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Home » Guide to Bears in Grand Teton National Park

Guide to Bears in Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park, located in northwestern Wyoming, is a stunning natural landscape that attracts millions of visitors each year. The park is known for its majestic mountain range, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife. Among the many species that call the park home, bears play a particularly important role. These magnificent creatures are not only a symbol of the park’s wildness, but they also play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem.

When I was backpacking in Grand Teton in September 2023, I saw four bears. I had a close encounter with a fifth that helped me get over my lifelong fear of bears!

How many bears are in Grand Teton National Park?

Grizzly bear walking through a forest

Estimating the bear population in Grand Teton National Park is a challenging task. However, wildlife biologists have conducted extensive research to get a better understanding of the bear population in the area. According to recent estimates, there are approximately 700 bears in the greater Yellowstone-Teton area, which covers a vast portion of Montana and parts of Idaho. This number includes both black bears and grizzly bears.

Where to (safely) see bears in Grand Teton National Park

Yellow trees in fall at grand teton national park

If you’ve been to this website before, you know I am absolutely terrified of bears, which means I’d never want to see a bear on purpose, even from a long distance. But, if you’re less of a coward than me, these are the places you might want to check out in Grand Teton National Park:

  • Jenny Lake: A large area that contains many of the park’s most famous views, Jenny Lake is a perfect starting point. Access to tons of trails means you can get deep into the wilderness and increase your chances of seeing a bear in the wild. Try the Lake of the Crags trail for a tough, exhilarating hike that might take you close to a bear.
  • Willow Flats: An overlook area with stunning views of the Teton Range, Willow Flats is one of the National Park Service’s recommended areas for wildlife viewing. Easy to access by car, this is a great place to stop around sunrise or sunset.
  • Cascade Canyon: One of the most famous day hikes in the park is also a great way to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Starting from the Jenny Lake area, the 9 mile Cascade Canyon Trail will be one of the highlights of your trip, even if you’re not lucky enough to spot a bear there. I hiked the Cascade Canyon trail as part of a
  • Alaska Basin: I heard from a ranger, and a few other backpackers, that the Alaska Basin area was a big bear hotspot. It’s a little harder to get to, but if you’re up for a hike, this might be the most underrated place to see bears in the park!
  • National Elk Refuge: While not part of the park proper, the 24,000+ acre National Elk Refuge is one of the best places to spot wildlife in the greater Yellowstone area. The Refuge exists to protect the habitat and migration patterns of Elk, but it also serves as a home for all of the other wildlife in the region. Stop by the refuge, and bring your camera!

On a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park, I saw four bears, and was awoken in the night by a fifth. Here’s a gif version of a video my wife took of a Grizzly mother and cub:

Gif of a Grizzly bear mother and cub climbing a hill in Grand Teton National Park

Are bear canisters required in Grand Teton National Park?

To protect both bears and visitors, Grand Teton National Park has implemented regulations regarding the use of bear canisters. These regulations require all overnight visitors to store their food and other scented items in bear-resistant containers. This helps to prevent bears from becoming habituated to human food and reduces the risk of bear-human conflicts.

Using bear canisters is of utmost importance in the park. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and can be attracted to even the faintest scent of food. By properly storing food in bear canisters, visitors can ensure that bears are not tempted to approach campsites or picnic areas in search of a meal. This helps to keep both bears and humans safe.

Where do you get a bear canister? While you can buy one at a nearby outfitter (there is even an REI nearby), you can also rent one free of charge at any ranger station/permit location. When you go get your permit, you can check out a canister, easy as that! When I go into the backcountry, I always check to see if I can get a free bear canister – it’s the way to go.

Where can I get bear spray for my visit to Grand Teton National Park?

Bear spray is one of the most important pieces of gear for people backpacking in bear country. It’s the safest, most effective way to deter an aggressive bear and survive a close encounter. Unfortunately, bear spray isn’t handed out for free like canisters are. 

If you’re looking to get bear spray for your upcoming trip to Grand Teton, I’d recommend picking it up in a nearby town like Jackson. There are quite a few places that sell outdoor gear, as you’d expect, and every single one of them is bound to have some bear spray on hand. The best place to get bear spray for Grand Teton is at Teton Backcountry Rentals. They rent bear spray for $8/day, and they are super chill people who will answer all of your bear safety questions. That’s where I got my bear spray for a recent trip.

That said, you may be able to get the same bear spray at a lower price by getting it on Amazon. The only caveat here is that taking bear spray on a plane, even in your checked bag where it is technically permissible, isn’t the best idea. TSA agents might still open your checked bag and confiscate it. So, if you’re flying in, I think the best idea would be to buy it after you get there. If you’re driving, however, you can save a few bucks buying online before you leave. 

Are bear encounters common in Grand Teton National Park?

While bear encounters can occur in Grand Teton National Park, they are relatively rare. There have been less than 10 bear attacks reported in the park since 1994. This is in large part due to the efforts of park rangers to keep hikers and backpackers bear aware. Bear encounters are typically only dangerous when the humans involved don’t know what they are doing or are unprepared; being bear aware is the best defense against a potentially deadly encounter.

Bear Safety Tips for Visitors to Grand Teton National Park

To ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to Grand Teton National Park, it is important for visitors to follow bear safety guidelines. These tips will help you and others stay safe:

Bear Encounter Safety

  • Stay Calm: If you encounter a bear, remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Speak in a calm, assertive voice to let the bear know you’re human.
  • Back Away: Slowly and steadily back away from the bear. Do not turn your back on it, and maintain eye contact if possible.
  • Do Not Run: Running may trigger a chase response. Bears can run faster than you, and this could escalate the situation.
  • Do Not Approach: If you see a bear, give it plenty of space. Maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and 25 yards from other wildlife.

Food Safety:

  • Use Bear-Resistant Containers: Store all food, trash, and scented items in bear-resistant containers provided by the park or in your bear canister.
  • Cook and Eat Away from Camp: Cook and eat at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area and food storage area.
  • Pack Out Trash: Take all trash and leftover food with you when you leave. Leave no trace of your presence.
  • Avoid Odorous Items: Avoid carrying strongly scented items like perfumes, lotions, or heavily scented foods.
  • Clean Up Thoroughly: Clean all cooking utensils and surfaces after meals to eliminate odors.
  • Change Clothes After Cooking: Change into different clothes after cooking to minimize food smells clinging to you.

Hiking Safety:

  • Make Noise: When hiking, especially in dense vegetation or near streams, make noise to alert bears of your presence. Clap, talk, or use bear bells.
  • Travel in Groups: Hike with a group whenever possible. Bears are less likely to approach larger groups.
  • Avoid Dead Animals: Stay away from areas with animal carcasses, as bears may be feeding on them.
  • Stay on Trails: Stick to designated trails to minimize surprises for bears and avoid disturbing their habitats.
  • Know How to Use Bear Spray: Carry and know how to use bear spray. Keep it accessible and make sure it’s not expired.
  • Respect Bear Closures: Follow any trail or area closures due to bear activity. This is for your safety and the bear’s.

Wrapping up

The greater Yellowstone area (which includes the Tetons) is home to more than 700 bears, both brown and grizzly. If you want to see a bear in the wild, Grand Teton National Park is one of the best places to do it! While it’s important to be prepared and remain bear aware, dangerous bear encounters are not common, and you should be able to enjoy your trip without fear.

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