Here are the Top 5 Best Places to See Black Bears! They have long captivated our imagination, from the cuddly teddy bears of our childhood to the majestic creatures featured in wildlife documentaries. However, separating fact from fiction in bear folklore can be a challenge, with contrasting images ranging from friendly, animated characters to the awe-inspiring beasts on the covers of nature magazines.
To guide you on a journey into the realm of these fascinating animals, we’ve crafted an interactive map highlighting prime locations for observing black bears in their natural habitat.
Dive into our article to explore the true nature of bears, unmasking the myths and uncovering the realities of these magnificent creatures. Your adventure into the bear’s world starts here!
Black bears are generally solitary, unlike mothers and their cubs, like grizzlies. 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 are not territorial. They do not defend specific areas and may share their territory with other bears.
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 can 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. The bears often dig a hole in the ground or snow to create these dens. Alternatively, dens can be created in caves, tree holes, undergrowth or root masses.
What are the differences between brown bears and black bears?
While American black bears typically differ in size and hue from grizzly bears, distinguishing between them can occasionally be challenging. There are instances where black bears match or even surpass the size of grizzlies. Moreover, black bears sometimes display a coat color akin to the brown shade found in grizzlies.
Identifying each species can be more accurately done by examining their shoulder structure, the shape of their face, or the length of their claws. Grizzlies are characterized by a prominent hump located on their shoulders, a feature absent in black bears. The facial structure also varies, with grizzlies having a more dished nose compared to the flatter profile of the black bear.
Furthermore, the claws of a black bear are typically shorter than those of a grizzly bear, providing another distinguishing characteristic.
What color are black bears?
The American black bear, scientifically named Ursus americanus, is not defined by its coloration. This species boasts a wider range of fur colors than any other mammal native to North America.
In North America’s eastern regions, the majority of these bears are predominantly black, with around one-fourth displaying a white patch on their chest. Heading westward, the chances of encountering black bears with shades of brown, cinnamon, tan, or even blonde increase. In British Columbia, one might even spot the elusive Kermode bear, a unique white-furred variant of the black bear.
Tracking studies of these bears have revealed instances where their fur color varies seasonally. It’s also not uncommon for a single mother bear to have offspring with a variety of fur colors.
The reason behind this color diversity remains a subject of speculation among scientists. It is believed that the variation in fur color might be an evolutionary adaptation to their surroundings. Bears inhabiting dense, shadow-rich forests tend to have darker fur compared to those in open, sunlit areas, where a lighter fur coloration might offer better camouflage.
If you like reading about black bear, also try our article on Koalas bears.
What do black bears eat?
Black bears possess one of the most acute olfactory abilities among wild creatures, coupled with a strong sense of curiosity and a robust appetite. Their daily caloric intake varies seasonally, ranging from 4,000 to 20,000 calories. Attracted by even the slightest scent of potential food, including items like toothpaste or chewing gum, they are likely to investigate.
These bears are adaptable when it comes to their diet. They primarily consume vegetation, such as grasses and berries, and insects. However, their diet also includes fish, various mammals, and carrion. Black bears can quickly acquire a preference for human foods and refuse, which often leads to problematic behavior.
Bears that grow accustomed to finding food at campsites, cabins, or rural areas can pose a risk and are sometimes euthanized as a result. Hence, the critical admonition often heard: “Please do not feed the bears!” is not just a suggestion, but a vital rule for their safety and ours.
Does extinction threaten black bears?
The majority of American black bear populations are currently categorized as ‘least concerned’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, exhibiting stable or growing numbers. Despite this, their natural habitats have diminished because of human encroachment and hunting activities.
These bears have demonstrated remarkable adaptability, particularly in utilizing human-derived food sources and coping with the loss of their natural habitats. However, the impact of human interactions varies across different bear populations. The long-term effects of ongoing and future human disturbances on their habitats are still uncertain and continue to be a subject of concern for conservationists.
Are American black bears dangerous to humans?
Black bears are considered to be among the more benign species of bears, posing significantly less risk to humans compared to grizzly bears, with the likelihood of a dangerous encounter being substantially lower. They generally show less aggression in protecting their young than grizzlies, reducing the chances of an attack. Incidents resulting in fatalities from either black or grizzly bear encounters are rarer than those caused by lightning strikes 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 it 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, trying to outrun a bear is not a good idea.
The Best Places to See and Encounter Black Bears
#1 Yellowstone National Park, USA
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park holds the title of being the first and one of the most renowned national parks in the United States. It’s primarily situated in Wyoming’s northwest region (approximately 90 kilometers from Jackson Hole), stretching its boundaries into Idaho and Montana.
Covering almost 9,000 square kilometers, Yellowstone boasts pristine lakes, unique canyons, expansive meadows, and powerful waterfalls. Its geysers, however, are the park’s most celebrated feature.
Black bears in Yellowstone are predominantly active during dawn, dusk, and daylight hours. They are often spotted in clearings near or within forested zones.
The northern region of Yellowstone, particularly along the route from Elk Creek to Tower Falls and the area from Mammoth Hot Springs to Indian Creek, is where black bears are most frequently observed.
The best tour companies and tour guides to see black bears in Yellowstone National Park.
#2 Yosemite National Park, USA
Yosemite National Park, established in 1864, is more than a vast valley; it’s a testament to human foresight, the formidable force of granite and glaciers, and the resilience of life in the serene High Sierra.
Renowned primarily for its stunning waterfalls, Yosemite spans nearly 1,200 square miles, encompassing deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, an extensive wilderness area, and much more.
When it comes to observing large wildlife in Yosemite, black bears are the stars. As the Sierra Nevada’s largest mammal, adult male black bears typically weigh between 300 and 350 pounds, with the heaviest recorded bear in the park tipping the scales at an impressive 690 pounds. Contrary to their name, these bears exhibit a variety of fur colors, ranging from deep black and rich brown to lighter shades of cinnamon red and even golden blond. Notably, some black bears display a distinctive white patch of fur on their chest, known as a “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:
#3 Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
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
#4 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
The best place to see black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Park officials report that the population of black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reached approximately 1,600 and continues to grow. While spotting a black bear during your visit isn’t guaranteed, strategic planning can increase your chances of safely observing one of these fascinating animals.
Each year, countless tourists catch sight of black bears in the park, particularly on the Tennessee side. A highly recommended spot for bear sightings is Cades Cove, located not far from Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee.
Cades Cove is a favored habitat for black bears due to its ecological richness and the variety of available food. The area is abundant with wild berries like blueberries and blackberries, which are a staple in the bears’ diet.
Vegetation forms about 85% of a black bear’s diet, but they also consume fish, insects, and smaller animals. Cades Cove offers an ample supply of these dietary components.
Wondering when to visit for the best chance of seeing black bears in the Smoky Mountains? Black bears prefer moderate temperatures and are not fond of extreme cold or heat. While they don’t truly hibernate in the winter, they do tend to sleep more during the colder months, experiencing a state akin to partial hibernation.
Spring and summer offer the best opportunities to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains.
Black bears are typically active during the early hours of dawn and dusk when they venture out to forage. To avoid the midday summer heat, they often seek refuge in cool, shaded areas or take to the treetops for relaxation.
Renowned for their climbing skills, black bears are frequently spotted in trees by hikers embarking on early morning treks or during twilight hours.
In the Smoky Mountains, winter brings a series of brief cold spells rather than a prolonged chilly season. During milder intervals in winter, bears may briefly leave their dens to explore before settling back to slumber.
Spotting black bears during the winter months is rarer, but not out of the question. Hikers should exercise caution during winter treks and respect the bears’ privacy, especially avoiding any attempts to disturb their hibernation.
The three best places in the Smokey mountains
1. Upper Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
The Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter stands out as a premier location for bear sightings in the Smoky Mountains.
This independently financed wildlife park provides a special chance to observe local animals in a secure setting, presenting an ideal venue for bear sightings in Gatlinburg. Visitors can also delve into various other displays, such as the raptor exhibit, the nocturnal creature zone, and the aquatic viewing section dedicated to observing river otters.
2. Cades Bay
Cades Cove, nestled within the Smoky Mountains National Park, is another fantastic spot for observing bears! This region, known for its excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, is characterized by a broad valley encircled by mountains. It’s a prime location for spotting black bears frequently seen roaming the expansive 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.
#5 Tongass National Forest, Alaska
The Tongass National Forest boasts the world’s highest concentration of black bears and ranks among the top for brown bear populations.
To encourage responsible and safe wildlife viewing, Tongass National Forest has identified a few key sites for bear observation: Anan Creek, Margaret Creek, and Pack Creek. These areas attract bears, especially during the spawning season of fish in the creeks. Viewing amenities have been established in these locations to enhance the bear-watching experience, focusing on the well-being of both the wildlife and the visitors, and minimizing impact on the environment.
In addition to observing black and brown bears, visitors to these areas can also enjoy sightings of salmon and bald eagles and a variety of other species thriving in their undisturbed surroundings.
The best tour companies and guides to see black bears in Alaska
Summary on Top 5 Best Places to See Black Bears
If you want to read more about the black bears’ bigger “brother”, have a look at our Brown Bears article. We hope you enjoyed reading about black bears.