Life in Grizzly Country: Hiking

Living here in grizzly country, having bear spray is a given. Understanding how to use it is something most everyone here knows. In this post, I want to share with you some tips and many links to help get you ready to visit the greater Yellowstone area and take some day hikes.

This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you follow a link and make a purchase, I receive a small  portion of that purchase at no extra cost to you. These purchases help keep this site under development.

Living here in grizzly country, having bear spray is a given. Understanding how to use it is something most everyone here knows. In this post, I want to share with you some tips and many links to help get you ready to visit the greater Yellowstone area.

This spring, a man headed out to do some antler shed hunting (we have a season for it) along the Chief Joseph Highway and was attacked by a Grizzly bear. He didn’t have time to pull out and deploy his bear spray, but it still saved him from further injury. The bear bit into the can. I can only imagine the surprise the bear had at that moment. It was enough to end the attack.

This area is remote with few people. I’ve driven tours through this gorgeous country, and when we stop, they realize there is no other noise except what comes from nature. And we’re in grizzly country. That unnerves people sometimes.

Hiking in grizzly country is a bit different than hiking in black bear country. But it’s still possible to stay safe with a bit of knowledge.

Hiking in Yellowstone

Hike in groups of 3 or more

Over the years, rangers have learned that grizzly bears are more likely to attack when someone is either hiking alone, or two people are hike together. The more people you have in your group, the less likely a bear will consider attacking.

If you happen to be on your own or there are just two of you, what are your options? Consider waiting until another group comes along and asking if you can join them. It’s a part of being sociable in Yellowstone. I do this and have had some thoroughly enjoyable hikes.

Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin

Carry bear spray

This point cannot be stressed enough. Bear spray can stop an attack – bluff charge or real attack – in a heartbeat. It works because it’s a concentrate of oleoresin of capsaicin – hot red pepper oil. When deployed, it puts out a cloud of the oil about 25 feet. If done well, the bear is already almost to you, and because it was aimed at the ground using a slight back and forth motion, the spray bounces back up just at the face level of the bear. As soon as the bear takes in a breath of this, it inflames the eyes, mouth, and lungs. At that moment, the bear will break off the attack.

When hiking, keep the bear spray readily accessible. With many attacks, you likely won’t have time to dig it out. Keep the safety latch on it until you have an encounter. At that point, you might consider taking the safety latch off and wait to see what the bear does. Detailed instructions from the Park Service tell precisely how to handle bear encounters. There are occasionally events that provide training using a charging bear attack simulator. But even if you don’t find one, watching a few videos online will let you see how fast bears can approach.

Bear spray is not used like bug spray. It’s not a repellent that will keep the bears away. Having a bear breathe it in stops an attack. Finding a tent slathered in it makes it a condiment. Do not spray yourself – or you’ll fully understand what the bear experiences.


Where do you get bear spray? Pretty much anywhere in the greater Yellowstone area. You’ll find it at grocery stores [link], gas stations, and many other stores both inside and outside Yellowstone. It’s also available through Amazon. Most cans cost about $50 and last for 3 years. $16-17 per year is not a bad price for safety. But do replace it. When it goes bad, instead of coming out as a cloud of protection for you, I understand that it sort of oozes out over your hand, which is not pleasant.

You can also rent bear spray at a kiosk in the Canyon Visitor Center parking lot. The cost is about $9 per day or $28 per week. If you’re flying in, this is an excellent solution as you cannot fly with bear spray. However, this year, the kiosk is closed due to COVID-19 concerns.

You’ll also want to be careful about how you store your canisters. Leaving them in a car where they get too hot may mean you’ll come back to a canister that has exploded. Not pleasant. There are, however, containers to safely store your bear spray in vehicles.

Make noise

You’ve probably heard that you need to make noise in grizzly country when you’re out. Some people tie bear bells on their packs and trust that this will do the trick. But test that. How close does someone have to be before you hear their sound? What about when the wind is blowing? While they  might help, don’t fully rely on them.

A better way is to talk loudly or sing. And if you’re seeing bear sign (scat or tracks) to yell, “Hey bear!” often.


Grizzly bear COY (cub of the year) tracks in the mud in the Crandall, WY area.

Be aware of your surroundings

Coming around a blind corner quietly can get you in trouble. A gal walking alone on the Fairy Falls trail learned that this year. She went around a corner to find a sow with a cub. She was lucky.

While enjoying the beauty of Yellowstone, you need to train yourself to your surroundings – ideally practicing these naturalist skills before you come. That includes assuming something dangerous could be around any corner. Also, pay attention to the wind direction – whether you’re upwind or downwind of an animal makes a huge difference. It’s a good naturalist skill to have. If you’re downwind, the animal may not even notice you – and with a bear, that gives you time to quietly back out and away. If you’re upwind, they will see you much more quickly.

Also, pay attention to the birds. In the book, What the Robin Knows, it talks about the bird plow. As you walk through the woods in a loud and distinct manner (a good thing in bear country), about 25-50 yards in front of you, the birds will give alarm calls and fly up and away. Other animals will pay attention and move away, as well. Moving quietly to be a part of the forest works well in many situations, but if you don’t want to catch a grizzly bear off guard, you can get the birds to help alert them to your presence by letting the bird plow pave the way.


muddy toe prints left by a grizzly bear in the water of the North Fork of the Shoshone just outside Yellowstone.

In Conclusion: Knowledge makes the difference

The more you understand how to be in grizzly country, the less scared you are of being in it. If you’re nervous, read up and watch videos about how to stay safe in grizzly country. The more you know, the more confident you’ll be. There’s a whole lot of Yellowstone to see beyond the roads. It’s worth learning how to be out there safely and without fear.

Day hike books:

A Ranger’s Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes
Day Hikes in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Trail and Backcountry Field Guide


SnowMoon Photography

Be Outside • Take Notes


This site contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I receive a small portion of that sale at no extra cost to you. Your purchases help to keep this site in development.




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