National Parks Tips

Are there bears in Yosemite?

two black bear cubs in a grass field
As an avid hiker, I’ve visited Yosemite National Park multiple times over the years and have yet to encounter a bear in Yosemite. Yosemite National Park is home to majestic mountains, grand waterfalls, and a variety of wild life, and the California flag has a bear on it so it is natural to wonder are there bears in Yosemite. Although I myself have never seen a bear in Yosemite, there are bears in Yosemite National Park and they are free to roam the park. There are multiple instances each year where park visitors encounter bears in the developed areas of Yosemite Valley or even in the undeveloped areas on in the back country.

While there are bears in Yosemite National Park, there are many strategies to avoid the bears and statistically its likely you won’t run into one during your trip. Bears are a natural part of the Yosemite habitat, but if you do encounter one or want strategies to avoid ever having an encounter, there are a number of things you can do.

Are there grizzly bears in Yosemite?

grizzly bear in a field
A common belief is that Yosemite National Park has grizzly bears due to the grizzly bear appearing on the California flag. Despite Yosemite National Park being a natural and mostly undeveloped area, there are no grizzly bears in Yosemite and there hasn’t been since the 1920’s.

Grizzly bears are much more dangerous than the black bear that is commonly reported in Yosemite, but they no longer exist in California. When settlers were making there way into Yosemite the grizzly bear posed a threat to development and safety, so the grizzly bears were wiped out.The last recorded grizzly bear was in the early 1920’s.

The major difference between grizzly bears and black bears is that the grizzly bear has a pronounced hump on their back, a flatter snout, smaller ears, and much larger claws. If you are looking to visit a national park with grizzly bears, consider visiting Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Katmai National Park, or Denali National Park.

The type of bears that are commonly seen and still habitat Yosemite National Park are American black bears. These bears are smaller, have no hump, and their snout is more pronounced.

How common are bears in Yosemite?
bear in a grass field

You likely have seen videos or photos of bears in Yosemite over the years either on social media or on the news, but just how common are bears in Yosemite? Seeing this photos or videos might make you believe there is a bear around every corner of Yosemite, however the actual reporting statistics can tell the truth!

Yosemite typically sees more than 4 million visitors per year to the park, yet the number of bear sightings is very surprising. In 2019, there were only 22 bear incidents reported. This means that bears are very uncommon in Yosemite.

The bear population in Yosemite is estimated to be between 300 to 500 bears. Although this seems like a large amount of bears if you zoom out and see Yosemite National Park area is over 761,26, that is over 700,000 football fields! In the end of 2020, the total number of reported bear incidents is just 36. If you want to avoid bears there are a few things you can do to decrease your chances of encountering a bear.

How do you avoid bears in Yosemite?
warning sign alerting people about bears

If you’re worried about seeing bears the most important thing to know is what attracts them to humans in the first place. Bears are large animals and need about 20,000 calories a day before hibernation, so they are constantly on the hunt for food. Park management reports that bears will break into cars, campsites, campers, or even open trunks to get human food. To avoid bears don’t leave food out, use bear lockers to properly store your food, if you are camping use bear canisters, and drive slowly.

There are bear food lockers scattered throughout Yosemite to help visitors properly store their food, When you leave your car be sure to double check in the car and trunk that you don’t have food or any scented items that may potentially attract bears. These bear food lockers are free to use and easy for humans to open but very difficult for bears. When you are driving be mindful of the speed limit and watch out for bears. Many bears are struck by speeding cars, some are badly injured or even die. While there are no guarantees to not see a bear, if you follow the suggestions on food storage and driving slowly, you will likely decrease the odds of a bear encounter.

Do you need bear spray in Yosemite?

Bear Spray helps hikers scare away bears while you’re out on the trails and is one of the first things that came to my mind for safety reasons before visiting Yosemite. Bear spray is non lethal and non toxic for bears and helps repel bears from hikers.

You do not need bear spray in Yosemite as it is not allowed in the park. Park Rangers have GPS collars on the bears and track the bears and use redirection to try to guide bears away from the main areas of the park.

What should I do when I see a bear in Yosemite?

If you encounter a bear, the National Park Service suggests that you remain calm and depending on the type of area you are in you should behave differently. if you see a bear in Yosemite in a developed area, stand your ground and make a lot of noise to try to scare the bear away. If you are in an undeveloped area of the park then maintain a distance of 50 yards .

Encountering a bear can be a very stressful time. I have encountered black bears from a distance in another national park, however I kept my distance between the bears and was able to safely finish my hike. If you see a bear do not attempt to get close to take photos or pet the bear as they are wild animals and can be incredibly dangerous.

person standing on ledge facing mountains

Yosemite National Park is filled with beautiful natural formations and a variety of wild life which includes black bears. The population of bears is small relative to the amount of land available in Yosemite National Park, so the odds of a bear encounter are very slim and uncommon. If you are mindful of your driving and food storage then you will likely decrease the odds of a bear encounter. If you do run into a bear, stand your ground and make noise in developed areas, but if you are in the back country in an undeveloped area maintain your distance. Bears are beautiful creatures and are just a natural part of the Yosemite landscape, if you follow the National Park Service advise and follow the rules on the signs throughout the park, you’ll be able to safely enjoy your trip in Yosemite National Park.