Where Can You See and Encounter Black Bears

See Black bears: Perhaps no other animal has captured the human imagination like the bear.  References to bears can be found in ancient and modern literature, in folk songs, legends, mythology, children’s stories and cartoons.

Bears are among the first animals that children learn to recognize.  Bear folklore is confusing because it is based on cartoons, with teddy bears and the friendly Smokey on one side and wild magazine cover drawings on the other.  

The dominant themes of our stories are the fear of the unknown and man against nature, and bears are traditionally portrayed as the villains who support these themes and demonize them unfairly to the public.  A problem for black bears is that literature on bears often does not distinguish between black bears and grizzly bears.

During the Corona crisis, many animals emerged during lockdown, also bears have been seen in many areas.

To get an overview where you can observe black bears, we have created a map here. 

Choose one of the following headings to jump to your favorite part or read the whole article!

What is the social behavior of black bears?

Where do black bears live?

What are the differences between brown bears and black bear?

What color are black bears?

What do black bears eat?

Are black bears dangerous for humans?

The Best Places to See and Encounter Black Bears

What is the social behavior of black bears?

Apart from mothers and their cubs, like grizzlies, black bears are generally solitary. However, they can be kept in groups if there is a lot of food in an area, such as a berry patch on a farm field. Where food is less abundant, black bears can defend a resource, but they are not territorial. They do not defend specific areas and may share their territory with other bears.

Schwarzbär klettert auf einen Baum

Where do Black Bears live?

The American black bear can be found throughout North America from Canada to Mexico in at least 40 states of the USA. Due to the loss of its habitat and hunting, its range has been reduced to about 75% of its historical distribution. Their primary habitat is temperate and boreal forests, but they can also be found in subtropical areas of Florida and Mexico. They are able to live under very different conditions, ranging from the arid deserts of Mexico to the subarctic tundra.

American black bears build caves where they can hibernate and give birth. To create these dens, the bears often dig a hole in the ground or snow. Alternatively, dens can be created in caves, tree holes, undergrowth or root masses.

What are the differences between brown bears and black bear?

Although American black bears are generally smaller and of a different color than grizzly bears, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference. Some black bears can be the same size or larger than a grizzly bear. In addition, black bears may in some cases have a similar brown color to grizzlies.

A better way to distinguish between the two might be to look at shoulder size, facial profile or claw length. Grizzly bears have a pronounced hump between the shoulders, which is missing in black bears. The grizzly bear’s nose is also more concave than that of the black bear, which is more flattened. Finally, the claws of the black bear are noticeably shorter than those of the grizzly bear.

What color are black bears?

The black bear is a species, Ursus americanus, not a color. Black bears come in more colors than any other North American mammal.

In the eastern third of North America, most black bears have a deep black color, and about a quarter of them have a white chest. The further west you go, the more likely you are to see brown, cinnamon, tan or blonde black bears. And in British Columbia, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the rare Kermode bear, a subspecies of the black bear with all-white fur. Researchers who track black bears have even documented cases of bears changing color throughout the year. And it is not unusual for a mother bear to give birth to cubs with several different colors.

No one knows for sure why black bears come in so many different colours, but scientists suspect that the colors allow bears to adapt to their habitat; bears in densely forested areas, which are dark and shady, are often darker in color than bears in open, sun-drenched landscapes, where a lighter coat helps them integrate better.

If you like reading about black bear, also try our article on Koalas bears.

What do black bears eat?

Black bears have one of the best senses of smell of all wild animals, a keen sense of curiosity and a great appetite. Depending on the season, they eat between 4,000 and 20,000 calories per day. If they smell something that could be edible – even if it’s a tube of toothpaste or a piece of chewing gum – they will probably want to investigate. 

black bear aggressive

Black bears are very opportunistic eaters. Most of their food consists of grasses, roots, berries and insects. They also eat fish and mammals – including carrion – and easily develop a taste for human food and garbage.

Bears that get used to human food at campsites, in huts or in the countryside can be dangerous and are often killed – so the frequent warning: Please do not feed the bears!

Are black bears threatened by extinction?

Most populations of the American black bear, which are classified as least threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, are stable or increasing. Their range has declined due to habitat destruction and human hunting.

However, they have proven to be very resilient due to their ability to adapt to the use of human food resources and to withstand habitat loss. Nevertheless, some populations are more threatened by human activity than others and it remains to be seen how they will cope with future human interventions in their habitat.

Are American black bears dangerous to humans?

Black bears are among the less dangerous bears, with an encounter about 21 times less risky than with a grizzly bear. Black bears tend to be less defensive towards cubs than grizzly bears, so attacks are less likely. Deaths from encounters with black or grizzly bears are even less likely than those caused by lightning or bee stings.

How should you behave around bears?

If you live in an area with black bears, attacks can be avoided by following some guidelines.

If you see a bear from a distance, respect its space and do not approach it.

Know how to identify bear tracks, digs and droppings and avoid areas with these signs.

Avoid walking in the dark, as bears are most likely to be active then.

Do not leave food outside the house and store in bear resistant containers when camping

If you encounter a bear at close range, try to retreat slowly while talking without making direct eye contact. By speaking calmly, you can also signal that you are a human and not prey. Never turn your back on a bear. 

If this does not succeed, play dead by rolling up into a ball and covering your head and neck with your hands. Given their speed, it’s not a good idea to try to outrun a bear.

The Best Places to See and Encounter Black Bears

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Founded in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and perhaps most famous national park in the USA. It is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming (about 90 kilometers north of Jackson Hole) and extends across state borders to Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone encompasses nearly 9,000 square kilometers of crystalline lakes, distinctive gorges, vast grasslands and thunderous waterfalls. However, the park is most famous for its geysers.

Black bears are mainly active during twilight and daytime (daylight). Keep an eye out for black bears in small openings within or near wooded areas.

Black bears are most commonly seen in the northern part of the park along the road corridor from Elk Creek to Tower Falls and from Mammoth Hot Springs in the north to Indian Creek.

The best tour companies and tour guides to see black bears in Yellowstone National Park.

Alpen Glow Tours 

Yellowstone Nationalpark Lodges 

Revealed in Nature

Mountain Mikes Tours

Yosemite National Park, USA

Not just a large valley, but a shrine to human vision, the power of granite, the power of the glaciers, the endurance of life and the tranquility of the High Sierra.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but its nearly 1,200 square miles of deep valleys, magnificent meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more.

If you’re looking for megafauna in Yosemite National Park, it’s the black bears you should look out for. The largest mammal in the Sierra Nevada mountains, an adult male black bear usually weighs between 300 and 350 pounds, although the largest bear ever captured in the park weighed a whopping 690 pounds! Despite their name, black bears have fur that ranges in color from coal black and nut brown to light brown, cinnamon red, or even golden blond. If you spot a white patch of fur on their chest, it’s called blaze.

The best guides that we have experienced to explore wildlife from black bears to birds is YExplore. If you are interested in any adventure within Yosemite National Park, we recommend to check them here:

YExplore

Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Kanada

We’re spoiled. Those of us who grew up in the rich wilderness of Vancouver Island see black bears constantly in their natural habitat. From the shores of Clayoquot Sound to the snow-capped mountains of the Vancouver Island Ranges, these bears – referred to by the scientific community as Ursus Americanus Vancouveri – roam the entire length of Canada’s West Coast Wilderness Wonderland. Vancouver Island is home to one of the densest bear populations, estimated at up to 12,000 bears. 

Best time: From April until October 

The best tour companies and guides to see black bears in Vancouver Island

Ocean Outfitters  

Tofino Whale Centre 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA

The best place to see black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

smoky mountains view

According to park rangers, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now home to 1,600 black bears, and the number is rising. That’s a lot of bears! However, there is no guarantee that you will see black bears during your visit.

However, with careful planning, you may be able to spot one of these amazing creatures from a safe distance.

Every year thousands of vacationers see black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, mostly on the Tennessee side.

According to numerous sources, the best place to see black bears is in Cades Cove, a few miles from Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee.

Black bears love Cades Cove because of its ecosystem and the abundance and diversity of its food sources. Wild berries such as blueberries, blackberries and bilberries grow throughout the valley and are easily harvested by the bears.

Eighty-five percent of a black bear’s diet consists of vegetation. They also eat fish, bugs, insects, bees, hornets and many other small animals. Cades Cove is a virtual treasure trove of these resources.

When is the best time to see black bears in the smokey mountains?

Black bears are similar to most humans in two respects: they do not like extremely cold or extremely hot weather. Contrary to popular belief, bears in the Smoky Mountains do not hibernate in winter, although they sleep longer than in summer. Technically speaking, this is half hibernation.

Spring and summer offer the best opportunities to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains.

They are more likely to be seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon, as they are then out foraging. Black bears avoid activity during the heat of summer days and prefer to lounge in the shade or rest in a tree high up in the sky.

Bears are great climbers and often hang around in trees. Hikers regularly see black bears on early morning walks or before sunset in the evening.

The winter in the Smokies is not one long cold period, but many short cold spells. During the winter warm periods, the bears wake up and wander around a little before returning to their dens to sleep again.

Although it is less likely to see black bears in winter, it is not impossible. Be careful when hiking in winter and do not look for sleeping bears!

The three best places in the Smokey mountains

1. Upper Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter

One of the best places to see bears in the Smoky Mountains is the Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter.

This privately funded zoo offers a unique opportunity to see native wildlife up close in a safe environment, making it a great place to see a bear in Gatlinburg. Other exhibits you can explore include the birds of prey, the night house and the underwater observation area for river otters.

2. Cades Bay

Another great place to see bears in the Smoky Mountains is in the Cades Cove section of the National Park! This area is usually perfect for wildlife watching! This is because it is a wide valley surrounded by mountains, and black bears are often spotted in the open valley.

3. Bear habitat im Three Bears General Store

Although a retail store may be the last place you’d expect to find bears, that’s exactly what you’ll find when you visit the bear habitat at Three Bears General Store in Pigeon Forge! This 5,000 square foot habitat has a pond and waterfall, and each bear has its own individual den, which is warm in winter and cool in summer. You can watch the bears from two different levels and you can even buy a cup of bear food to feed them! The bears were rescued from a nearby hunting farm and have been cared for by the Three Bears General Store team for more than 25 years.

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

The Tongass National Forest has the highest density of black bears in the world and one of the highest densities of brown bears.

To provide visitors with a safe place to view and photograph these iconic creatures in their natural habitat, Tongass National Forest has five designated bear observation areas: Anan Creek, Dog Salmon Creek, Fish Creek, Margaret Creek and Pack Creek. These are places where bears gather naturally when fish are in the creeks, and facilities have been built to make bear watching easier and safer, with as little disturbance to the animals as possible. In addition to black and brown bears, the bear observation areas also offer the opportunity to observe salmon, bald eagles, sea lions and other wildlife.

The best tour companies and guides to see black bears in Alaska

  1. Alaska Vistas
  2. Carlin Air
  3. Family Air Tours
  4. Sundum Charters

If you want to read more about the black bears’ bigger “brother”, have a look at our Brown Bears article.


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