People visiting Alaska for the first time are often surprised at just how wild the state truly is. The vast majority of Alaska’s sprawling land is wilderness, and when you head out into the backcountry, you’re right there with all of its inhabitants, including various bear species. Grizzly bears are quite common, and you’ll find black bears in the forests of Alaska. Even polar bears are occasional visitors to the extreme north and west.
Bears generally try to avoid people as much as possible, but they are both curious and intelligent, meaning you may occasionally come across them. Keep in mind that they are wild animals, and though they like to keep to themselves, they can be quite dangerous in certain circumstances.
To avoid issues, it’s best to understand how to avoid attracting bears to your campsite, and what you should do if you ever encounter a bear. Here are some tips for smart bear awareness in Alaska.
Don’t approach or surprise bears
Give the bear plenty of space—get too close and the bear will start to feel threatened and could get aggressive. This is especially true with female bears, and even more so when they have cubs nearby. This means you should use your zoom for photos rather than trying to get as close as possible.
Bears use trails just like people do, so make sure you avoid setting up your camp close to a trail they might try to use. In addition, avoid camping near areas where you see carcasses of animals like fish or other small critters, or where there are scavengers around—these are areas where bears are likely to be hanging out.
Never, ever surprise a bear. Make noise while you’re out on the trails so bears know you’re there. Talk loudly or sing—you don’t want to take a bear by surprise, because it will lash out. Groups are far easier for bears to detect. If possible, hike with the wind at your back to make it easier to smell you.
Never feed bears
Bears can occasionally be scavengers in campsites, so you should never leave food or garbage in places that are easy to access. Hang food out of reach, and store food in airtight containers. Always keep a clean camp and wash your dishes, and avoid making particularly greasy or smelly foods. Burn food waste in your fire, and pack out everything else with you.
Know how to deal with a bear encounter
If you do come across a bear while out in the wilderness, make sure to avoid it and allow it to avoid you. If the bear does not appear to have seen you, move away quietly, keeping your eyes on the bear to track its behavior. If the bear does notice you, face the bear, stand your ground and speak calmly so the bear knows you’re a human. Use a normal voice. It may help to stand with others in your group and wave your arms above your head slowly. You can try to back away slowly, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. If the bear stands up, it is more likely