Camping and Picnicking in Bear Country

A black bear.Black bears are a common animal in the Superior National Forest. Seeing a bear at a distance can be a wonderful experience, but having one at your campsite can be a problem. Bears who learn that campers and campground garbage containers are food sources may become nuisance animals which need to be removed for public safety. Learn the following rules of camping in bear country, and practice them every time you camp or picnic. Remember, "A fed bear is a dead bear"!

Bear etiquette in campgrounds and picnic areas

Cover visible coolers, store in hard sided locked vehicle.Keep food and cooking equipment hidden in a locked hard-sided vehicle.  Yes, some bears recognize coolers left in sight, and some can open vehicle and camper doors or break screens or glass to get to food!

Clean fish and game away from campsites.  Dispose of waste in bear secure dumpsters.

Keep garbage stored with food, or take immediately to the bear resistant dumpster at the campground.  Never burn garbage.

A dumpster lid properly secured.Secure dumpsters properly after using them.  Shutting the lid is not enough, use the bars or chains provided.

If a bear enters your campsite or nearby area, back out of the area slowly and calmly.  Do not run, don’t gather your food up.  If the bear approaches, continue to face the bear, and slowly back away.  If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by shouting and taking an aggressive stance.

A person reporting a bear encounter at the Forest Service office.If you do have an encounter with a bear at a campsite, please report it to the Forest Service.  If the campground has a host or an office, report encounters there as well.  It is not necessary to report simple bear sightings in the forest or along trails.  Call or come into the District Ranger Station for the campground at which you are staying, or call the Supervisor’s Office in Duluth at 218-626-4300.  After hours, leave a message with the date of the encounter, the campground and campsite, a brief description of the encounter, and, optionally, your name and contact information so we can reach you in case more information is needed.  If you feel there is an immediate need for action and are not able to reach the Forest Service, call the local Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer. 

Bear etiquette at backcountry sites, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sites, and dispersed camping

Hang a food pack by hanging a rope with a pulley over a branch near the trunk, then putting a rope through the pulley with your pack tied to one end.  Pull the rope diagonally away from the tree so your pack ends up at least six feet from the trunk, twelve feet from the ground and four feet down from the pulley.  Click image for more details.Camping away from your vehicle requires that you use different methods to store food and garbage.  We recommend that you hang food as illustrated, or use a bear resistant food container stored away from your tent.  Diagrams and detailed written descriptions of several pack hanging methods.

Food should be hung a minimum of 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet out from the tree trunk, and 4 feet down from the branch or rope.  Using a pulley is easier than pulling rope over a branch, and causes less damage to the tree.  In areas with no large trees, a bear resistant food container should be used.  Most food barrels sold for camping are not bear resistant!  Be sure the manufacturer says that it is bear resistant container.

Additional Resources

Minnesota DNR - Living With Bears

Bearwise helps people live responsibly with black bears