Trail Tuesday

Trail Safety 101: Living and Playing in Bear Country

Tips for avoiding encounters with bears and what to do if you meet one.

By Michaela Wagner June 5, 2018

Image: Shutterstock

Though we don't see them as commonly as moose or other wild critters, the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges are home to hundreds of black bears. Unlike their more aggressive cousin the grizzly bear (which do not live in Utah), black bears are actually notoriously shy and wary of human interactions; they'll frequently run away as soon as they spot humans. That being said, although they do their best to avoid contact with people, they do love foraging for food and retain information well, which means that they will repeatedly return to a place where they've previously found a snack. In other words, sloppy campers, hikers, and homeowners aren't only putting themselves at risk, they are also endangering future visitors and neighbors. Here's what you can do to keep bears away and how to respond if one does happen to cross your path.

When hiking

  • Stay alert, especially at dusk and dawn when bears are more active
  • Hike as a group whenever possible
  • Hike with your kids in the center of the group
  • Make noise while you travel through dense cover
  • If you see an animal carcass, stay away
  • Always store food, trash, and scented items (i.e. sunscreen) in airtight containers

When camping

  • Securely store your food in a vehicle, a bear-safe container, or hanging in a tree (10-15 feet high; 4 feet from the trunk)
  • Put your trash in bear-proof dumpsters, if available
  • Wipe down picnic tables and burn food off stoves or grills
  • Never keep food (or food-smelling items like toothpaste) in your tent
  • Pitch your tent away from trails in the backcountry
  • Sleep inside the tent
  • Do not approach or feed a bear
  • Report any bear sighting to a campground host

At home

Reduce or eliminate the risk of a bear wandering into your backyard by implementing the following precautions.

  • Keep your trash in a secure location or bear-safe receptacle 
  • Regularly clean your trash containers
  • Put your trash out for pick-up in the morning, never at night
  • Avoid leaving dog food outdoors
  • D0 not corner a visiting bear, give it an obvious and easy escape route (or risk thousands of dollars in property damage from a frightened bear)
  • Use bear deterrents, such as electric fencing, motion-activated lights or noisemakers, garden hoses/sprinklers, bear spray, one or more dogs

When you meet a bear

  • Stand your ground. Don't back up, lie down, or play dead. Remain calm and allow the bear a chance to leave. Do not approach the bear.
  • Never run away or climb a tree. Black bears can reach speeds of 35 m.p.h. and are well known for being excellent climbers; you won't outrun or outclimb one.
  • Understand bear behavior. Bears are naturally curious; standing up, grunting, or moaning are signs the bear is interested not aggressive. A black bears first line of defense is retreating, not attack.
  • Fight back, if attacked. Use anything you have, whether it's rocks, sticks, a water bottle, or just your hands and feet. Black bears are often frightened by new objects or situations. 

If you do spot a bear, make sure to contact the Division of Wildlife Resources (801.491.5678) or the Police Department. More information about bears and other area wildlife can be found at

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