Yellowstone Bear FAQs

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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.

Grizzly bear and cub. Notice the humped back and the wide snout.

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.

Related: Where to See Bear in Yellowstone

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.

Related: What to Do If You Encounter a Bear at Yellowstone


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

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