When I tell people that I’m going camping in Alaska, the first question always is ~ what about the bears? There are bears, a lot of them too! Being bear aware and following a few bear safety tips helps me to feel safe when I’m camping in bear country. That hasn’t always been the case though. It took me a year of living in Alaska to go backcountry camping knowing that a bear could show up at any time. I took bear aware classes, I asked more experienced Alaskans, and then finally faced my fear and went solo camping in bear country. After that, I wasn’t afraid anymore and went camping every chance I could. Here’s what you need to know when camping in Alaska’s Bear Country.
Disclosure: This post not only shares camping in bear country tips, but also has Affiliate Links that I earn commissions from. This is how I make a living and keep this little blog running. Thank you for supporting me! I appreciate it. Much love, Kristi.
First, Let’s Talk About the Kind of Bears in Alaska
Black bears are the smallest of the bears that live in Alaska. They spend most of their time lounging in trees and come down to the ground when searching for food. Black bears are playful and curious and are the ones that wander into towns following their nose to a good BBQ or trash cans. Black bears are the size of large dogs like Newfoundlands.
When out camping or hiking and you come across a black bear, there’s a good chance that you can scare it off. Stand really tall, waving your hands back and forth while yelling at the bear to go away. You want to frighten the black bear so it will run off. Sometimes at night, shining a bright light at the bear and banging on a pot can do the trick.
Most black bear attacks come when cyclists are riding their bikes and they come between a sow and her cubs. When out hiking or biking, play music or have a bell that alerts the bear that you are nearby.
Grizzly bears are considered to be a subspecies of Brown Bear. The main difference between a Grizzly Bear and a Brown bear is what they eat. Brown Bears have access to coastal food sources like salmon and they sure do love to eat it!. Grizzly Bears live further inland and do not eat marine animals.
The first Grizzly Bear I ever saw up close!
Brown Bears and Grizzly Bears are much larger and can be aggressive. They don’t like to be around humans and will stay out of sight as much as possible. A brown bear is going to be just as surprised as you are to see each other. Don’t ever run away from a brown bear! That signals to the bear that you are prey and they will hunt you down. Back away slowly and talk in a soft, calm voice to the bear. The bear needs to feel that you will not harm it. They are known to bluff charge to get you to go away. If a brown bear attacks, you want to play dead. Curl up in the fetal position with your hands and arms covering your head and neck. Once the bear thinks your dead or no longer a threat, it should leave the away.
Kiss your ass goodbye. Seriously though, it would be very, very rare to see a polar bear unless you were on a guided trip in the Arctic Circle. They are not found farther south where people are camping on their vacations or for a weekend getaway.
Tips to a Bear Safe Campsite
- Strangely enough, bears know their colors. When they see a bright red or blue cooler they think – yum, lunch! Keep your coolers in your vehicle at all times. When buying your next cooler, think of getting one in white, camo, or black as it blends in better with the Alaska scenery.
- Do not under any circumstances, put food or anything with a scent in your tent. This includes deodorant, toothpaste or a toothbrush, perfumes, chips and soda, a late night snack… unless you want to be that late night snack! Pack food and other items into odor-proof bags or containers and put them back in your car.
- When you are backcountry camping, bring a bear safe to keep your food in an airtight container.
- In organized campgrounds, use the bear containers that are located between the campsites. If you have a soft-sided vehicle like a jeep or a convertible, you will need to use the bear containers or you might wake up to your soft shell being shredded.
- Remember to change your clothes after dinner before you go into your tent. You know how great that BBQ smelled and how yummy that steak was? Yeah, that scent is all over your clothes too. If you go straight to bed then the bears will be curious as to what smells so good too. Bring airtight bags for your cooking clothes, trash, and leftovers.
- Have a can of bear spray with you as it is a good deterrent. Purchase bear spray at Costco or REI… do not bring it in your carry-on bag if you are flying to Alaska.
Hiking in Bear Country
Hiking in Alaska is amazing! You can hike up to the top of mountains and see for miles around… beautiful lakes, snaking rivers, and more trees than you thought possible. There are also bears hunting for food during the summer months. When hiking in Alaska’s bear country, make a lot of noise. Sing to yourself or with others, if hiking solo make sure to talk out loud. Do not listen to headphones as you won’t be able to hear that strange rustling sound. Have bear spray in a holster that is easily accessible and it works on both brown and black bears.
If you come across a sow and her cubs, back away slowly and do not turn your back on the bear and avert your eyes so you are not in a stare down with the bear. For the love of my sanity, do not stop to take pictures of them either until you are a long, safe distance away.
I created a coloring book based off the photos I took while traveling around Alaska. The brown bear on the cover was the first bear I saw when I crossed over from Canada on the AlCan highway. My very own welcoming committee!
Bears and Rivers
During the summer months, the salmon are running up the rivers to spawn. Bears know that this is their prime feeding time. They tend to go back to the same spots year-after-year. Be careful when camping near a river during salmon season. Give the bear a wide berth. If you are also fishing and the bear wants the salmon you just caught – he gets it! He is bigger and probably a wee bit hungrier than you. Fish for another salmon, there’s plenty to share!
Bear Joke of the Day
Bear advice usually says for people to wear little bear bells to alert nearby bears that you are there and to also carry bear spray.
It is easy to identify the bear in the area by their bear droppings, or bear scat.
Black bear droppings are smaller and contain berries and small animal fur.
Bear Country Packing List
- YETI Roadie Cooler
- Bear Deterrent Spray
- Odor Proof Storage Bags
- Base Camp Odor-Barrier Bag
- Counter Assault Bear Resistant Food Keg
- Bear Bells
You might like this article: What You Need to Know About Solo Camping from Packing Lists to How to Stay Safe
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