The single most important thing we can do to protect Yosemite’s bears is to store our food properly to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to human food. Bears are food-driven animals. They are quick learners, have a powerful sense of smell, and are on a constant search for food wherever they can find it. If a bear obtains human food, it will likely return again and again for an easy meal. Food-conditioned bears may quickly lose their fear of humans (become habituated) and can become aggressive. They may bluff charge, chase people away from food, or break into vehicles causing significant damage to personal property. Tragically, when a bear becomes aggressive, park rangers are often forced to kill the bear in the interest of public safety.
By storing your food properly, you can save bears’ lives. Not only is proper food storage important to the welfare of Yosemite’s bears, it’s required by law. Failure to store your food may result in a citation of up to $5,000, your car being impounded and/or eviction from your campsite or lodging facility.
What is Considered Food?
“Food” includes any item with a scent, regardless of packaging. This may include items that you do not consider food, such as canned goods, bottles, drinks, soaps, cosmetics, toiletries, trash, ice chests (even when empty), and unwashed items used for preparing or eating meals. All these items must be stored properly.
“The best way to stop bears from learning to seek out human food is to prevent them from ever tasting it in the first place.”
Yosemite Wildlife Biologist
Food Storage Regulations
Vehicles (other than RVs)
You may store food inside your car (out of sight, with windows completely closed) only during daylight hours. You may not leave food in a pickup truck bed or strapped to the outside of a vehicle at any time. Do not store food in your car after dark or if you are in a campground day or night: use a food locker. Remember to clear your car of food wrappers, crumbs in baby seats, and baby wipes–and even canned food and drinks. Think about packing all your food and related items together for easy removal from your car upon arriving in Yosemite.
Food lockers are available at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) parking lots and at nearly all trailhead parking areas.
You can store food (including drinks, toiletries, and other scented items) in your RV while you’re away from it, as long as:
- the RV’s windows, doors, and vents are completely closed,
- all food is out of sight (e.g., in cupboards), and
- the RV is completely hard-sided
Do not leave food, drinks, toiletries, or other scented items — including ice chests or boxes containing these items — strapped or otherwise attached to the outside of your RV.
In campgrounds, Housekeeping Camp, and Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) tent cabins, you must store all your food in food lockers. Bears may enter campsites even in your presence (see photo above), and some will even check lockers to see if they’re latched.
- Keep your locker closed and latched at all times, just like you would a freezer.
- Only have the food out that you are actually using; if you’re not using it, put it back into the food locker.
- Finally, treat your trash like food: keep it in your food locker or dispose of it in a bear-proof dumpster; do not leave it sitting out.
Food lockers are available at every campsite, Housekeeping unit, and Half Dome Village tent cabin.
Food may be stored out of sight in hard-sided trailers and RVs, as long as windows, doors, and vents are closed when you’re not there. Food may not be stored in pop-up or tent trailers, or other soft-sided campers.
In your hotel room or cabin
You must keep all food inside your room; if you are not in the room, the windows and doors must be closed. Bears can easily break into cabins through an open door or open window.
In picnic areas and while hiking on the trail
Always keep your food within arm’s reach and don’t turn your back to your food; never leave food unattended. Bears may investigate picnic areas or backpacks for food even in your presence, so be alert.
While backpacking in the Wilderness
Bear resistant food containers (“bear canisters”) are required for overnight hikers throughout the Wilderness (counterbalance food hangs are no longer legal because bears have learned to get food stored this way). In Yosemite and the southern Sierra, bear resistant food containers are the only effective and proven method of preventing bears from getting human food.