always a last case scenario, however if you do happen to have a close encounter with a bear, it is necessary to defend yourself. You could carry a large caliber pistol, however we recommend carrying bear spray at all times in bear country. Bear spray has been proven to work time and time again, while carrying a firearm could remove the threat, most often the case is that there is no time to remove the firearm from a holster or resting position to get a shot off. With bear spray, you can fire straight from the holster, accuracy is also less of an issue with spray as it plumes over a wide area. Bear spray can be found at most outdoor retailers where black bears, or grizzly bears reside. For extra caution, we recommend that you have two sets of protection in your hiking group in case one fails. Also, always be sure to test the spray before heading into bear habitat, you don’t want it failing in the midst of a charge.

Follow all Steps to Staying Safe in Bear Country – Glacier National Park Encounter

You can do everything right and still have a close encounter with a bear. If you do not make sure to be completely prepared for bear country, you could end up in a dangerous situation like I did.

Yup, that’s right even I made a few mistake in grizzly country, and I nearly payed for it. My close high school friends and I have always done a trip to wild and natural places every summer. Last year (August 2017) we decided to take a trip out to Glacier National Park. The whole trip was absolutely breathtaking and by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. During our trip we knew of a few hot spots to hit from research online as well as suggestions from friends, two of these were Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel. We had known about bears in the park, so we carried unused bear spray we had bought a year ago when we went to Yellowstone National Park (mistake number 1). So we headed up the trail, we played music and talked loudly the whole way up knowing we were in bear country, we even joked about wanting to see a bear up close.

About 2 miles into our hike we notice three small brown furry rustling in the brush on the right side of the trail heading up the mountain, I instantly wrote it off in my head as columbian ground squirrels (they were everywhere). However, up ahead on the left side of the trail I started noticing large shaking in the bushes getting closer and closer fast. Out from underneath a pine tree I noticed a large brown spot, I instantly thought deer, then it stood up… Out from underneath the tree stood a seven and a half foot tall sow grizzly bear roughly 20 feet away, time seemed to stand still, adrenaline rushed through my veins. Thats when I turned and started to yell “spray her!!! spray her!!!” to my friend Eric, who was carrying the bear spray. He removed the safety and all we heard  was this pathetic little “weeeehhh” wheezing noise, no spray came out. Meanwhile, three other friends of ours were in a full sprint down the trail away from the bear (Don’t do that), while Eric and I did our best to make ourselves as big as possible and yell at the bear. A few seconds past until the bear finally decided to spare us and head up the mountain on the right side of the trail. After our encounter we take a few minutes to regroup, and wait for the bear to move out of the area. We continued on up the trail no further than 50 yards when we came across a few hikers asking us “Did you see the bear and 3 cubs?”, our jaw dropped deducting that those 3 small furry rustlings on the right side of the trail were more than likely that grizzly bear’s cubs. We all then instantly told them about our encounter.


Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail

While this was a bit of a shock, we didn’t let it our encounter discourage us from continuing our hike (alongside hikers with functioning bear spray). We continued on to Iceberg Lake and even headed up to a stunning mountain-hike to Ptarmigan tunnel, two must see’s for hikers in Glacier National Park.


Friends and I at Iceberg Lake

Don’t let the Presence of Bears Discourage you from Visiting Beautiful Places

Simply put, some of the most beautiful places in North America also happen to have grizzly bears. While these animals can be dangerous, most often they are more scared of you than you are of them and will avoid humans at all costs.  if you take the proper steps to avoid them and give them the respect they deserve you should be enjoy these beautiful lands alongside them.

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