Bear Safety in the North Carolina Mountains

Bear Safety in the North Carolina Mountains

With so many remote areas in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests to explore, the U.S. Forest Service reminds visitors to practice simple steps to avoid black bear encounters. Bear sightings are rare. And attacks by black bears are extremely rare. We've hiked hundreds of miles in the North Carolina mountains and have only seen a bear a few times - always running from us! Typically a bear is more afraid of humans. If you ever see bear cubs, get out of the area immediately. Mama bears are very protective.

The average weight of a black bear is 300 pounds. Despite their size, black bears are very agile tree climbers. During times of danger or threat, bear cubs will take shelter in trees. Bears are opportunists by nature. In the wild, they will feed on whatever is readily available.

Food odors and improperly stored garbage often attract bears to campgrounds and picnic sites. Although they are naturally afraid of humans, the animals lose this fear as they begin to associate human scents with the reward of food. Protect yourself and protect the black bears by storing trash and food in safe locations. For instance, each backcountry campsite and shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a cable and pulley system which allows backpackers to easily hoist their food and packs out of the reach of black bears, providing a safer environment for hikers and animals alike.

Black Bear

Asheville Bear Study: The North Carolina Urban/Suburban Black Bear Study is a joint project of NC State University and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Based in the city of Asheville, they examine black bear movements via GPS collars to study activity patterns and food behavior. We spotted the above collared bear eating berries high in a tree on Town Mountain in 2017.

Here are some bear safety tips:

  • Avoid camping and hiking alone in the backcountry.
  • If camping in national forest or parks, check with the ranger's office for any bear advisories.
  • For 2017, there is an Emergency Food Storage order for the Avery Creek area of Pisgah National Forest. All food and food-related items must be stored in a hard-sided bear-resistant canister, or in the trunk of a vehicle, except when preparing and consuming food.
  • Items that are not considered bear resistant include ice chests, coolers, boxes, cans, tents, soft-sided campers and passenger areas of vehicles.
  • Make noise to avoid surprising a bear.
  • Never approach a bear or other wild animal.
  • Do not hike in the dark.
  • Carry EPA registered bear pepper spray.
  • Keep a clean campsite by properly disposing of food scraps and garbage. Use bear-proof canisters for food storage.
  • Do not leave food or garbage inside fire rings, grills or around your site.
  • Never leave food or coolers unattended, even in developed picnic areas.
  • If bear-proof containers are not available, store food and garbage inside a hard-top vehicle or trailer.
  • Never store food inside of a tent.
  • Wipe tabletops clean before vacating a camp or picnic site.
  • If a bear is observed nearby, pack up your food and trash immediately and vacate the area ASAP.
  • If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, by banging pans together, or throwing rocks and sticks at it.
  • If a bear approaches, move away slowly; do not run. Get into a vehicle or a secure building.
  • Never run away from a bear—back away slowly and make lots of noise.
  • If you are attacked by a black bear, try to fight back using any object available. Act aggressively and intimidate the bear by yelling and waving your arms. Playing dead is not appropriate.

See black bears and learn more about them at the WNC Nature Center.

Linville Gorge Bear
A big papa bear we saw while driving in Pisgah National Forest in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. 

For more info, see our Waterfalls and Hiking Safety Tips

Papa Bear in Linville Gorge

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