Since the inception of Yellowstone National Park, one of the biggest highlights for visitors is spotting wildlife, especially bears. And always from a distance.
- Grizzly bears can often be seen in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys of the Roosevelt-Tower area and near Fishing Bridge.
- Occasionally, you can see a grizzly bear near Bechler River.
- Black bears are often seen West Thumb and Fishing Bridge.
- Or just head to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.
Although their preferences of terrain and physical characteristics are very different, both grizzly bears and black bears make their homes in Yellowstone National Park.
In the early years, feeding grizzly and black bears was part of the charm. However, this turned out to be harmful to both bears and humans. The public should regard bears as neither cute nor cuddly. (Yogi and Booboo Bear do not live in Yellowstone!) Bears are wild animals and deserve respect.
- The grizzly is also known as a brown bear. It gets its name because of its silver-flecked appearance (grizzled).
- It has a tawny brown, blonde or black coat and a distinctive shoulder hump just behind the head.
- Its broad head and snout is said to be more pan like in contrast to the black bear’s long and narrow snout.
- The grizzly’s long, fairly straight claws are made for digging and foraging food from the earth.
- The black bear has shorter, curved claws that are made for climbing trees.
- Contrary to its name, the black bear can be cinnamon-brown or brown-black in appearance.
- The black bear is smaller in size than the grizzly, but both are extremely fast, agile predators.
- Bears are omnivores. Grizzlies thrive on the elk and bison that frequent Yellowstone's open meadows. They also eat roots, berries, white bark pine seeds and insects, all of which can be foraged from the soil or low-lying bushes.
- Black bears have a similar diet to grizzlies, but do not generally forage for tubers.
Best Places for Viewing Bears
Grizzlies can often be seen in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys of the Roosevelt-Tower area and near Fishing Bridge. They have occasionally been spotted at the southwestern tip of the park, near Bechler River.
Black bears frequent the northeastern section of the Park and can be seen near West Thumb and Fishing Bridge.
Whether or not you get to see a bear in the park, make sure to take some time to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone (open year-round).
The risk of encountering a bear (grizzly or black) is low. However, it is better to be prepared than to be caught unawares.
- Make bears aware of your presence on trails by making loud noises such as shouting or singing.
- Hike in groups and use caution where vision is obstructed.
- Do not hike after dark.
- Avoid carcasses; bears may defend this source of food.
- A bear can outrun you so don’t even try to run away. Running may also elicit an attack from an otherwise non-aggressive bear. If the bear is unaware of you, detour away from the bear. If the bear is aware of you and nearby, but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.
- Do NOT climb a tree. All black bears, all grizzly cubs, and some adult grizzlies can climb trees.
- Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping abruptly at the last second. Bear experts generally recommend standing still – again don’t run - until the bear stops and then slowly backing away.
- If you are unfortunate enough to have an up close and personal contact with a bear, drop to the ground, lie face down, and clasp your hands behind your neck. Use all the willpower you can muster and lie still and remain silent. Resistance will only provoke the bear. Before moving, listen and look around carefully to make sure the bear is no longer nearby.