Bears in Yellowstone National Park

Bears are one of the most sought-after sights in Yellowstone National Park. Here are some quick facts.

What’s the difference between a grizzly and a black bear?

Grizzly bear and cub. Photo by Jim Stewart

Grizzly bear and cub. Notice the humped back and the wide snout. Photo by Jim Stewart

Grizzlies have a hump on their upper back, a rump lower than their shoulders, a ruff of long fur and long claws. Males weigh between 200 and 700 pounds, while females weigh between 200 and 400 pounds. The bears are surprisingly fast, able to run up to 45 miles per hour, and climb trees, although their weight makes this getting up high somewhat difficult. They live up to 30 years. South of Canada, large populations of grizzlies are only found in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and northwest Montana. A single bear will roam over hundreds of square miles.

Grizzly bears are not afraid of humans and are more aggressive than black bears.

An American Black Bear.

An American Black Bear. Notice the pointed snout.

Black bears are smaller than grizzlies, with males weighing between 210 and 315 pounds and females weighing between 135 and 200 pounds. Not all black bears are black. Some are brown or blonde. They eat rodents, insects, elk calves, cutthroat trout, pine nuts, grasses and other vegetation and have short, curved claws, making them expert climbers.

Yellowstone is one of the few areas south of Canada where black bears coexist with grizzlies.

What are the odds of seeing a bear on your Yellowstone visit?

Not too bad. Visitors reported more than 40,000 bear sightings between 1980 and 2011. Most grizzly sightings occur at night, dawn and dusk during the spring and early summer. Grizz are most often seen in the Lamar Valley, Gardiners Hole, Antelope Creek meadows, Dunraven Pass, Hayden Valley, and in the wet meadows along the East Entrance Road from Fishing Bridge to the East Entrance of the park. Hoping to see a black bear? Your odds of seeing these smaller bears improve during the daytime, especially when you’re in the northern part of the park along the road between Elk Creek and Tower Falls, on the stretch from Mammoth Hot Springs north to Indian Creek, or in the Bechler region in Yellowstone’s southwest corner.

Should I be afraid of bears?

Between 1980 and 2011 more than 90 million people visited Yellowstone and only 43 people were injured by bears within park boundaries. That means the odds of being injured by a bear are roughly 1 in 2.1 million. The odds are considerably lower if you don’t leave park developments or roadsides; however, the odds increase when you’re hiking in the backcountry, so take proper precautions:

– Hike in groups of 3 or more people
– Stay alert
– Make noise in areas with low visibility
– Carry bear spray
– Don’t run during a bear encounter

Do your part to keep bears away from roadsides, campsites and picnic areas by securing camp groceries and garbage cans and never offering them food handouts.

Learn More About Yellowstone Bears by Reading the Articles Below

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park. Photo by Jeff Vanuga

Bear Hibernation and Reemergence in Yellowstone

When do the Yellowstone bears hibernate and when do they wake and come out of their dens? See photos and watch a video. Read More...

How to Hold Bear Spray. Photo NPS Diane Renkin

Bear Spray: Buying, Using, and Recycling It in Yellowstone

A charging grizzly bear is NOT the same thing as a mugger on a street corner, or even a charging pit bull. Get a bear spray deterrent that’s up to the job. Read More...

Entrance to Yellowstone Bear World. Photo by Flickr Julien THEfunkyman

Drive Through Yellowstone Bear World Near Rexburg, ID

All kinds of animals—including wolves, elk, deer, mountain goats, bears and bison—roam throughout this outdoor playground, which you can see from the comfort of your own car. Read More...

A black bear approaching a vehicle on the road in Yellowstone, June 1967. A common sight at the time, in the years before efforts were made to keep bears and humans more distant. Photo by Jonathan Schilling via Wikimedia Commons

Feeding the Bears – A Trip Down Memory Lane

Back in the early 1960s, my family took that quintissential American vacation to Yellowstone National Park. It was a memorable adventure and quite different from Saturday morning cartoon fare of Yogi, Boo-boo and Mr. Ranger at Jellystone Park. Read More...


Great Wyoming Bear Stories Book

If you’re going to Yellowstone National Park and will camp or hike in bear country, this book can shed light on bear behavior and provide precautions. Read More...

West Yellowstone Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Photo by John Williams.

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

Complete your vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks by visiting the not-for-profit Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. Observe live bears and wolves in naturalistic habitats. Read More...

Grizzly bears tests trash can. Photo: YouTube

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center Tests Bear Canisters

What’s the best way to test a bear canister? Recruit a bear to try to open it. Read More...

Bison herd with two calves. Photo by Jerry Gates

How close can I get to wild animals in Yellowstone?

Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other large mammals like bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes. Read More...

Grizzly bear by lake

How many people get killed by bears in Yellowstone?

Although both black bears and grizzlies have a fearsome reputation for scratching or mauling people to death, attacks rarely occur, and deaths are even chancer. Read More...

Whitebark Pine

Important Food Source for Grizzly Bears In Trouble

A history of fire suppression, rampant insect infestation, an invasive fungal plague, and global warning adds up to likely extinction for the whitebark pine, and serious trouble for the species that depend on it – in particular, the grizzly bears of the Northern Rockies. Read More...

"Lunch Counter - For Bears Only" at Old Faithful, southeast of the upper Hamilton Store, and Ranger Naturalist Walter Phillip Martindale; Photographer unknown; 1921- mid 1930s; courtesy of NPS

No More Lunch Counter for Yellowstone Bears

Today, it would be unheard of for people to intentionally feed bears but in the early 1900s it was common practice. Read More...


Studying Grizzly Activity

How will an increase in grizzly population will affect campgrounds in the park? Read More...


Tips for Photographing Bears

As frequent visitors to the parks can testify, a lot of animals have developed a high tolerance to roads and vehicles – much to the delight of millions of visitors who view and photograph bison, elk, antelope and deer, as well as predators such as wolves, coyotes, black bears and grizzly bears. Read More...

Black bear near Indian Creek Campground in Yellowstone. Photo by Frank Madia

What Do Yellowstone Bears Eat?

Bears are omnivores. That means they eat both meat and plants. But bears also have seasonal needs for food based on a hibernation period. Read More...

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear in Fall

What to Do If You Encounter a Bear at Yellowstone

Ahhhh. You turn a corner – only to find yourself way too close to a real-live bear! It turns to look at you, almost in slow motion, and you freeze… Read More...


Where to See Bears in Yellowstone

From 1980 to 2005, over 37,000 bear sightings from Park visitors have been reported to park managers… Read More...

Black bear crossing the road in Yellowstone. Photo by NPS Jim Peaco.

Yellowstone Bear Jams on Roads

When Yellowstone National Park visitors behave appropriately around roadside bears it’s a positive experience for both bears and people. Read More...

Grizzly bear eating in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Bears Eat 40,000 Moths a Day In August

Bears climb high above timberline in Yellowstone National Park to feed on moths that come from farmland many miles away. Read More...


Yellowstone Bears Hunt For Chow

In addition to the loss of habitat by the rapid development occurring in the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem, bear researchers are concerned that several important food sources for bears are also in trouble. Read More...

Copyrighted photo of bears by Dave Shumway

Yellowstone Bears in May Photo Gallery by Dave Shumway

Enjoy these photos of black bears, grizzly bears, and cubs taken during the month of May in Yellowstone National Park. Read More...

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone. Photo by Jake Davis.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears By the Numbers

The grizzly population beat all odds after teetering on the brink of extinction. It grew from 136 bears in 1975 to around 700 in 2016. Read More...

Grizzly bear walking among flowering grass.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears May Lose Protection

March 2016 proposal to delist the grizzly has sparked a national debate over the future of this endangered animal. Should we open grizzlies to hunting? Read More...


Yellowstone Grizzly Bears vs. Wolves

For decades, the sole rulers of Yellowstone were grizzly bears. They are now re-learning how to cope with the rise of an equal competitor – the reintroduced gray wolf. Read More...