There are so many beautiful places in the United States. For people who love to be outside, hiking is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to explore nature and all it has to offer. While seeing different types of wildlife along your hike can be a highlight, there are times when you’ll need to prepare ahead of time in case you have an encounter with wild animals. One such animal to be aware of is the bear.
Black bears inhabit many areas in the U.S., including the east and west coasts, the Rocky Mountains and parts of Alaska. Grizzly bears are most commonly found in the northwestern states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and, of course, Alaska. When hiking in an area known to be inhabited by either or both of these magnificent animals, it’s extremely important to be prepared for a chance encounter before setting out on your hike. Follow these seven simple steps to help you know how to prepare before you go hiking in bear country.
Tell Someone Where You Will Be Hiking
Before going on your hike, shoot a quick text to a friend or family member to let them know where you’ll be going. Give them the name of the area, name of the trail and the time you expect to be back. This is a good practice in general, but when hiking in bear country, it could be crucial information for search and rescue in the event you are injured or lost out on the trail. You most likely won’t have cell service during your hike, so letting someone know your estimated return time is important. Also, once you’ve finished your hike, be sure to let your contact know you’ve returned.
Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray is basically highly concentrated pepper spray. In the event of a close encounter, it could be the difference between a scary story you tell your friends and something worse. It’s not only important to have bear spray, you also need to know how to use it. Read the instructions on the can and watch a video online about how to use it in the event you need to. You can buy your own if you live in or frequent an area inhabited by bears. Or if you are just visiting, there are places that rent it out for a small fee. Better to have it and not need it than the other way around.
Do Your Bear Research
Bears are amazing animals. If you happen to catch a glimpse of one from a good distance, it really is a cool experience. Don’t forget to bring binoculars or a telephoto lens for the camera. There are two kinds of bears that live in the lower 48: black bears and grizzly bears. While they are both bears, the black bear and grizzly bear have different demeanors and react differently. If you find yourself hiking in bear country, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how to recognize each one and how to handle an encounter with them. There is plenty of info to be found online, but there are two main things to remember. The first is that both bears are faster than you and can climb trees. Do not run from them. The second is that you should never get or stay between a mother and her cub. This goes for just about any wild animal, but it’s important to remember. If you happen to see a bear, take a quick look around to see if there are cubs or other bears nearby.
Keep Food In Sealed Containers
Bears have a very strong sense of smell. If you’ve ever visited a campground or national park in bear areas, you probably saw the bear-proof trash bins and food-storage bins. These are steel boxes with hidden latches on the doors to keep bears out. If you are packing snacks or lunches for your hike, be sure to always double-seal all your food items to minimize the smells emitted. When you take a break to eat, always make sure to clean up and collect all trash. It’s best to double-seal your trash, as well, and dispose of it properly at the end of your hike. We usually put our food in sealed plastic containers and then put those containers inside gallon-size zip-close bags.
Hike In Groups
Hiking by yourself can be a great way to experience nature, let your mind wander and really ground yourself in the outdoors. But when hiking in bear country, having one or more companions is the way to go. You’ll have more eyes to see what is around you and more people to make more noise if necessary, and if someone gets injured, there are others to help out or get help if necessary. And if nothing else, you’ll have someone to talk to and take in the views with!
Keep Kids And Pets Close
Don’t shy away from taking the family on a hike in bear country, but be aware of a few precautions to take when doing so. Keep your kids close to you during the hike. Our little guy loves to run ahead and explore rocks and hills off-trail. But when we’re in bear country, we make him stay close to us. The last thing we want is for him to accidentally run up on a bear by himself. The same thing goes for pets. If you’re in an area that allows dogs, keep them on a short leash. You’ll want to make sure you can control them as much as possible in the event they see a bear. You certainly don’t want them running off chasing squirrels or other animals either.
Allow Plenty Of Hiking Time
Time can get away from you. One minute you’re enjoying the views and having a great time, the next minute the sun is going down and you’re miles from the trailhead. When hiking in bear areas, this is not the situation you want to be in. Plan out your hike, know the mileage and estimated time of completion, and then add an hour or two for lunch or sightseeing. Take that total time and start your hike so you’ll finish up an hour before sunset at the latest. Be prepared to cut it short if continuing on will have you out on the trail past dusk. And if you can’t start early enough, move it to another day. Better to postpone it than to find yourself wandering down the trail in the dark!