Canoe Camping: Bear Safety

Knowing bear safety is an important part of canoe camping when you’re in bear territory. Here are some tips to keep in mind…

Canoe Camping: Bear Safety

Chances are if you’re canoeing and camping in Canada, Alaska or forested areas in the continental US, you’ll be in bear territory, even as far south as Florida. Major canoeing areas like the Boundary Waters and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail are definitely bear country.

As our friends at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say:

“The best way to avoid bear problems is to not attract them in the first place.”

Don’t Attract Bears

Not attracting bears includes things like:
- Don’t camp at a site with obvious fresh bear sign (scat, claw marks on trees, tracks).
- Never, never keep or even take food in your tent! This also includes scented personal hygiene items like toothpaste, soaps and lotions.
- While you’re away from camp or at night, hang your food in a tree 10 feet above the ground and at least 6 feet from the trunk. Or use bear-proof food storage containers. (Most coolers aren’t bear-proof storage containers!)
- Don’t clean fish at your campsite.
- Keep your campsite clean. Bears are attracted to things like dirty dish water, empty bottles and cans, grills and fire pits with food residue, garbage with food residue, even pet food.

Never Feed Bears

While feeding bears can be cute and fun, a human-fed bear becomes a bear that’s a constant nuisance—and even dangerous—for future campers. Bears are very intelligent. They’ll learn very quickly to associate people with food and easy pickings.

What to Do if a Bear Comes in Your Camp

What if a bear comes in your camp? This will partly depend on which kind of bear you’re encountering.

If it’s a black bear (which ranges in color from light brown to black), try shouting, waving your arms and banging loud objects together to try to scare it away. It’s rare that one will show aggression to people. But if you encounter the odd bear that won’t leave your camp alone, you may have to move.

If you’re canoe camping in grizzly country, have bear spray with you and know how to use it.

Thousands of people camp in bear territory every year without any problems. You can, too, when you keep these safety tips in mind.

Sources and for more information:
MN DNR article
Bear Safety Tips from Recreation.gov
Camping in Bear Country
Camping in Polar Bear Country

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Canoe Paddles for the Boundary Waters
BWCA Canoe Trip Success with a Toddler
6 Top Canoe Destinations in North America