Avoiding Bear Attacks in Jasper National Park

Bears, like the one pictured, may look cute, but bears can have a bad side.

To keep from seeing the potential bad side, visitors to Jasper National Park should be aware of the bear.

A Parks Canada brochure entitled “Bears and People” (I picked one up at the Jasper Information Center but it’s available online too) provides tips on how to avoid bear attacks. This information is important for travelers who want an enjoyable hiking experience in Jasper National Park.

Most experienced hikers say bears are nothing to worry about. They know what to do, how to keep a safe distance (Parks Canada recommends at least 100 meters) and how to avoid bear attacks. Still, for novice hikers, preparation can be life-saving and boost confidence to get out and enjoy what the park has to offer.

Why do bears attack?

Though bear attacks are infrequent, they occur when the bear is put in a compromised position. Typically this happens when the bear is surprised by a human or dog, protecting their young or food, the bear has become habituated to humans or when they are following food odors coming from human sources (campsites, food in backpack, trash containers, etc). Parks Canada points out that bear behavior patterns are complex and bear reactions can vary. Keeping at a distance is best.

To prevent attacks

Nobody wants a bad bear encounter while vacationing in Jasper National Park. To keep bears away while hiking, make a little noise. A little noise will send most distant bears running full throttle in the opposite direction. If you are near a river or berry patch, make some extra noise. Noise can come from wearing a bear bell, shouting out, clapping hands, or other noises so that nearby bears can hear you. Noises will signal them to move away.

While hiking in Jasper, be aware of recent trail use by bears. If you see fresh bear droppings, tracks, signs of digging, freshly moved logs and rocks, then be aware and try to leave the area right away.

If you have a dog, it is best not to bring it hiking as it can trigger defensive attacks from bears. If you do bring a dog, keep it on a leash.

It is recommended to hike as a group and when hiking, try to stay together. Stay on the official paths too mentioned on the trail maps you can get from the Jasper Information Center in the town of Jasper in the center of Jasper National Park. The Jasper Information Center also provides great information about current trail conditions and can provide advice.

How to handle a bear encounter

The Parks Canada brochure suggests carrying bear spray when hiking or biking on park trails.

If a bear encounter occurs, your first thought should be to stay calm. Parks Canada recommends staying calm and speaking to the bear while backing away slowly. Slowly get your bear spray ready but never run. Staying calm reassures the bear. Even if the bear acts defensively, Parks Canada says “It’s difficult but important to remain calm if a bear reacts to you this way. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack.”

When speaking to the bear, speak calmly and firmly to let the bear know you are human and not some other animal. The brochure also suggests staying in a group so as to be less vulnerable and hold onto your backpack as it can serve as protection.

What to do if a bear attacks

If a bear does come at you, be aware of the reason. Knowing the reason will help you respond properly.

There are two types of bear attacks, defensive attacks and predatory attacks. Defensive attacks are more common and occur when the bear sees you as a threat. The best response in this situation is to try to use bear spray and play dead.

To play dead properly, lay on your stomach with feet and elbows out and hands on your neck. It is harder for the bear to flip you over from this pose. This also protects your front-side and back of neck. Don’t move and hope the bear moves on after 2 minutes. If the attack lasts longer than 2 minutes, it may have turned into a predatory attack.

Predatory attacks are ‘very rare’ and occur when the bear is hunting you. If the bear suddenly appeared, fight back. In this situation, you are prey. By making loud noises or throwing branches or rocks, the bear will know you’re not easy prey and should move on. Climbing a tree is another way out, but bears can climb too.

Enjoy yourself hiking in Jasper

Hiking in Jasper National Park should be an experience of a lifetime. Remember Parks Canada’s advice about bears and have a great time hiking.

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1 comment to Avoiding Bear Attacks in Jasper National Park

  • Greg Wakeman

    My wife and I (from New Jersey) just spent 2 weeks visiting and hiking in Banff and Jasper and only saw one black bear, about 100 yards away in a field about a mile outside of the town of Jasper.

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