Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park

Many travel to Rocky Mountain National Park, hoping to see bears. Black Bears tend to be pretty reclusive- learn more about them and the steps we must take to ensure our own and their safety.

Some people are very worried about encountering bears on their hikes. They imagine that the forests are filled with these large animals, ready to attack any human who enters their territory. That is definitely not the case. In fact, only a tiny fraction of people who visit the park ever see a bear. If you do happen to see one, count yourself very lucky. If you do encounter a bear, you'll find that they are very shy and will likely run away from you.

Rocky Mountain National Park has a very small population of bear. Some have estimated that there are less than 30 bears living within the 415 sq. miles of the park. These bears also tend to be quite small as the habitat here is not ideal for them, having a limited supply of the foods they prefer. A study in the late 1980s found that the average weight at that time was about 150lbs, far smaller than bears in other parts of the state.

A young cinnamon colored black bear

Here in Colorado, we only have black bear, unlike northern Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho which also have large populations of grizzly bears. Although the bears here carry the name “black bear”, they can in fact have a wide range of color from actual black fur, to brown, or even cinnamon colored. They tend to be solitary creatures and generally avoid humans, although if they catch the scent of food, they may go to extraordinary lengths to obtain it when people are gone. They have been known to pull the doors off cars to get food left inside or claw their way through an Estes Park garage to access a trash can.

Because they are often desperately seeking food left by humans, it is imperative that we take steps to protect the bears from ourselves. Never leave food or anything smelly (lotion, lipstick, food wrappers, etc.) in your car when parking at a trailhead. Instead, use one of the provided food storage boxes. When wilderness camping (reservations required), always use a hard-sided and officially approved bear canister for storing your food.

Bear in the Berries

If you encounter a bear on the trail, stop where you are. Make lots of noise and slowly back away. If you have small children pick them up. Most likely the bear will already be running in the other direction. Here in Rocky Mountain National Park you do not need to hike with bear spray and bear bells are not needed either.

To learn more about the bears of Rocky Mountain National Park, read this article on the park website.

Wildlife Watching Tips

Bears can be difficult to view as they tend to be very solitary animals. They are often found in or at the edge of a forest. You may spot them crossing a park road or munching on a bush with ripe berries. Occasionally they can be found in Estes Park or Grand Lake having taken shelter from all the people by climbing a tree. If you happen to see one on your trip, count yourself very lucky.