Are Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears Actually That Dangerous?
As the oldest national park in the United States, Yellowstone is a bucket-list destination for basically anyone who loves the outdoors. The vast and wild land holds beauty that defies description. But it also holds dangers.
Bears are usually visitors' No. 1 concern. And while the park has black bears, grizzlies are the ones in the mind of hikers and campers. How worried should you actually be about a bear attack? It turns out, not as much as you'd think. Though that doesn't mean caution isn't important.
This safety information about Yellowstone National Park's grizzly bears may save your life — literally.
What Makes Grizzly Bears So Dangerous?
There's a reason why grizzlies are haunted by a strong reputation. They are known for being the most aggressive bear species (besides polar bears) and tend to use fight instead of flight as their defense mechanism.
Grizzlies are also incredibly fast and agile. They can run up to 40 miles per hour, climb trees, swim and run both up and down hills. Basically, if a grizzly has decided to attack you, running away is simply not an option. As if that weren't enough, their claws are longer and more curved than those of other bears, which often translates into more damage.
Grizzly Bear Attacks in Yellowstone National Park
But before you cancel your trip to Yellowstone, listen to some numbers. Around 44 people have been injured by a bear since 1979. The likelihood of a bear attack in the park is one in 2.7 million.
So there really isn't a huge cause for concern. In fact, only nine people (one suspected) have been killed by a bear in the park since it was established in 1872.
That said, grizzlies were involved in at least eight of those attacks. In the wider Yellowstone region, the bear species have killed eight people in the past 12 years.
The moral of the story is: Don't skip Yellowstone because of a fear of bears but make sure you also take precautions to avoid an encounter.
Grizzly Bear Safety Measures
There are several things you can do to ensure your safety. Some are recommended, while others are required by law.
Under absolutely NO circumstances should you ever feed a bear in Yellowstone. You should also stay within 100 yards of any bear that you spot — so no getting closer for a better picture.
Other precautions include avoiding the use of any type of odor, including perfume or deodorant that has a fragrance. If camping, you should take anything that has a smell (including toothpaste) and hang it from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and away from your campsite.
While hiking, try to make noise from time to time, especially if you're alone. And always carry bear spray.
Yellowstone Is a Refuge for Grizzly Bears
Though you should be careful with grizzlies, it's also important to appreciate this beautiful species. As with many animals, humans present a much worse threat to bears than they do to us. Because of habitat encroachment, grizzlies are currently a threatened species.
Thankfully, Yellowstone is one of the specie's main refuges. In the lower 48, you'll typically find them in the area surrounding the park and in northwest Montana. Within the park, there are about 150 individual bears, while Greater Yellowstone has around 728. That's really not a lot of bears.
Where to (Safely) See Grizzlies in Yellowstone
Seeing grizzly bears from a safe distance is one of the most magical experiences you can have in Yellowstone National Park. If you take the precautions listed above, you can try your luck at catching them in their natural habitat.
Like all bears, grizzlies hibernate, so you won't be seeing them in the winter. They're also most active at dawn, dusk and night.
The National Park Service website advises, "In spring, [grizzlies] may be seen around Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, Hayden and Lamar valleys, Swan Lake Flats and the East Entrance. In mid-summer, they are most commonly seen in the meadows between Tower–Roosevelt and Canyon, and in the Hayden and Lamar valleys."