A bear foraging for natural foods at Crane Flat. Photo by Jeffrey Trust.
I spent years traipsing around the Sierra before I saw my first bear so don’t be surprised if you don’t see one when you come to Yosemite. Most bears in the Sierra naturally avoid people but some bears have become accustomed to human food and aren’t afraid to come right into your campsite to get it.
If you do see a bear in Yosemite there are several things you should do.
Let a ranger know. Let a ranger know immediately so that they may track the bear and make sure it stays safe and out of trouble. Call the bear line at (209) 372-0322 and leave a message. A ranger will respond quickly.
Developed areas. If you are in a developed area (e.g., campground, parking lot, lodging area) or if a bear approaches you, try to scare it away by making as much noise as possible. Yelling very loudly (don’t worry about waking people up if it’s nighttime) and banging on pots and pans usually works well. If you are with other people, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the bear.
The intent is not to harm the bear, but to scare it from the area and restore its natural fear of people.
On the trail. If you see a bear on a trail, keep your distance (at least 50 yards). Getting too close could help cause the bear to become accustomed to people. Bears that become comfortable around people lose their natural fear of us and sometimes have to be killed if they become aggressive.
Don’t block the road. One of the biggest problems in Yosemite are “bear jams”, groups of people stopping their cars to look at a bear alongside the road, sometimes blocking the road. Bears are great beautiful in their natural environment and make for a great story to tell your friends and family when you get home. However, getting rear-ended or rear-ending another car whose owner stopped in the middle of the road doesn’t.
If you come across a bear jam, slow to make sure the bear isn’t near the roadway or may enter the roadway then proceed to a safe spot to pull over to view the bear. NEVER park in the middle of the road.
Bears you see alongside the road should be treated just like bears along a trail. Never approach them so that they don’t become accustomed to humans.