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Tips for Camping in Bear Country With Kids

Taylor Fork camp site,  Montana.  This top-notch camp site comes with a view and plenty of wildlife.

Taylor Fork camp site, Montana. This top-notch camp site comes with a view and plenty of wildlife.

The Wonderful World of Camping

My kids love to camp! My husband and I do too, for that matter. Finally, a chance to spend time together, unwind, and unplug from the TV, video games and even mobile phones. Camping is great for the whole family. We get to reconnect with one another; you know, have actual conversations that don't involve who is driving whom where and when. Dad gets to show off his amazing fire-making skills honed from years of Boy Scouting (or so he says). Mother gets a break from the kitchen (OK, I'm stereotyping here but most of the time it IS still Mom who does the cooking.)

Activities such as fishing, hiking, and trail biking keep things exciting. Then there is time spent exploring and just observing nature around us. We always bring books to help us identify various species of birds, insects and plants. I love to watch the natural wonder and curiosity of the children as they "discover" a new bug or other critter. Sometimes we drag out the paper and pencils and draw or sketch what we see.

Also, there are great camping traditions like making s'mores and telling stories (not too scary) around the campfire. All in all, camping is the stuff of great memories, and ultimately, isn't that what it's really all about?

Take precautions when camping in Bear Country.

Take precautions when camping in Bear Country.

Is It Safe to Camp in Bear Country?

Some of the most beautiful, scenic and natural sites to camp are also full of wildlife. This is a positive feature of any camping destination. What could be better than catching a glimpse of an eagle, moose, elk, wolf or even bear? "Yeah great," you say, "but is it safe to sleep amongst these wild things?"

According to West Yellowstone's Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, the chance of being hurt by a bear is less than that of being struck by lightning. Last summer, Yellowstone National Park's more than 2000 campsites were full every night for the entire season. Yellowstone is, of course, home to both black and grizzly bears.

Yes, people camp in bear country frequently and without indecent. Most bears are afraid of humans and want nothing to do with them. However, the risk of a negative bear encounter does exist. Most incidents of aggressive bear behavior are caused by carelessness on the part of us humans and can be avoided by taking certain precautions.

Keep it clean or you might endanger yourself and others.

Keep it clean or you might endanger yourself and others.

RV Camping

RV Camping

Hard-Sided Camper: Safer Than a Tent

My personal No. 1 recommendation to families (especially those with small children) planning to camp near bears is to skip the tent camping entirely, and choose a hard-sided RV or camper. You can rent them for reasonable rates from many companies nationwide. Here are a few companies I know of:

"Oh, but that's not real camping," I can just hear you object.

Please, take it from me, not only will your precious little ones be safe and sound while they sleep, you too will be able to close your eyes at night. The peace of mind alone is worth it. You will still need to take some basic precautions but in general your family will be much better off then those poor chumps over there in the flimsy canvas "candy wrapper."

"But I like those candy wrappers," you say. "And, furthermore, I camp where no vehicle can go!" Oh, all right. It certainly can be done. People with young children tent camp in bear country all the time, without any problems. I simply can not in good conscience recommend it, because I wouldn't do it with my kids.

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Either way, here are some important precautions that must be taken when camping around bears.

Bear-proof containers tested locally (click to enlarge). Grizzly Wolf and Discovery center located in West Yellowstone tests "bear-proof" containers.

Bear-proof containers tested locally (click to enlarge). Grizzly Wolf and Discovery center located in West Yellowstone tests "bear-proof" containers.

10 Tips for Camping in Bear Country

1. Check the campsite for evidence of recent bear activity such as tracks, claw marks, and logs that are pulled apart or scat. These signs likely mean that a bear is visiting this site frequently because it has found food at some point. Choose another site.

2. Choose an open campsite away from dense trees or vegetation.

3. Store food and other attractants properly. There are three recommended ways to store food and other attractants.

  • In a bear-proof storage container. These are sometimes provided at campgrounds, otherwise, they can be purchased at sporting-good or other camping gear stores. Coolers are NOT bear proof.
  • In a hard-sided vehicle.
  • Suspended at least 15 feet off the ground AND 4 feet out from the vertical support. (See diagram below.)
...suspended at least 15 feet off the ground AND 4 feet out from the vertical support

...suspended at least 15 feet off the ground AND 4 feet out from the vertical support

Bear Attractants

  • Any food
  • trash
  • used cooking equipment and utensils
  • cooking grease or drippings
  • dirty dishwater
  • toothpaste
  • dog food
  • birdseed
  • stove/lantern fuel
  • canned drinks (even unopened)
  • cosmetics
  • insect repellents
  • lotions

4. Store and cook food at least 100 feet away from your tent.

5. Keep your campsite free of garbage, food residue or used cooking dishes and utensils. Garbage should be stored like food. Never bury your trash, bears will find it.

6. Do not sleep in clothing you cooked in. Never, ever, bring food or other attractants into your tent.

7. Never feed wild animals, especially bears.

8. Never approach wild animals; this includes cute cuddly looking bears as well as harmless-looking moose.

9. Don't let small children stray or run ahead. Stay together.

10. Keep a flashlight and bear spray in the tent while you sleep. Use extra caution at night. No night hikes!

If you play it safe, there is absolutely no reason not to camp in bear country. Humans and bears can and do coexist safely all the time. Camping anywhere is fun, relaxing and healthful. So get out there and have some fun!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on April 14, 2021:

Thanks for the kind words Janda!

Janda Raker from Amarillo, Texas on March 07, 2020:

Hello, Mrs. Menagerie, I'm reading this many years after you wrote, but I want to compliment you on this Hub. I've tent-camped many times with bears, primarily in the Rockies of New Mexico, and I've never had any real problems. (Maybe I'll write a Hub about this too, as I have a couple more tips to add.) Thanks for encouraging your readers to get out there!

strukelt on June 20, 2012:

Hello writer! I have to agree with you when you say that camping is great for the whole family. Camping outdoors helps build bonds in families. Being in the outdoors and sitting around a fire, or just lounging outside in chairs and talking to the people closest to you can be very entertaining. I cannot say that I have ever camped with bears, luckily! But hey, if you ever need some replacement rv parts, or just some rv accessories or an rv awning, check out!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on May 08, 2012:

Well hello SE,

Great to hear from you again!!!!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on February 16, 2012:

Thank you Rob and Dan,

And well is a privilege.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on February 16, 2012:

Great useful information about camping in bear country. I camp quite a bit in bear country (in a tent or under a tarp)and have never had a problem because I follow many of the safety rules which you list here. I consider myself a visitor in the bear's territory and always consider myself privileged to be out there.

Rob Jundt from Midwest USA on January 19, 2012:

Great informational hub full of practical ideas. Voted up and useful.

Amelia on October 20, 2011:

I love camping! Especially with folding camp chairs around a fire. Love those! I used to go to Bear County as a kid and I think that place holds my best memories. Oh by the way, here's an awesome site to get those chairs I was talking about:

Natalie Dalton on October 13, 2011:

Great tips on camping in bear territory. My family and I love to camp as well. I was curious if it was safe to camp in bear country and if so what precautions need to be taken. I now feel armed with knowledge. Thanks! We are packing up our tents and camping lanterns ( as we speak and are heading out for our next adventure!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 09, 2011:

Thank you to all the wonderful readers that have "stopped by" to read this hub! I hope you all get to camp at least once this summer!

hazelbrown from Central PA on July 07, 2011:

Hmmm.... I MIGHT be able to get behind camping in a camper!!

daneastside on July 06, 2011:

holy crap, good to know. i am on it, thsnk you.

Jodyofthemoon on July 06, 2011:

Great article. I found some more camping with bear safety tips over here:

ajaodegaard on July 06, 2011:

Bear Country is a great place to visit! When I was younger I used to be so scared of bears, which I still am but now I know better precautions to take.

Pam Pounds from So Cal Girl in the Midwest! on July 06, 2011:

Really enjoyed your hub. When my kids were little, we would take them camping up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. One year we tented it at Lake Mary and heard a bear rummaging through the campsite! We kept all the food in the car, but forgot a can of coffee on the picnic table. Needless to say, we found it empty and full of teeth marks!

QuestionMarks on July 06, 2011:

wow Hmm I wonder!

inviteswording on July 06, 2011:

woo nice hub!!

Brent Stone on July 05, 2011:

Dont Bears eat people. A thin piece of canvas is the only thing stop you getting attacked by razor blades with fur. Not for me.

ournote2self on July 05, 2011:

Yikes! I love camping but I think I'd avoid camping with least on purpose. ;)

Carolyn Moe on July 05, 2011:

what an interesting life you lead... thanks for following.

Peter Allison from Alameda, CA on July 04, 2011:

Great Hub! Though I'm still reading... But the first bit of advice about camping in a 'hard shelled' device has this city boy hooked. Anything to make camping more comfortable the better!

DoItForHer on July 04, 2011:

atomicpaulsen, I've seen this behavior many times. Many people from the city have an unnatural fear of any wild animal and let that fear rule their decisions. Objectivity gets thrown out the window. There is only the smallest danger of having conflict with a wild animal. We take greater risks in other areas of our life and don't think twice about it. Driving is far more hazardous, but it is a rare person who won't go near a vehicle for fear of a dangerous encounter.

It's more about perception than what happens in real life. I can say what will happen in real life and prove it a thousand times, but that seldom has little influence over another's perception.

Carolyn Moe on July 04, 2011:

good advise...

clintonb from Adelaide, Australia on July 04, 2011:

Wow great Idea. Place which has to be visited once. I love playing bear cubs. Thanks for the great suggestions.

Venture Boyz from Floating in the clouds on July 03, 2011:

Bears are cute but scary. I am afraid of anything that I can not reason with lol.

Pintoman on July 02, 2011:

To atomicpaulsen, tell her what I tell my kids; all bears run from me. This is actually a fact so they laugh and feel better. I've lived in the mountains all my life, bears are like any other critter, they are more afraid of us.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 01, 2011:

Hi htodd and thank you!

htodd from United States on July 01, 2011:

Bears can be dangerous sometimes..Thanks for the great post

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 01, 2011:

Automicpaulsen, tell your girlfriend that you have rented, purchased or borrowed a camper or RV and that she can stay as close to it as she feels comfortable. Once you are out there and you can see around for miles,(because you have chosen a nice open camping spot) she will no doubt feel much better about the whole experience.

Carolina from Switzerland on June 30, 2011:

Thanks for the tip. My family and i love to stay in Campinggrounds. We were once in Cape Breton during our Camper Tour in Canada and came across a baby bear on our way in the street. She was so cute...she immediately hide herself at the back of a tree, looking and observing us as we observed her was funny...a hide and seek. Hope to be back in Canada or somewhere else with a Camper.

GA Andereson (Gus) from Maryland, USA on June 29, 2011:

Great "bear-camping" tips! I used to go on week-long bear hunting camping trips - so obviously we were in bear country, and we used most of the sdame suggestions you made.


atomicpaulsen from Orem, UT on June 29, 2011:

my girlfriend will absolutely not go camping in any mountainous region with me because of fear of bears. what do you think i should tell her to give her courage?

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 28, 2011:

Philpott--I am very sorry to say that the incident mentioned by your friend's friend is true. It happened on father's day several years back. I was profoundly traumatized by this horrific event and had it in the back of my mind when I wrote the sentence: "People with young children tent camp in bear country without incident all the time. ( I simply can not in good conscience recommend it.)" And I still don't recommend it...the tent that is.

Keep in mind that this was a one-in-a-million occurrence but when it comes to my kids, even that is too risky.

I did not and still don't want to scare people off. The benefits to camping with your family far outweigh the risk, especially if you take precautions. Welcome to Montana, by-the-way, and please don't let anything keep you from enjoying what our great state has to offer, almost all of which is outdoors!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 28, 2011:

Thank you so much for your votes and comments Magkouin!

Hi Manthy, enjoy the tent experience! I did used to love it!

Thank you for reading and commenting Rhoda!

Wesman...silly, silly boy. heehee It is amazing that we survive being young, isn't it?

Freecampingaussie...what do you do when you encounter a crocodile...besides steer clear?

Biblicaliving--heehee, read my joke on my "hiking in bear country" hub, I think you'll appreciate it.

Richard Parr from Australia on June 27, 2011:

Love camping too and get to go several times a year. Of course Australia lacks the bears and wolves, but makes up for it with other wildlife. Great read, thanks.

Jaspal Singh from India / Australia on June 27, 2011:

Wonderful tips. I love camping but always with safety. I wish some days camping in bear area. I will follow your tips.

daviddwarren22 on June 27, 2011:

Nice article. It's informative I guess I can have a vacation on a bear country soon.

Brigitte Thompson from Austin, TX on June 27, 2011:

Great Hub.. Very informative. I am glad I live in Texas and all we have to worry about is walking up on a snake hiding in the firewood.

Open Thoughts from Idaho on June 27, 2011:

I grew up in Montana so naturally I have camped anywhere from the Great divide to the Bob Marshal. Thanks for bringing me home!

Nice Work.

Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on June 27, 2011:

I understand now a few things I didn't as a child. I was actually bathed and given clean clothes every night when I was living in the wild. It became a routine I followed every time I was in the wild. It was in an area where they say there are no bears. We did stay in the area where we cooked which I guess is something I don't understand with your information.

I was taught from a very young age to pay attention to my surroundings and it wasn't until years later when there was no need to fear that I ever saw bear signs.

Philpott having lost a son, I can't even imagine the pain a person would feel to see their child mauled and maybe eaten in front of them. My son died on an airplane thousands of miles from where I was and that was hard enough.

Philpott Online on June 27, 2011:

We just moved to Montanta and my husband want to going camping but all we have is a tent. With three small children it makes me nervous. A couple years ago a friend of mine told me about her friend who was camping in Utah with her small children and a bear came and pull her small boy out of the tent and killed him. It was horrible. I can't imagine having my child pulled away from me and watching them eaten. It's just not worth it. I know the chances are slim to none but just knowing it is out there makes it hard for me to enjoy the experience so why go. Maybe using a hard shell camper as you suggested would help ease my fears. Thanks for all the tips.

biblicaliving from U.S.A. on June 27, 2011:

Great Hub, very well done, good sound advice. Unfortunately, you forgot tip #11... You don't have to be faster then the Bear, only faster then who ever your with! Sorry, I know it's awful, but it had to be done! Thank you for the good Hub!

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on June 27, 2011:

love your hub ! We have a crocodile near us at the moment!!! We are in our caravan by a lake .would love to see a bear tho !

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on June 27, 2011:

Oh I'll forgive you - it's not your fault (or a bears) that young and drunken WTS foolishly stuck one of his hands in a bear cage. Oh, I've still got both hands and all appendages, but . . .those things can move SO much faster than people think that they can!


Rhoda Talisaysay from Philippines on June 27, 2011:

Wonderful hub though we don't have bears in my country. I love camping very much but never got the chance to explore much. I am happy for your family.

Mark from Alabama,USA on June 27, 2011:

Very cool hub - after reading it I am proud to be from Alabama where you can camp in a tent and not have to worry about them bears.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 27, 2011:

melbel...I dislike mosquitoes very much, blaaaa. Fortunately it does not usually get too hot for long pants and sleeves around here.

Thelma...get going!:)

CMHypno--you are the second person to mention the lack of wildlife in the UK (the other was on a hub about wolves.) It makes me sad that we have not learned from history as we are systematically ridding ourselves of wildlife here as well.

RTalloni--great to hear from you again and thanks for the vote.

Thank you Summersurf!

Your welcome and thank you Jeannie!

marellen...glad you were safe. It is exciting to see bears when you are not in danger.

Thanks, this is an honor! I hope I didn't scare you more with this hub. It was not my intention to frighten people away! We do it almost every weekend in the summer and love every minute of it!

Peter, checked out your hub...awesome!

magkouin on June 27, 2011:

awesome article! very informative, and useful, especially for the summer..

PETER LUMETTA from KENAI, ALAKSA on June 27, 2011:

Good advice! I lived with the bears in Alaska for years and followed pretty much the same line you take. I wrote a Hub on the Bears of Alaska that you might like. Enjoyed your Hub. Thanks Peter

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on June 27, 2011:

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on having what I believe is the first "Hub Of The Day!!!!!!!!"

I intend to write about bears some myself, but from more of a storytelling and biological perspective - because I'm TERRIFIED of bears.

I love camping - but golly jee whilikers, camping in bear country - scary!

Very nice advice. Despite my fear of bears - I'd still like to see one from a very safe distance and in the wild someday.:-D

marellen on June 27, 2011:

Wonderful and useful tips. I would take the kids camping all the time and only had one incident with a black bear....looking for food. Luckily, we had it in a safe place. Great hub and voted up....

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on June 27, 2011:

What a great hub! I really enjoyed reading this and the advice is very helpful. I have to agree with you - it is safer in a camper or a cabin than a tent. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

SummerSurf on June 27, 2011:

Great hub...very informative and plenty of detail.

RTalloni on June 27, 2011:

Good stuff. Well-balanced info, much needed warnings. So glad you posted this. Voted up and useful.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on June 27, 2011:

Thanks for the interesting info on camping in bear country. We don't have any large predators left in the UK (fox is about as big as it gets), so the only camping hazard is the typical British weather!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on June 27, 2011:

Great Hub! I love to go camping but have not done it yet. Thanks for sharing this useful tips.

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on June 26, 2011:

Wow! That would seriously freak me out! I am definitely a city girl, but would love to go camping. I just worry about things like wild animals and mosquitos and ugh other types of bugs.

I would definitely sleep in a camper because of the bear thing. I bet you get to see a lot of beautiful places when camping. Looking forward to planning a camping trip with a camper or haha, an RV. :)

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 26, 2011:

Melbel...yes, we have seen black and grizzly bears while camping many times. Just another reason why the camper gives me some piece of mind!

Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it!

Fotographer--your welcome and thank you!

Fotographer on June 26, 2011:

Thanks for the useful tips.

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on June 25, 2011:

I am definitely afraid of bears and other large, scary wild animals. We live in the woods (where there are cougars) and I'll be honest, I never go for a hike! Have you ever seen a bear while camping?

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 20, 2011:

I agree completely cardelean!

Thanks, DoItForHer!

DoItForHer on June 20, 2011:

Mrs. Menagerie, looks good. Can't think of much to add. For people who haven't been out in the woods, it can be a scary place, but with education and experience, camping becomes ethereal and cathartic. I can't fully put it into words.

Going into Yellowstone slathered in sunscreen after roasting hot dogs for the last hour is inviting disaster. Attractants are both food and non-food products.

cardelean from Michigan on June 20, 2011:

Great tips for bear country camping. I love camping with my kids. It really gives children a chance to get to know life beyond the tv or computer!!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 19, 2011:

Hi DoItForHer,

I'm sorry you've missed out on the experience of camping with your daughter as it is such a bonding experience for distractions, you know? Isn't she around 16? She would love to spend time with her Dad, I'm sure. Maybe someday.

I agree that most the time it is the people who create the problems and not the bears. But how would anyone know? Perhaps this info will reach a few people who wouldn't otherwise have been thinking about the precautions necessary around bears.

BTW, did I leave anything out? :)

DoItForHer on June 19, 2011:

I would take my daughter camping in bear country, but her mom would never let me. As you know, I grew up in bear country and have no qualms being around the critters.

If you are going to do it, you have to be smart about it. The number of people who tell me they are scared of bears, mountain lions, etc. amaze me, but those same people go into the woods with all sorts of attractants inviting a dangerous encounter. They also go boating without life vests, but carry a firearm on their person to protect themselves from bears. Is the real danger Grizzlies or drowning? Hmmmm.

It looks like the biggest danger is ignorance, not the inherent danger of a large predator.

Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on June 17, 2011:

Awesome. Thanks for the information.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 17, 2011:

vwriter--Thanks! If you come back to this area, may I recommend camping in Taylor Fork. It is just north of Yellowstone, is in State Forest and is never crowded. It's also free. So beautiful!!!!

Hi Simone! I used to be brave like you but then I had kids...heehee. Thanks for reading my hub!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 17, 2011:

Paul, it looks like $100/night is about average for a mid to large camper. Cruise America is what we use, 800 671-8042.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 17, 2011:

Some of my greatest memories as a kid are of camping. I've only ever camped in bear country in tents or out in the open, but that hard-sided camper looks like fun!

vwriter from US on June 17, 2011:

Great Article. I had the opportunity to spend time in Yellowstone. Just loved it. I never realized you could rent a camper? I want to go back to Yellowstone again, but my husband and I are not much interested in using a tent the next time around. Vote Thumbs up.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on June 16, 2011:

Well thank you very much Denise, camping rocks!

Hi Paul and thank you for reading my hub! I think the rates can vary a lot from one company to the next as well as from one region to the next. Also, the longer you rent it for, the better the cost per day. Great question, I will do a little research here.

Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on June 16, 2011:

Awesome tips. We love to camp. I really like the suggestion of renting a camper. How much does it cost approximately to rent one that sleeps two adults and three small children per night.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on June 16, 2011:

Wow! Fantastic. You hit the nail on the head with this idea. Great idea and not yet covered. Great camping advice covered. :)

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