Recreating outdoors

Group of people walking on a trail in a forest.

Recreating outdoors in Minnesota is one of summer’s great joys and it’s good for your mental and physical well-being. With just a few precautions and some awareness about bears, you can recreate safely in bear country. 

By paying attention where and when you are most likely to encounter bears and proactively make an effort not to startle them, you can peacefully share the outdoors with bears. Black bears are naturally cautious animals that avoid human contact for their safety, so the presence of a bear in the area is not a threat to your safety.

This video, from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, shows you easy steps to follow when recreating in areas with bears. (Although the habitat is different in Colorado than Minnesota, bear behavior is the same when you head into the great outdoors.) It’s best to be prepared to prevent any human-bear conflict.


In the woods

Some other tips to help safely recreate in Minnesota:

  • Pay attention to certain times or locations where you're more likely to encounter bears. Bears often use the same areas that we do. 
    • Watch for bears especially at dawn or dusk, as bears typically feed in the morning and evening.
    • Look ahead on trails and keep an eye open for signs of bear activity, such as scat (feces) or tracks and feeding sites. Keep the headphones at home and enjoy the sounds of nature.
    • In areas of dense vegetation or rushing water, periodically clap or give a quick shout to alert nearby bears to your presence.
    • Note that bears use berry patches in late summer (July and August). Pick berries with another person and have a conversation with them, or, if you are alone, play music on your phone's speakers. These sounds can alert the bear to your presence and reduce the chance that you will surprise the bear.
  • Keep your dogs leashed while recreating. Your domestic dog is no match for a bear. Dogs can trigger a defensive response from bears and cause them to chase dogs back to their owners. If you encounter a bear while with your dog, back away and leave the area. Do not try to separate your dog from an entanglement with a bear.
  • If you live or recreate in an area with frequent bear activity, carry bear spray and learn how to use it properly. It is effective.
  • If you encounter a bear, back away slowly and give the bear an escape route. Most often, it will flee before you have much time to react.
  • In the unlikely event that a bear makes contact with you, fight back. 
    • Do not play dead.
    • Do not run from a black bear. Running may prompt the bear to chase and no human can outrun a bear.
Clusters of wild blueberries in a blueberry patch.
Clusters of wild blueberries in a blueberry patch.
Bear scat (feces) in a blueberry patch.
Bear scat (feces) in a blueberry patch.
At a campsite

Seeing bears can be very enjoyable. However, having a bear in camp can lead to problems. Plan ahead and be prepared. Visit the website or contact the local wildlife agency or park headquarters of where you plan to camp for information about bear activity, hiking/camping procedures, and any precautions needed. Do your part in keeping your campsite clean and free of attractants; bold campground bears are created by people’s bad habits.

  • Do not feed bears or allow bears access to any human-related food sources.
  • Do not bring food or other scented toiletries (including lip balm) into your tent or camper. Using these toiletries (e.g., strawberry scented soap) can also attract bears, so it’s best to leave these at home.
    • Bears may show curiosity to citronella-scented repellents, but insect repellents with DEET or picaridin do not attract bears
    • Menstrual odors do not attract bears.
  • Keep a clean camp. Make sure food/trash (anything with an odor) is stored in bear-resistant canisters. Other storage options include:
    • Trunk of car
    • Food lockers (when available)
    • Electric fence (portable kits; where allowed)
    • Hang food out of reach away from camp (often difficult to do effectively because bears are great climbers)
  • Clean your cooking area well.
  • Cook away from the tent and don’t sleep in clothes you wore while cooking.
  • Do not bury food scraps; pack them out with your trash in a bear-proof canister or airtight bag.
  • Remove all garbage and fish remains from camp every evening.

If a bear comes into camp:

  • Don't feed it. Scare it away. Most bears can be chased away by loud noises, banging pans, yelling, or throwing rocks or pieces of firewood at them.
  • If a bear stands up, know that it is trying to get a better look or smell — it is not preparing to attack.
  • If the bear is particularly bold or persistent bear, use bear spray, aimed at its face, to get it to leave.
  • In the rare instance that a bear refuses to leave or becomes aggressive, leave the area.
Mother bear and two cubs at Yellowstone National Park in 1964 scavenging food left out at campsite.
Keeping food out at your campsite can invite bears in. Mother bear and two cubs at Yellowstone National Park in 1964.
Black bear standing.
A black bear standing is usually trying to see better what's going on; it is not preparing to attack.