WYOMING – This is turning out to be a winter to sleep in if you are a hibernating bear. March 12 and overnight lows are still bottoming out at around 0°F with plenty of snow to last well into June in many places.

But bears are waking. Some will undoubtedly head back to the den when they see there is not much to eat, but backcountry users and park visitors should be aware of increasing grizzly activity especially as we move into April.

Bear tracks near Quadrant Mountain April 2016. (NPS)

On that note, the first grizzly bear sighting of 2019 occurred in Yellowstone National Park just days ago. On Friday, March 8, visitors observed a large grizzly bear between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge. Additionally, grizzly tracks were reported between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Junction on Monday, March 11. The first grizzly bear sighting in 2018 occurred on March 7.

Male grizzlies come out of hibernation in mid-to-late March. Females with cubs emerge in April and early May. When bears emerge from hibernation, they look for food and often feed on elk and bison that died over the winter. Bears are usually quite lethargic this time of year but that does not prevent them from reacting aggressively while feeding on carcasses. They are cranky and they are hungry.

All of Yellowstone National Park is bear country— from the deepest backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful. Protect yourself and the bears people come here to enjoy by following these guidelines:

  • Prepare for a bear encounter.
  • Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make sure it’s accessible.
  • Stay alert.
  • Hike or ski in groups of three or more, stay on maintained trails, and make noise. Avoid hiking at dusk, dawn, or at night.
  • Do not run if you encounter a bear.
  • Stay 100 yards away from black and grizzly bears. Use binoculars, a telescope, or telephoto lens to get a closer look.
  • Store food, garbage, barbecue grills, and other attractants in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes.
  • Report bear sightings and encounters to a park ranger immediately.
  • Learn more about bear safety.
Male grizzly awake first. Usually around this time. Females with cubs will begin emerging from dens in April. (NPS)

“Yellowstone visitors care deeply about the conservation of bears and observing them in the wild,” says Kerry Gunther, the park’s bear management specialist. “Reduce human-bear conflicts by preventing bears from getting food and garbage, hiking in groups of three or more people, carrying bear spray, and making noise in blind spots on the trail.”

While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm by visitors is a violation of park regulations. Bear spray has proven effective in deterring bears defending cubs and food sources. It can also reduce the number of bears killed by people in self-defense.

The park restricts certain visitor activities in locations where there is a high density of elk and bison carcasses and lots of bears. Restrictions began in some bear management areas on Sunday, March 10.