Camp in Bear Country

Two photos: one showing food stored in a bear box, the other showing food being hung from a food pole.
Proper food storage is critical to protecting both people and bears. When not in use, food should be stored in vehicles, in bear-proof food storage boxes (left) provided at many campsites, or hung from a pole (right).

NPS/Neal Herbert


Bears have made a remarkable recovery in Yellowstone: play a role in their continued protection by keeping your food away from them.

Bears are smart and learn new food sources quickly. Allowing bears to obtain human food even once often leads to them becoming aggressive toward people when they come back looking for more. Aggressive bears threaten human safety and eventually must be removed from the park or killed.

Keep a Clean Camp

Store all food, garbage, or smelly items so that bears cannot access them. Ravens sometimes open containers or bags and scatter the contents. The following items should be properly stored when not in use (even if clean and empty):

  • Water and beverage containers
  • Cooking or eating utensils
  • Stoves and grills
  • Coolers and ice chests
  • Garbage—bagged or not
  • Food and condiments (even if in containers)
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Pet food and bowls
  • Pails, buckets, and wash basins

Store these items in vehicles or the bear-proof storage lockers available at many campsites. Do not store these items in tents or truck beds, or leave them unattended on picnic tables. After every meal, pick up food scraps or garbage that fell to the ground.

If a bear enters your camp, grab your stuff, especially food, and move to the safety of a car or building. Do not run. Food can also be safety stored in bear boxes. Read more about reacting to a bear encounter.

In the Backcountry

  • Be alert for bears both on the trail and in camp. Make noise and keep bear spray with you at all times (we recommend one can per person). Read more about best practices for hiking in bear country.
  • Never camp in an area that has obvious evidence of bear activity such as digging, tracks, or scat.
  • Avoid bringing smelly foods into the backcountry.
  • When not in use, secure all food and other smelly items by hanging them from the food poles provided at backcountry campsites (you’ll need at least 35 feet of rope for this). Everything should hang 10 feet above ground and 4 feet away from tree trunks. Food storage lockers are provided at some backcountry campsites.
  • Certain portable bear resistant food containers (BRFCs) may be used for food storage in lieu of hanging. BRFCs can be hung or left on the ground underneath the food pole or in the cooking area. Make sure all food and odorous items will fit into a container before starting your trip.
  • Do not leave backpacks or bags containing food unattended, even for a few minutes.
  • If you see a bear approaching your camp, make sure your food is secure and make noise to discourage it from entering your camp.
  • If a bear enters your camp, grab packs and food that isn’t hung, then slowly back away. Do not let a bear gain access to your food. Read more about reacting to a bear encounter.
  • Strain food particles from dishwater and pack out with your garbage. Scatter dishwater at least 100 yards from tent site.
  • Remove any food scraps and garbage from fire pits.
  • Sleep at least 100 yards (91 meters), preferably upwind, from the “core camp” area where you cook, eat, and hang your food.
  • Keep your sleeping gear clean and free of food odors. Don’t cook in your tent, and don't sleep in clothes worn while cooking and eating.
  • Bears & menstrual odors: data from Yellowstone does not indicate any correlation between bear attacks and menstruation.

In addition to food and garbage, some common backcountry items that you’re required to hang include beverage cans (empty or full), coolers, lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray, and lotions, toothpaste, food panniers, horse feed, some medications, clothes worn while cooking, and eating utensils that haven’t been properly cleaned. Keep all food and smelly items out of sleeping bags, tents, and their stuff sacks.

Photo of a grizzly bear in a green meadow
Bear Safety

Best practices for traveling safely in bear country.

Photo of hikers with bear spay
Hike in Bear Country

Best practices for safely exploring the park.

Photo of ranger deploying bear spray.
Bear Spray

Learn about this highly effective bear deterrent.

Photo of a grizzly bear and cub on a boardwalk at Old Faithful
Bear Encounter

How you react to a bear encounter depends on the circumstances.

Photo of a sign indicating a bear management area
Bear Management Areas

Restrictions to reduce encounters between humans and bears.

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Watch Roadside Bears

Learn how to protect yourself and keep bears wild when watching them along the road.

Last updated: September 18, 2019

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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