Best National Parks to See Bear! | Grizzly & Black Bears

America’s national parks serve as vital habitats for bears, offering vast wilderness areas where these magnificent creatures can roam freely. From dense forests to rugged mountains and sprawling plains, these parks provide diverse environments that support bear populations. So, naturally, they are great places to see bear!

Witnessing bears in their natural habitat is not only a thrilling experience but also a rare opportunity to observe these magnificent predators in their element. Such encounters help to form a deeper appreciation for the importance of conservation efforts and the need to protect these iconic species and their habitats for future generations.

1. Yellowstone National Park

A large grizzly forages for food near a frozen lake inside of Yellowstone NP
A large grizzly forages for food near a frozen lake inside of Yellowstone NP.

To kick things off, Yellowstone is one of the best national parks in the country to spot bears. The park is home to two primary bear species: grizzly bears and black bears. Grizzlies are known for their distinctive hump and silver-tipped fur. Black bears are smaller and lack the hump. Both species can be found throughout the park, inhabiting various habitats, from forests to open meadows.

The best locations within Yellowstone National Park to spot bears include Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and the area around Fishing Bridge. These regions offer ample food sources such as berries and roots, making them prime spots for bear sightings, especially during the early morning or late evening when bears are most active.

Remember, when venturing into bear country in Yellowstone, it’s crucial to follow safety precautions and regulations. This includes carrying bear spray, making noise to alert them of your presence, and keeping a safe distance of at least 100 yards from bears. Additionally, you should never approach or feed bears. Proper food storage is also essential to prevent attracting them to campsites.

2. Denali National Park

grizzly bear is seen wandering throughout the brightly colored landscape during Denali's autumn season
This grizzly bear is seen wandering throughout the brightly colored landscape during Denali’s autumn season.

Next on our list is Denali National Park. This park is also home to a healthy population of grizzly bears, numbering around 300 individuals. These bears roam across the park’s vast wilderness, occupying various habitats ranging from lowland forests to alpine tundra. Park biologists closely monitor the bear population in Denali to ensure their conservation and well-being.

A few prime locations for bear viewing in Denali include the Polychrome Overlook, Savage River, and the Toklat River area. 

It’s important to note that Denali National Park has strict guidelines to ensure your safety and the well-being of the bears. You are advised to maintain a safe distance of at least 300 yards from bears and to never approach them. 

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

black bear seen here checks his surroundings on a hiking trail in GSMNP, Tennessee
You never know when you may encounter a bear while hiking, so use caution. The black bear seen here checks his surroundings on a hiking trail in GSMNP, Tennessee.

Interestingly, Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts one of the largest populations of black bears in the United States, with an estimated population of around 1,500 bears. These bears thrive in the park’s varying habitats, including thick forests, open meadows, and mountainous terrain, where they forage for food such as berries, acorns, and insects.

Some popular spots for bear sightings here include Cades Cove, Cataloochee Valley, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. You’re encouraged to stay in your vehicle and use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing.

The park also provides a range of educational resources and programs to promote bear awareness and conservation. These include ranger-led talks, interpretive exhibits, and informational brochures available at visitor centers. 

4. Katmai National Park

two Alaskan Brown Bear hunt for Salmon at the iconic Brooks Falls in Katmai national park
Two Alaskan Brown Bear hunt for Salmon at the iconic Brooks Falls.

Katmai National Park is renowned for its iconic population of brown bears, particularly along the Brooks River, where they gather to feast on salmon during the summer months. These bears exhibit various behaviors, including fishing techniques such as diving and swiping, as well as social interactions among family groups and individuals asserting dominance.

One of the most notable bear-viewing locations in Katmai National Park is Brooks Falls, where brown bears congregate in large numbers to catch migrating salmon as they leap upstream. Other prime viewing spots include the Brooks River Observation Platform and the Lower River Platform, offering close-up views of bears.

Safety measures and viewing guidelines for observing brown bears in Katmai National Park are crucial to ensure both your safety and the well-being of the bears. You must maintain a safe distance of at least 50 yards from bears and follow the guidance of park rangers at all times. 

Bear spray is recommended as a precautionary measure, and you should never approach or feed bears. Additionally, you are advised to stay alert and aware of your surroundings, particularly in areas frequented by bears, to avoid unexpected encounters.

5. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

A mother bear and her three cubs walk along a park road inside of Wrangell St. Elias National Park
A mother bear and her three cubs walk along a park road inside of Wrangell St. Elias National Park. NPS photo

Last but not least is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This region encompasses vast expanses of remote wilderness, providing ideal habitats for bears to thrive. From thriving forests to craggy mountains and sprawling valleys, these pristine landscapes offer abundant food sources such as berries, roots, and salmon, sustaining a healthy population of both grizzly and black bears.

Along the rivers and in the valleys of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, you’ll find excellent opportunities for bear viewing. Areas like the Kennicott Valley and the Copper River corridor are known for their high bear activity, especially during salmon runs in the summer months. Hiking trails and scenic overlooks along these waterways offer prime vantage points for observing bears.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the best national parks for bear sightings include Yellowstone, Glacier, Denali, Great Smoky Mountains, Katmai, and Wrangell-St. Elias. Each park offers unique opportunities to observe bears, from grizzlies in rugged mountain landscapes to black bears in the forests and river valleys.

So, as you set off on your bear-watching adventures, it’s crucial to prioritize responsible wildlife viewing and conservation efforts. Respect for these magnificent creatures and their habitats is paramount, ensuring their continued survival and the preservation of these important ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

I encourage you to plan your own bear-watching adventures and experience the thrill of encountering these iconic species in their natural environment. Whether you’re observing bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls or spotting grizzlies roaming the vast wilderness of Denali, these experiences will leave a lasting impression and deepen your appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our national parks.

National Parks List, Map, and Complete Guide (All 63 Parks + Downloadable List & Map)

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

national parks map and list printable checklist
Visit our complete National Parks Guide for FREE Downloadable National Parks List & Map (multiple versions)

FAQS

What national park has the most bear sightings?     

Katmai National Park, located in Alaska, is renowned for having some of the highest concentrations of bear sightings in the United States. Particularly along the Brooks River, during the salmon runs in summer, you’ll have abundant opportunities to witness brown bears catching fish, making it one of the best places for bear-viewing experiences.

Which national park has grizzly bears?         

Denali National Park, located in Alaska, is one of the national parks known for its population of grizzly bears. These majestic creatures roam the vast wilderness of Denali, inhabiting various environments, from lowland forests to alpine tundra, allowing you to observe them in their natural environment.

Will I see a bear in Yellowstone?       

While sightings are not guaranteed, Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places to see bears. Both grizzly bears and black bears inhabit the park. 

What are the chances of seeing a bear at Yellowstone?  

The chances of seeing a bear at Yellowstone National Park vary depending on factors such as the time of year, the specific locations visited within the park, and luck. However, with proper planning and by visiting prime bear-viewing areas such as Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley during the early morning or late evening when bears are most active, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of encountering one.

How common is it to see a bear in Glacier National Park?   

Seeing a bear in Glacier National Park is relatively common, especially during the summer when bears are active and foraging for food. While sightings are not guaranteed, you’ll have good chances of encountering bears along hiking trails, near water sources, and in open meadows, particularly in areas such as Many Glacier and Logan Pass where bear activity is known to occur.

Does Mt Rainier have bears? 

A female black bear takes a stroll along the Wonderland Trail inside Mount Rainier National Park
A female black bear takes a stroll along the Wonderland Trail inside Mount Rainier National Park.
Adobe Stock Image: DCrane Photography

Yes, Mt. Rainier National Park is home to black bears and occasional sightings of grizzly bears. These bears inhabit various habitats within the park, including forests, subalpine meadows, and alpine regions. 

What time of day are bears out most?  

Bears are typically most active during the early morning and late evening, especially in summer. This is known as crepuscular activity, and it coincides with times when temperatures are cooler, and prey animals are more active, making it easier for bears to hunt or forage for food.

Where are you most likely to see bears in Yellowstone? 

In Yellowstone National Park, you are most likely to see bears in areas with abundant food sources, such as Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and along the banks of the Yellowstone River. These regions offer prime habitat for bears to forage for berries, roots, and carrion. Additionally, the area around Fishing Bridge is another hotspot for bear sightings, especially during the summer months.

Does Yosemite have grizzly bears?    

No, Yosemite National Park does not have grizzly bears. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in Yosemite was in the 1920s, and they are considered extirpated from the park. However, Yosemite is home to a population of black bears, which are more common and frequently encountered by visitors.

Which national park has no bears?   

There are several national parks where bears are not present, but one notable example is Biscayne National Park in Florida. Due to its location in a subtropical environment and lack of suitable habitat, bears do not inhabit this park. Instead, Biscayne National Park is renowned for its underwater wonders, including coral reefs, marine life, and mangrove forests.

What national park has the most black bear?    

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is known for having one of the highest populations of black bears in the United States. With an estimated 1,500 black bears roaming its forests and valleys, visitors to the park have excellent opportunities to encounter these iconic creatures. The diverse habitat and abundant food sources, including berries, nuts, and insects, contribute to the park’s thriving population of black bears.     

Does Olympic National Park have bears? 

Yes, Olympic National Park does have bears. Both black bears and, occasionally, a small population of grizzly bears inhabit the park’s many ecosystems, including forests, mountains, and coastal areas. 

Does North Cascades National Park have bears? 

Yes, North Cascades National Park does have bears. Both black bears and grizzly bears inhabit the park’s wilderness areas, including forests, mountains, and alpine meadows. 

Where is the best place to see bears in the US?

One of the best places to see bears in the United States is Katmai National Park in Alaska, particularly at Brooks Falls, where brown bears gather to catch salmon during summer. This location offers exceptional opportunities for close-up bear viewing. Additionally, Yellowstone National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are also renowned for their bear populations and provide excellent chances for bear sightings.

Does Acadia National Park have bears?

Black bears are a rare sight inside Acadia. There is, however, a permanent population on Mount Desert Island that exists there all year. The Schoodic Peninsula section of the park has more frequent bear sightings due to it being connected to the mainland. 

Does Shenandoah National Park have bears?

Yes, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is home to a population of black bears. While encounters with bears are relatively common in the park, they typically avoid areas of high human activity. One of the best spots to potentially view bears in the park is along the Skyline Drive. Additionally, hiking trails in less-visited areas of the park, such as the Whiteoak Canyon Trail or the Limberlost Trail, may offer opportunities to spot bears as well.

What are some of the main differences between grizzly bears and black bears?

Grizzly bears and black bears are two distinct species with several key differences:

1. Size: Grizzly bears are typically larger and heavier than black bears. Adult male grizzlies can weigh between 300 to 800 pounds, while adult male black bears usually weigh between 150 to 400 pounds.

2. Physical appearance: Grizzly bears have a distinctive hump on their shoulders, which is a muscle mass used for digging. They also have longer, curved claws adapted for digging roots and digging up burrowing animals. In contrast, black bears have a straighter profile and shorter claws better suited for climbing trees.

3. Behavior: Grizzly bears are often more aggressive and less tolerant of human presence compared to black bears. They are known to defend their food and personal space more aggressively, especially when surprised or threatened. Black bears are usually more timid and likely to flee from humans.

4. Habitat: Grizzly bears are found in more open, less densely forested areas, such as meadows, alpine tundra, and mountainous regions. Black bears are more adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, swamps, and mountainous areas.

5. Range: Grizzly bears are primarily found in the northwestern United States, western Canada, and Alaska, while black bears have a wider range across North America, including parts of Mexico.

These are general differences, and there can be variations within each species. It’s always important to consult local wildlife authorities for specific information about bears in a particular area.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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