When I went to Niagara Falls and spent some time on the Canadian side of the falls hiking, I fully expected to see a bear but never did. Likewise, I expected to come across a bear at one point or another during my hikes in Maine, Montana, Colorado, and the province of Alberta in Canada but I didn’t see a single bear on any of those vacations. Nor have I ever seen a bear when I’ve hiked in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia. Only when I traveled to Alaska did I see my first bear in the wild.
To be perfectly honest, I had put off going to Alaska until my daughter was old enough and tall enough to not be an obvious bear lure. Even then, I didn’t really want to see a bear up-close. When we saw grizzly bears from the safety of our bus in Denali National Park several yards away, that was perfectly fine with me. That was my first bear encounter and I would have been fine if it was also my last but it wasn’t. You can read about my first bear encounter in Alaska here: Denali National Park in Alaska. Alaska has thousands of bears and is a good place to go if you have your heart set on seeing a bear. There’s even this online guide for spotting bears in Alaska: https://www.travelalaska.com/Planning/Tips/Where-are-the-best-places-to-see-bears-in-Alaska.aspx
When I went to Yellowstone National Park, I was fully prepared to encounter a bear on one of our hikes. Over the years I had read about bears attacking campers in the many campgrounds (looking for food) so I knew one thing, I would not be camping at Yellowstone. When we were hiking, some of the trails were fairly well-traversed so we usually weren’t the only people on the trails but there were some where we didn’t see another person for at least an hour. Still, the only bears we saw were at a distance in the safety of our car when driving through the park one day. Here is another online guide for seeing bears: https://www.yellowstoneguidelines.com/whats-new/the-best-places-to-see-a-bear-in-yellowstone.html
The third and hopefully final place I saw a bear was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This place has an insane number of bears to humans, with around 1600 bears in the area. One of the problems with the bears in this area is they have lost their fear of humans. People are entirely to blame for this because they do dumb things like posing beside a bear for that perfect Instagram photo or even worse, they’ll feed the bears. Finally, people in this area don’t always properly dispose of their trash or store food in bear cans when camping so the bears have learned to associate humans with food.
In fact, I saw not one but three bears on my vacation in the Gatlinburg area, with one really up-close encounter on a hike through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the whole story you can read my post: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux. Every single other person I know who has recently been to Gatlinburg has told me they’ve seen at least one bear while they were there. If you’re going here, chances are pretty good you’ll see a bear.
Another place where you might see a bear is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, about 75 miles from Washington, D.C. https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/mammals.htm Depending on who is doing the calculations, estimates of bear populations in Shenandoah National Park range from 200 to 1000. For a park that just over 300 square miles, that’s quite a few bears even at the lowest estimate.
Have you ever seen a bear when you were hiking or spending time outdoors? What was your encounter like? Have you never seen a bear in the wild but would like to? Tell me about it.