Planning a camping or hiking trip to Yosemite National Park in California? Approximately 300 to 500 bears live in Yosemite’s 750,000 acres, and they all want your sandwich. Keep reading for a quick guide to Yosemite bears and helpful tips for avoiding bear encounters!
What species of bears are in Yosemite National Park?
California Grizzly Bears, despite their presence on the California state flag, have been extinct since 1924. Although scientists have toyed with the possibility of reintroducing the species to the region, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. If you see a bear in Yosemite National Park, you can be certain it’s a black bear. American black bears are curious creatures and will stop at nothing to steal a bite to eat from an unsuspecting tourist. Despite their name, most of the black bears in Yosemite have brown, blond, or reddish-brown fur. Black bears can range greatly in size, but the average male weighs about 250 pounds. The largest black bear captured in Yosemite weighed 690 pounds!
Black Bear Activity in Yosemite
Yosemite black bears have been known to go to great lengths to obtain human food. Back in 1997, several mischievous black bears broke into more than 600 cars in Yosemite National Park! Vehicle owners were astonished to discover car doors torn open and windows smashed by bear paws. The hungry villains helped themselves to food inside of tents, garbage cans, and even popped open a few camper shells looking for a tasty snack.
Yosemite black bears have been known to go to great lengths to obtain human food. Back in 1997, several mischievous black bears broke into more than 600 cars in Yosemite National Park! Vehicle owners were astonished to discover car doors torn open and windows smashed by bear paws. The hungry villains helped themselves to food inside of tents, garbage cans, and even popped open a few camper shells looking for a tasty snack. Since then, Yosemite has implemented strategic efforts to educate the public on proper food storage while visiting the park.
What should I do if I see a black bear?
If you encounter a black bear it’s important to keep your distance. In undeveloped areas, visitors should remain at least 50 yards from the animal. If you encounter a bear in a developed area, stand your ground, try to appear as big as possible, and make very loud noises.
- If you encounter a bear while hiking and it does not see you. Back away slowly, increase your distance. Clap hands or make noise so the bear knows you are there and will move on.
- If you encounter a bear on the trail and it sees you. Do not make eye contact. Slowly back away. Do NOT run. Let the bear know you are not a threat. Give it a way out.
- If a bear approaches you, make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving your arms. Use noisemakers, or yell at the bear. If small children are present, keep them close to you.
Black Bear Encounters in Yosemite
Black bears may show dominance by bluff charging, especially when guarding food or cubs. Attacks are rare, and no one has been killed or seriously injured by a black bear in Yosemite.
NOTE: Since there are no grizzlies in Yosemite, bear spray is forbidden within park boundaries.
Rangers do their part to reduce black bear encounters including non-lethal aversive tactics to chase the bear out of developed areas. If camping overnight in Yosemite, you can expect to see rangers patrolling public areas for bears. You may hear rangers yelling at and chasing bears. You may also see or hear rangers shooting noisemakers or non-lethal projectiles (such as rubber slugs from a shotgun or clear paintballs from a paintball gun). The intent is not to harm the bear, but to scare it from the area and restore its natural fear of people by providing a negative experience. Learn more.
#1 Cause of Black Bear Deaths in Yosemite
Over 300 vehicle-bear collisions have occurred along roadways in Yosemite National Park since 1995. Vehicle-bear collisions are now one of the leading causes of black bear mortality in Yosemite. It is important to remember that while traveling in the park, the posted speed limits are not only there to protect people, but to also protect wildlife in areas where animals cross the roads.
Have you ever noticed the roadside signs that say, “Speeding Kills Bears” with an image of a red bear on them?
These signs mark the location where a bear has been hit by a vehicle and serve as a reminder to visitors to slow down and keep a lookout for wildlife. If you do hit an animal while in Yosemite and need immediate ranger response, you can report it to the park’s emergency communication center at 209/379-1992, or by leaving a message on the Save-A-Bear Hotline at 209/372-0322 if you believe that the animal is uninjured. You may also use the Save-A-Bear Hotline number to report non-urgent bear observations.