Recreating safely outdoors in bear country

Black bear looking up from a meadow.

Minnesota's black bears


Seeing bears can be very enjoyable, and when you are in black bear country, there's a good chance you'll see bears even if you never go into the woods. Most people associate black bears with Minnesota's forested north woods, but they can live anywhere in the state. Minnesota's black bears are seldom aggressive and rarely injure people - they are naturally cautious animals that usually try to avoid human contact. The presence of a bear in the area is not a threat to your safety, but having a bear in camp can lead to problems. Do your part to keep your campsite clean! Bold campground bears are created by people's bad habits.

The Minnesota DNR has partnered with BearWise® to help educate people about bears, how to avoid unwanted encounters and what to do if you encounter a bear in the wild. The BearWise program was developed by black bear biologists to share ways to prevent conflicts, provide resources to resolve problems and encourage community initiatives to keep bears wild.

BearWise tips:

Hiker icon.

Stay alert and stay together.

  • You are more likely to encounter bears when moving quietly and traveling early and late in the day, when bears are most active. If you travel quickly or quietly, you can easily surprise bears. Pay attention to your surroundings and stay together. Walk, hike, jog or cycle with others when possible.
  • Keep kids within sight and close by.
  • Stay alert. Music and phones are distracting, so leave earbuds at home.
  • Make noise periodically so bears can avoid you - try clapping, or a quick shout.
Apple core icon.

Leave no trash or food scraps.

  • Double-bag your food when hiking, and pack out all food and trash.
  • Don't burn food scraps or trash in your fire ring or grill. Leaving wrappers or scraps - even "harmless" items like apple cores - teaches bears to associate trails and campsites with food.
  • If you have caught fish, be sure to clean them away from your campsite. If a fish cleaning house is available, use it. Piles of fish guts and bait may attract bears.
  • Bears may show curiosity to citronella-scented repellents, but insect repellents with DEET or picaridin do not attract bears. Go ahead and protect yourself from the bugs.
Leashed dog walking icon.

ALWAYS keep dogs leashed.

  • Dogs and bears don't mix. Letting dogs chase, lunge or bark at bears is asking for trouble - don't force a bear to defend itself. Your domestic dog is no match for a bear.
  • Keep your dogs leashed at all times or leave them at home. (This will help keep your dog safe, but also helps you avoid a citation - remember that state park rules require all dogs to be leashed at all times!)
No meals in tents icon.

Camp safely.

  • Bears have an exceptional sense of smell. Keep a clean campsite, and cook downwind and as far from your tent as possible.
  • Do not store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking, or toiletries in your tent or camping hammock. Store in approved bear-resistant containers, or out of sight in a locked vehicle, or suspended at least ten feet above the ground and ten feet from any part of the tree. Local regulations vary. Some bears will break into vehicles to get into coolers, so if you are using your car for storage, be sure your items are not visible and the windows are completely closed and the vehicle is locked.
  • Many state parks and recreation areas provide a bear-proof trash container somewhere in the campground. Make it a habit to dispose your trash there after each meal, and clean your dishes right away.
  • If you are camping in a state forest campground or in the backcountry, set up your camp away from dense cover and natural food sources.
Alarmed person icon.

Know what to do if you see a black bear.

  • If you see a bear before it notices you, don't approach or corner it. Give the bear an escape route. Stand still, enjoy, then quietly move away. If you see a bear standing up, know that it is most likely trying to get a better look or smell, it is not preparing to attack.
  • If a bear sees you, back away slowly. Never run. Running may trigger a chase response, and bears can run and climb faster than people.
  • If a bear approaches, hold your ground, wave your arms and yell "Hey Bear" until it leaves. Try to scare it away by making lots of noise, yelling or banging pots and pans together from a safe distance. Always stay with your group. If the bear keeps approaching, use bear spray.
  • If a black bear makes contact with you, do NOT play dead; fight back aggressively.
Person with bear spray icon.

Carry bear spray and know how to use it.

  • Bear spray is proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you.
  • Bear spray doesn't work like bug repellent, so never spray your tent, campsite or belongings.
  • Learn more about bear spray at
Picnic table icon.

Don't feed the bears.

  • Feeding bears or using food to encourage bears to approach you is dangerous. Don't leave food, trash or pet food outdoors when no one is around. A few seconds is all it takes for a hungry bear to swipe it. 
  • Don't throw scraps or leftovers out the car window or into the woods behind your campsite or cabin.
  • If the trash container or dumpster is full, don't pile trash outside - take it with you when you leave.
Binoculars icon.

Bear viewing guidelines.

  • If you want to see bears, early morning and early evening are good times for viewing and photography.
  • Never approach bears or entice them to approach you!
  • Enjoy bears from a safe distance away. Stay at least 50 yards or ten car lengths away.
  • If you observing bears from inside a vehicle, stay in it. Even bears that seem comfortable around people are still wild animals.
  • Don't block the road to view bears. If permitted, pull over and take photos form the safety of your vehicle.
Car icon.

Driving in bear country.

  • Stay alert! Stick to the speed limit and scan the roadsides. If a bear crosses the road, watch for cubs before you drive on. Be aware that wildlife collisions are not always covered by insurance, so for your sake and the bear's, drive with caution.
  • Be especially alert at dawn and dusk when bears are most active. Black bears are fast, and can be hard to see.
  • If you hit a bear, don't try to help it. Call 911 or report to authorities as soon as you can.

Downloadable PDFs

Downloadable fact sheets, checklists and more from BearWise. Visit the BearWise tools and resources page for even more.

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