25 Unbelievable Black Bear Facts, Debunked Myths, and Safety Tips

25 Unbelievable Black Bear Facts, Debunked Myths, and Safety Tips

Imagine hiking on a dusty mountain trail, enchanted by the fresh scent of pine and the vivid green popping from the branches of the massive trees. The soil, rocks, and leaves crunch beneath your boots with each step as the forest opens, revealing a surging river — and a majestic black bear standing knee-deep in the rapids, with a fish floundering in its jaws.

Seeing a black bear thriving in nature can be an experience of a lifetime. Our guide takes a close look at these wonderful animals, including 22 incredible black bear facts and common myths and misconceptions. We also explain where you can find them and best practices when traveling in their natural habitat, so you and your furry friends can stay safe in the wild.

Habitat: Where Do Black Bears Live?

Black bears can be found throughout North America, in most Canadian provinces and Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast, the Rocky Mountains, Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains, New England, sporadically throughout the Midwest and the southern United States, and northern Mexico.

Click on the states and pins in the map below to see estimated black bear population numbers throughout the United States and national parks.










State Black Bear Population
Alabama 200
Alaska 100,000
Arizona 3,000
Arkansas 3000
California 30,000
Colorado 16,000
Connecticut 900
Delaware 0
Florida 4,000
Georgia 5,000
Hawaii 0
Idaho 25,000
Illinois 0
Indiana 0
Iowa 0
Kansas 0
Kentucky 1,000
Louisiana 850
Maine 35,000
Maryland 2,000
Massachusetts 4,500
Michigan 17,000
Minnesota 13,500
Mississippi 0
Missouri 1,000
Montana 15,000
Nebraska 0
Nevada 500
New Hampshire 4,900
New Jersey 3,000
New Mexico 5,500
New York 7,000
North Carolina 20,000
North Dakota 0
Ohio 75
Oklahoma 2,500
Oregon 27,500
Pennsylvania 16,000
Rhode Island 0
South Carolina 1,100
South Dakota 0
Tennessee 5,750
Texas 0
Utah 4,000
Vermont 5,250
Virginia 19,000
Washington 27,500
West Virginia 13,000
Wisconsin 24,000
Wyoming 0

* All population numbers are estimates.

Source: Bear.org | National Park Service 1, 2, 3 | USGS | Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife | Yellowstone National Park Bear Report

1. Nearly 1 Million Black Bears Live in North America

Approximately 850,000-900,000 black bears live in North America.

Source: Britannica

2. There Are More Than 1,900 Black Bears in the Smoky Mountains Alone

Black bears are a popular resident in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a population of around 1,900 (and growing). The park sprawls across 816 square miles, meaning there are approximately two black bears per square mile.

Source | National Park Service

3. Black Bears Live on Different Types of Terrain and Landscapes

Black bears populate different landscapes as the weather and food sources change with the seasons.

  • Spring: They are commonly found near wetlands.
  • Summer and fall: They seek out berry patches in forests and mountains, often traveling along hiking trails and roads.

Source: National Park Service

4. They Live on Home Ranges

Black bears settle on “home ranges” that cover 15 to 77 square miles. Home ranges can overlap with many male and female black bears sharing the land. That means black bears are not territorial, unlike other wildlife, such as wolves and mountain lions.

Source: Britannica

5. Black Bears Can Make a Den Anywhere

Black bears will find or build a den anywhere they feel safe and hidden. Some popular den locations include:

  • Hollow trees or logs
  • Caves
  • Brush piles
  • Under porches
  • Buried under leaves or snow on the forest floor

Source: Bearwise.org

Appearance: What Do Black Bears Look Like?

Black bears look different depending on the region and are North America's smallest type of bear. But don’t let that fool you — they are still big, especially compared to humans.

  • Not all black bears are black
  • They are 4-6 feet tall standing on their hind legs
  • Black bears can weigh up to 500 pounds
  • They have a pale muzzle

Not All Black Bears Are Black

They commonly have black fur, but depending on the region, their fur can be various colors including:

  • Brown
  • Cinnamon
  • Blonde
  • White
  • Bluish-gray

Source: Bear.org

They Are 4-6 Feet Tall When Standing on Their Hind Legs

How big are black bears? Here are their standard measurements:

  • Average length (on all fours): 4-6 feet
  • Average height (on all fours): 2-3 feet
  • Average height (standing on hind legs): 4-6 feet

Source: Wildlife Illinois

Black Bears Can Weigh Up to 500 Pounds

  • Males: 130-500 pounds
  • Females: 90-350 pounds

Source: BearWise

They Commonly Have a Pale Muzzle

Black bears' pale muzzles contrast their dark fur; it's an identifiable feature that sets them apart from other types of bears.

Source: Animal Diversity Web

6. Not All Black Bears Are Black

Depending on the region, a black bear’s fur can be various colors. Though they’re most commonly black, according to Bear.org, other colors can include:

  • Brown
  • Cinnamon
  • Blonde
  • White
  • Bluish-gray

7. They Are 4-6 Feet Tall When Standing on Their Hind Legs

How big are black bears? Here are their standard measurements:

  • Average length (on all fours): 4-6 feet
  • Average height (on all fours): 2-3 feet
  • Average height (standing on hind legs): 4-6 feet

Source: Wildlife Illinois

8. Black Bears Can Weigh Up to 500 Pounds

  • Male black bears average between 130-500 pounds
  • Females average between 90-350 pounds

Source: BearWise

9. They Commonly Have a Pale Muzzle

A black bear’s pale muzzle is a distinct characteristic that sets them apart from other types of bears. Their light snout contrasts with their dark fur making them easy to identify.

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Diet: What Do Black Bears Eat?

Black bears have a diverse diet that includes plants, fruit, and animals. Here are a few black bear facts about their diets and foraging habits that might be surprising.

10. Black Bears Are Omnivores

Black bears may be commonly portrayed as carnivores, but 85% of their diet consists of plants, berries, and nuts. They also eat fish, honey, insects, human food, garbage, and more.

Source: National Park Service

11. They Can Open Doors in Search of Food

Black bears may not have thumbs, but when it comes to rummaging for food, they’re smarter than you think. They can open car doors, windows, and cabin doors to snatch up unsecured snacks or garbage.

Black Bear Expert Tip #1

Lock your vehicles and latch bear-resistant garbage bins and dumpsters.

“Please lock your vehicles consistently in Bear Country because they know how to open car doors. This can be dangerous for people and black bears and cause property damage. Remember to always latch bear-resistant garbage bins and dumpsters!

-Janelle Musser, Black Bear Support Biologist, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

12. They Can Eat Between 5,000 and 20,000 Calories per Day

Black bears eat an average of 5,000 calories per day. However, as the black bears prepare for the winter, they can consume up to 20,000 calories per day.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Behavior: What Do Black Bears Do?

According to bear.org, black bears are cautious creatures that are driven by food. Here are a few amazing facts about black bear behavior throughout the year.

13. Black Bears Are Extremely Curious

Black bears like to explore, often investigating smells, noises, or unfamiliar objects in their area.

Source: Bearsmart

14. They Breed in the Summer

Breeding season for black bears takes place throughout June and July, with males and females engaging with several mates to increase the chances of reproduction. Gestation time is between seven and eight months, with mama bears giving birth to their cubs sometime in January or February.

Source: Western Wildlife Outreach

15. Black Bear Cubs Are Weaned by August

Most black bear cubs are weaned by August and can survive independently. However, cubs often stick with their mama bear, learning how to find food, fattening themselves for the winter months, and sharing the den until the following spring.

Source: Bearwise

16. They Don’t Truly Hibernate

When winter hits, black bears retire to their dens but don’t truly hibernate. They enter a state of light sleep called “torpor,” where their metabolism slows, allowing them to survive from their body fat. Unlike hibernation, bears can awaken if they sense danger.

Source: National Park Service

Skills: What Can Black Bears Do?

17. Black Bears Can Climb a 100-Foot Tree in 30 Seconds

Black bears are expert climbers that can scale a 100-foot tree in 30 seconds.

Source: Bearwise

18. They Can Run Up to 35 Miles per Hour

How fast can black bears run? They’re faster than you think. Black bears can run up to 35 miles per hour. For comparison, the top speed recorded by a human was by Olympian Usain Bolt, reaching 27.78 mph. However, the average human runs at a mere 4-6 mph.

Sources: Bearwise | Britannica | Healthline

19. They Are Good Swimmers

Although black bears can swim several miles in freshwater, they mostly wade in shallow areas to catch fish or cool off in the summer.

Source: Bear.org

20. Black Bears Can Lift Over 300 Pounds per Claw

Black bears display impressive bouts of strength, with a documented case of a 120-pound black bear casually lifting over 300 pounds per claw.

Source: Discover Wildlife

Black Bear Senses

They Can Hear Twice as Well as Humans

Black bears have an acute sense of hearing that’s twice as sensitive as humans.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Black Bears Can See in the Dark

Black bears can see in color, have night vision, and have great up-close vision, but poor eyesight past 30 yards.

Sources: Bearwise | Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

They Can Smell Food a Mile Away

Black bears have a powerful sense of smell, they can pick up a scent from over a mile away.

Source: Bearwise

21. They Can Smell Food a Mile Away

Black bears have a powerful sense of smell, with the ability to pick up a scent from over a mile away.

According to Janelle Musser, “Black bears can smell seven times better than the best-smelling dog. This is why attractants need to be secured in a way that bears cannot physically access the item because they can still smell garbage in a sealed garbage bag or chicken feed inside a shed.”

Source: Bearwise

22. Black Bears Can See in the Dark

Black bears can see in color and have great up-close vision. Research shows that they have poor eyesight past 30 yards. They also have an added feature: Black bears have night vision.

Sources: Bearwise | Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

23. They Can Hear Twice as Well as Humans

Black bears have an acute sense of hearing that’s twice as sensitive as humans.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Lifespan: How Long Do Black Bears Live?

24. They Can Live 30 Years

Most black bears live an average of 20 years, but some can live up to 30 years in the wild.

Source: The National Wildlife Federation

A bear cub that has been spotted at the Grin & Bear It cabin.

25. Black Bears Are No Longer an Endangered Species

Thanks to conservation efforts, black bears were removed from the endangered species list in 2016.

Source: Defenders of Wildlife

Black Bear Myths and Misconceptions

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the mighty black bear. Put your black bear knowledge to the test and see if you can determine which statements are true or false.

The scent of human blood attracts black bears.


Studies show black bears ignore menstrual odors.

Black bear attacks are uncommon.


The odds of being attacked by a black bear is 1 in 2.7 million.

You should play dead if attacked by a black bear.


Fight back. Black bears will not leave you alone if you play dead.

A mama black bear with her cubs is always dangerous.


They can display harmless bluster if threatened but rarely attack.

Black bears will attack if they sense fear.


Black bears are passive and prefer to retreat unless they're threatened.

Mama bears will reject her cubs if she detects human scent on them.


This is untrue for all animals, not just black bears.

Black bears have a positive impact on the ecosystem.


They spread seeds (via their droppings) and enrich soil through foraging.

A black bear standing on its hind legs is a sign of aggression.


It’s a sign of curiosity — they’re just looking around, listening, and sniffing.

Sources: Animal Diversity Web | BearWise.org | Bear.org | Bear.org | Bear.org | Bear.org | Bearsmart | National Park Service | National Park Service

Black Bear Safety Tips and Best Practices

While spotting a black bear can be exhilarating, always prioritize your safety first. Following basic guidelines can help you and black bears coexist safely in the wilderness, making an amazing experience even better.

Download our black bear safety checklist.

Plan Your Hike Time and Route

Pick a well-traveled route designated by the national park. Many parks have information about which trails have frequent black bear activity, while some can even provide alerts and real-time updates.

Avoid hiking at dawn, dusk, or night and give yourself enough time to return to your campsite before nightfall. Black bears are most active during these times, hunting and foraging.

Source: National Park Service

Pack Smartly

Carry bear spray and make it easily accessible, not buried in your backpack (more on that later). If you bring food, keep it in a bear-resistant bag to mask the smell. National parks don’t allow you to carry guns, but you can bring knives that can be used as a last resort.

Source: National Park Service

Hike in Groups

Black bears tend to avoid groups of people. Never travel alone, and always bring at least one other travel partner. Preferably, travel in groups of four or more to increase your chances of deterring black bears.

Source: National Park Service

Make Noise

You never want to surprise a bear, so making enough noise while hiking alerts black bears of your presence so they know to stay away. Talk loudly and clap periodically, but do not whistle or scream. That may sound like a wounded animal to a black bear, causing it to investigate your area.

Source: National Park Service

Stay On Designated Trails

Black bears can hide in tall or thick vegetation. Staying on designated trails helps you from becoming lost or wandering into an area where you can surprise a black bear.

Source: National Park Service

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Watch for signs that black bears have been in the area, like bear tracks, scat (droppings), and tree markings, like scratches. Listen for bear sounds, like huffing, jaw-popping, or low growls — a signal that you must leave the area. Also, be careful near fruit-bearing trees or bushes and near water sources, as black bears frequent these places for nourishment.

Source: National Park Service

Use the Bear-muda Triangle Method

Diagram of ideal spacing of campsites in bear country.

The Bear-muda Triangle refers to properly setting up your campsite to minimize bear interactions. Your tent, kitchen, and food storage should be positioned in a triangle, putting 200 feet of distance (or 70 paces) between each station. That way, if a bear smells food and wanders into your campsite, the kitchen and food storage areas are safely away from your tent.

Source: The Trek

Keep Your Campsite Clean

Never leave food unattended, and keep it in a safe place. Store or dispose of food in bear-resistant containers that mask the smell and are difficult to access, like metal bear boxes, bags, or canisters.

You can also hang food from a tree at least 10 feet from the ground and 100 yards from your tent. That doesn’t guarantee it's protected, but it makes it more challenging for the bear. Always check with your park to confirm their rules and regulations surrounding food storage and disposal, as they may differ from park to park.

Sources: USDA Forest Service (1) | USDA Forest Service (2)

Black Bear Expert Tip #2

Keep garbage secure and away from black bears

“Unfortunately, a few times in my career I’ve had to deal with a bear cub with a jar or container stuck on its head. This occurs when bears have access to garbage and oftentimes these cubs can’t see out of the container and they cannot set off most traps.

In a recent case in Tennessee, a cub was abandoned by its mother which made capturing it even more difficult. The cub survived at least 10 days with a snack jug on its head in the middle of a heat wave! Thankfully TWRA was able to capture the cub and remove the jar.”

-Janelle Musser, Black Bear Support Biologist, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Appreciate Black Bears From Afar

Respect the bear’s space and never approach them. If you want a closer look, do so with binoculars or a spotting scope. If you spot a black bear and it changes its behavior — i.e., it stops eating, begins watching you, or changes its direction — that means you are too close and could result in aggressive behavior from the bear. If a black bear approaches you, back away slowly, maintaining a safe distance.

National parks often have requirements detailing how close you can get to a bear.

Source: National Park Service

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park makes it illegal to willfully approach a black bear within 150 feet.

Source: National Park Service

Don’t Approach a Black Bear Cub

Even if you think the cub may be sick, wounded, or lost, do not try to help it alone. Although there is no record of humans being killed by a mother protecting her cubs, black bears are still wild animals with extreme strength and speed. Instead, contact park authorities to report it once you are safely away from the area.

Black Bear Expert Tip #3

Never approach or get close to black bears.

“Black bears will defend themselves and their cubs. A good thing about black bears is that they give lots of warning signs that people are too close, such as jaw popping and huffing and even bluff charging.”

-Janelle Musser, Black Bear Support Biologist, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Do not feed the bears

Though it may be tempting, do not feed the bears. There are multiple reasons why:

  • They may become “food-conditioned,” meaning they become dependent on human food, becoming “beggars,” forgetting how to forage naturally.
  • Human food is unhealthy for black bears, containing higher fat, calories, preservatives, additives, or chemicals that could make them sick.
  • They may develop less fear of humans over time, which could lead to fatal interactions for both parties.

Source: National Park Service

Black Bear Expert Tip #4

A fed bear is a dead bear.

“This means if a bear is rewarded with food from people—purposefully or through garbage—then that bear becomes dangerous. It has to be euthanized or it can have long-term health issues. Please do your part and pay it forward for bears and future visitors in bear country by securing attractants!”

-Janelle Musser, Black Bear Support Biologist, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

What To Do During a Close Encounter With a Black Bear

Although black bear attacks are uncommon, they can be unpredictable — especially if they are surprised by your presence or feel that you’re a threat. These dos and don’ts can provide an action plan if you find yourself in a hairy situation.

Bear encounter dos and don'ts.

Remain calm: Black bears usually just want to be left alone and will not attack unless they feel threatened.

Do not run: Running may make the bear think you’re prey. Plus, they can easily outrun you.

Speak loudly in low tones: This lets the bear know you’re a human and not prey.

Access your bear spray: Be ready to use the bear pepper spray as a last resort. It can repel an attacking bear, but the ingredients can also affect your own sight and breathing, especially if the wind is blowing in your direction.

Fight back: Playing dead will not work against an attacking black bear. Instead, fight back, aiming punches at vulnerable areas, like its eyes and nose.

Sources: Animal Diversity | Treehugger | Treehugger | Treehugger

How To Support Black Bear Conservation Efforts

Supporting conservation efforts for black bears can help them continue to prosper and stay off the endangered species list. There are several ways to contribute, but here are a few places to get started:

  • National Park Service: The NPS can help you contact your local National Park or State Department of Wildlife for donations, volunteer opportunities, or partnership programs.
  • Wildlife Conservation Society: The WCS conducts deep research and collaborates with local partners to promote a healthy co-existence between black bears and humans.
  • Defenders of Wildlife: This nonprofit organization advocates for all wildlife species, including black bears. They work with local and national governments on proactive solutions, protection strategies, and restoration of threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species and habitats.
  • Appalachian Bear Rescue: The ABR is a non-profit organization that cares for injured and orphaned black bear cubs, returning them to the wild when they can survive independently.

Best National Parks To See Black Bears

National parks make it easy for people to see black bears while connecting with Mother Nature. Because of the resources, rules, regulations, safety precautions, and conservation efforts, these five national parks can help make your black bear experience exceptional.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located in the heart of Appalachia, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the perfect environment for humans to spot black bears doing black bear things. Black bears are the most active during the summer, making it the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains.

The Smokies feature a high black bear population density of approximately two bears per square mile, making your odds of seeing one very high.

A few notable places to see black bears in the Smokies include:

  • Cades Cove: A scenic mountain valley with an 11-mile loop for motorists, bicyclists, and hikers to enjoy wildlife.
  • Elk Springs Resort: One of the best places to see black bears in Gatlinburg, this quiet mountain resort boasts breathtaking views of the Smokies, with 121 cabins integrated into nature across 68 acres of black bear country.
  • Roaring Fork Nature Trail: A 5.5-mile loop that allows visitors to enjoy old-growth forests, mountain streams, historic landmarks, and Rainbow Falls.
  • Newfound Gap: A hiking trail at the center point of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park that offers amazing views and intersects the Appalachian Trail.

Yellowstone National Park

It’s no wonder Hanna-Barbera used Yellowstone as inspiration for Jellystone National Park in the popular ‘60s cartoon, The Yogi Bear Show. Travelers from around the world visit Yellowstone National Park to see the wildlife and experience its unique natural wonders, including the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful.

Yellowstone is home to both black bears and grizzlies, with the black bear population estimated at around 600. These spots in the park are hotbeds for black bear activity:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs: A hub for hiking trail information. This area includes a visitor’s center that offers featured hikes from park rangers, updates on black bear activity, and current trail conditions.
  • Lamar Valley: A major place to view black bears, bison, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears, especially in the summer months.
  • Hayden Valley: Accessible by road, this valley flanks the Yellowstone River, making the odds of seeing black bears, coyotes, bison, and birds quite high.

Yosemite National Park

Nearly the size of Rhode Island, 95% of Yosemite National Park is classified as wilderness. Visitors are attracted to the waterfalls, hiking trails, rock formations, and Giant Sequoia trees that are thousands of years old.

There are approximately 500 bears in the park, which doesn’t seem like a lot considering the size of the park. However, black bears frequent a few areas in the park, including:

  • Upper and Lower Pines Campgrounds: Located on the banks of the Merced River, these high-altitude campgrounds are known for their heavy black bear activity and offer access to popular biking and hiking trails.
  • Lower Yosemite Falls: An iconic destination home to North America’s tallest waterfall. It features a footbridge at the base of the falls, hiking trails, and bike paths providing different views.
  • Washburn Point: An overlook that provides views of Half Dome, the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and the Giant Staircase.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park contains more than 700 miles of hiking trails, meadows, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and, of course, glaciers. These glaciers helped create the unique landscape, attracting visitors with its natural, untouched beauty and incredible wildlife.

Here are three picks within the park to see black bears in the wild:

  • Many Glacier Valley: Black bears populate this region surrounded by the Lewis Range of the Rocky Mountains and contain water sources, such as Lake Sherburne and Shiftcurrent Lake.
  • St. Mary Valley: Filled with various wildflowers in the spring and summer, mule deer, elk, and black bears frequent this lush valley.
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road: A 50-mile highway that spans the entirety of Glacier National Park, this paved road features pull-offs and overlooks, so travelers can soak the different types of terrain and wildlife.

Mount Rainier National Park

The Pacific Northwest boasts a dense population of black bears and three national parks — including Mount Rainier National Park — that provide a natural environment for them to flourish. Known for (and named after) its active volcano, Mount Rainier, the park also consists of wetlands, glaciers, and forest terrain.

Try these locations within Mount Rainier National Park to spot cinnamon-colored black bears:

  • Skyline Trail: A hiking loop in the Paradise area that leads to Panorama Point.
  • Sunrise Rim: The highest point in the park allowed by vehicles, Sunrise Rim provides a 360-degree view of wildflower meadows, Mount Rainier, and Emmons Glacier.
  • Naches Peak Loop: An easy hike for novice hikers, this trail offers spectacular views of Mount Rainier and features huckleberry bushes that attract black bears.

Where To See Black Bears in Gatlinburg

Elk Springs Resort can elevate your experience of seeing black bears in Gatlinburg and make planning your trip to the Smoky Mountains a breeze. They’ve partnered with several local experts and businesses to create the ultimate Gatlinburg travel guide, so you can access all the best sights, activities, adventures, and more in one place.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing, rustic experience immersed in nature, an exhilarating trip packed with attractions — or a mix of both — Elk Springs Resort can help you create the getaway of a lifetime.