Tips for Hiking In Bear Country

Category: Hiking 101 + Safety, Trail Safety

The Do’s and Don’ts for Hiking in Bear Country

Here is a list of “Do’s and “Don’ts” when Hiking the mountain trails or walking around a town that is “home” to bears (Canmore and Banff, for example).

Hiking Bear Country –  Do’s

Do keep young children at arms reach – if they run, they could trigger a bear attack. Keeping your kids within arms’ reach makes it easier to stop a frightened child from running, and it allows you to pick them up quickly in the event of a sudden bear attack.

Do make noise – sing, talk, and shout out “YO BEAR.”  You are in their backyard. Let them know you are in “their hood”  Think of it this way, would you walk into your neighbour’s house, or would you knock on their door first?

Do carry bear spray, and know how to use it – Check out this very informational video by Alberta Parks on how to properly use bear spray should the event ever arise. Remember, bears are found frequently in the Rockies! A 6 minute video on proper bear spray use could be a lifesaving factor on your hike.

My family lives in bear country, and we keep the bear spray in a safe, accessible place when we are in our yard.  

Make sure the bear spray has not expired. Expiration dates are found on the bottom or sides of the bear spray cans.

Do obey trail closure signs – they are there for a reason, and everyone’s safety, including the bears.

hiking in bear country tips
Love the smile!!! (pic from the net)

Do take a bear awareness course, or attend a bear awareness eventWildsmart in Canmore has a bear awareness day every spring.  All family members that will be hiking should attend, the event is hands-on, and it is a lot of fun!

hiking in bear country tips
looking for a bear in the trap.

Do scan for scat and digs – look for fresh signs of bear scat, tracks, digs, overturned logs and rocks. If you see any of these signs, turn around and head back – bears are very likely nearby!

hiking in bear country tips
Bear dig on Wapta Falls trail, Yoho National Park, 2015
October 2009, Larch Valley Hike, Morgan and Justin standing in a Grizzly Bear dig
Bear Dig, Larch Valley, Banff National Park, 2009. The boys could not believe how big the dig was.

Do travel in groups- Parks Canada recommends a tight group of 4 or more.

Do leave the area immediately if you see a dead large animal on the trail or smell something bad (thinking rotting meat…which it is).  Report your finding to park staff, or call Banff Dispatch at 403.762.1470 or Kananaskis at 403.591.7755

Do listen to your “spider senses,” if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  Turn back and find another trail, or activity, to do.

This was right at the start of the trail, and my “spidey senses” kicked in. I have seen bear scat many times on trails, but for some reason, things didn’t seem “right.”

Hiking Bear Country – Don’ts

Don’t leave behind any food or garbage when hiking in bear country. Pack out what you pack in, including dog poop! As “yucky” as it sounds, bears, cougars and coyotes will eat dog poop as a source of “survival food.” The dog food that we feed our dogs is so high in protein that a lot of dog poop is high in protein, which attracts the wildlife … and in some cases, other dogs … mine included.  (YECH)

Don’t let your dogs off-leash in bear country (or ever on the trails!)!!! This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Dogs can be seen as a threat and/or dinner! Plus, not everyone on the trail likes dogs and not all dogs like each other. (I am a dog owner, love dogs, but not when they can put someone, or some animal, in danger) Here are my top 10 tips for hiking in the mountains with your dogs.

hiking in bear country tips
Bear Scat, Kimpton Creek Trail, Kootenay National Park, 2015
bag of dog poop in a can.
Pack out your dog poop. Consider bringing a disposable canister along to carry your dog’s poop in. That way, if the dog poop bag breaks, your pack won’t get messy.
August 2009, Black Prince Trail Warspite Lake Hike, J&M and Dakota
This was our old dog, Dakota. He was always on a leash. When he was younger, he carried his own pack with a snack and many poop bags. He also carried his own poop out. You can read about hiking with your fur-baby on my blog.
hiking in bear country tips
LOVE THIS!!!! comic taken from Western Wildlife Outreach.

Don’t just use bear bells – Studies have shown that the bell’s noise can actually attract some curious bears, and they are not as effective as a human voice.  As a matter of fact, you can hear a human voice long before you hear a bear bell. They do make great Christmas tree ornaments, though. As mentioned above, when hiking bear country make sure to make lots of noise in your group to deter any curious bears.

Don’t attach a bear bell to your off-leash dog!!! Seriously???? This is the equivalent of a  neon sign saying “open for business, millions served.” Need I say more?

Don’t approach or feed bearsa fed bear is a dead bear.  As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t approach any wildlife when hiking the Rockies.

hiking in bear country tips
Okay, you can approach Yogi Bear, he  is the exception. Picture taken at  Grand Canyon National Park, 2014.

Don’t plant/keep bear attractants in your yard. This is particularly important if you live in bear country.  As beautiful as those crabapple trees are, they are “easy food” for bears when there isn’t enough natural food for them.  This fall, Canmore has seen their fair share of bears attracted to fruit and berry trees on people’s lawns.

This black bear (almost looks like a human, doesn’t it?) was eating the mountain ash berries from my neighbour’s tree.  On this particular occasion, my oldest son was on our driveway fixing his bike. This bear was not afraid to be there. We did frighten the bear off by yelling,” Get going, bear,” “Go On”… of course, this was all done from the safety of our front steps. The bear sauntered off, and we quickly called Kananaskis dispatch at 403.591.7755 to report the sighting.

black bear eating mountain ash berries
Black Bear eating Mountain Ash Berries on our neighbours lawn.


Don’t Be Afraid To Hike in Bear Country!  

Just be smart about it!

If you follow these steps, and check out the Wildsmart and BearSmart websites,  you will feel more confident about heading out and “Taking a Hike With Your Children”

Pick Up A Copy Of Take A Hike With Your Children

My sold out book, Take A Hike With Your Children, is now available on Amazon as an eBook. Pick up your copy today, and begin exploring the Rockies!

Happy Hiking!

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