Seeing a black bear in its natural habitat is an exciting and very special experience, but we all must act responsibly to keep Yosemite’s bears wild and healthy. If you see a bear in a wild place away from a developed area, watch quietly from a safe and respectful distance of at least 50 yards. If you see a bear in any developed area (e.g. campground, parking lot, picnic area) or if a bear approaches you, act immediately to scare it away; yell and make as much noise as possible and contact a ranger ASAP. If you are with other people, stand together to present a more intimidating figure. Never approach, surround, or corner a bear. Your goal is to scare the bear from the area without causing any harm to the bear. Scaring bears from development helps to protect their natural fear of people, keeping them more wild.
If you see a bear along the road, please do not stop in the road. Only stop in a designated pull-out where it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that stopping and watching roadside bears will likely start a “bear jam” as other motorists follow your lead. Bear jams can be hazardous to both people and bears as visibility is reduced and bears may feel threatened by the congestion. Roadside bears exposed to many people at close proximity may quickly become habituated to vehicles and people or possibly human food sources.
When a bear feels uncomfortable, especially if the bear is guarding food or cubs, the bear may decide to show its dominance by bluff charging. A bluff charge is when a bear charges (another bear or a person) but suddenly stops before making any contact. . Bluff charges may be accompanied by sounds showing discomfort or agitation including a huffing sound, jaw popping, or slapping the ground. It is unlikely to happen, but if a black bear bluff charges you, don’t run. Look as big as possible (e.g. wave your hands, hold your backpack over your head) and yell loudly. Back away slowly to give the bear more space.
Attacks are rare, and no one has been killed or seriously injured by a black bear in Yosemite. However, If a bluff charge becomes a real charge and a bear makes bodily contact, first tuck into a ball face down with your hands clasped over your neck. If the bear does not immediately back off and continues in its attack, fight back hard using your fists, rocks, or whatever you have available. A prolonged attack after a bluff charge indicates that the bear views you as prey and you should defend yourself appropriately. This guidance applies specifically to black bears, not grizzly bears (which do not occur in these parks). Different strategies apply to grizzly bears, and you should consult with local rangers about what to do during grizzly-bear encounters if you visit their habitat.
If You See a Bear, Report It!
Call and leave a message on the Yosemite Save-a-Bear hotline 209-372-0322 or find the nearest park ranger to report bear sightings, overflowing trash or recycling containers, or improperly stored food.