Since entering California, nearly every campsite we’ve visited has warned against bears. There are an estimated 25,000-30,000 black bears in California, so there’s sufficient reason for caution. There are bear safes in most campsites and frequent advisories on park bulletin boards, in US National Forest brochures and pamphlets. Even the California flag has a bear as its emblem … albeit a grizzly and according to California’s Department of Fish and Game, only black bears live in California.
We are very much aware of the precautions necessary at our campsite. Keep the campsite clean which includes cleaning the BBQ grill after use. Don’t leave food or fragrant items like cosmetics or perfumes laying about (as if I use them while camping!). Dispose of all trash and food scraps in designated bear-proof bins or lock it up in your camp bear safe until it can be properly disposed of.
Brochures advise that you shouldn’t sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking. Don’t camp in an area with obvious evidence of bear tracks or bear scat (Duh!). Don’t feed bears (double duh!). Don’t sleep with candy bars in your pockets (just kidding).
The best advice, however, is what to do to avoid bears or if a bear approaches or attacks.
Make noise while hiking to avoid surprising a bear (or vice versa), e.g. sing (my favorite activity) or wear bells (second favorite activity).
Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub (hmmm … this one never occurred to us)
If you encounter a bear, don’t run, jump in a nearby lake or climb a tree. Bears can sprint up to 35 mph, are fast and efficient tree climbers and swim well.
Instead, hold your ground, appear ‘large’ by raising your arms above your head and shouting loudly, then slowly backing away always leaving an escape route for the bear. One brochure suggested shouting “Bad bear! Bad bear!” Not sure the words matter much.
If attacked, fight back … and call 911 – assuming you have cell coverage.
So, have we seen a bear? Yes, several … but not in California. The one pictured above was photographed in 2012 in Yellowstone National Park and we also saw a sow and cub in Shenandoah National Park a few years back. There’s still time for a sighting though … we have another few weeks in California and the national forests.