Camping in Bear Country with Kids
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 the 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?
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.
Most incidents of aggressive bear behavior are caused by carelessness on the part of humans and can be avoided by taking certain precautions.
Hard-Sided Camper: Safer Than a Tent
My personal, number-one, 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.
Either way, here are some important precautions that must be taken when camping around bears.
Bear Proof Containers Tested Locally (click to enlarge)
10 Tips for Camping in Bear Country
1. Check the campsite for evidence of recent bear activity such as: tracks, claw marks, 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 3 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.)
- Any food
- used cooking equipment and utensils
- cooking grease or drippings
- dirty dishwater
- dog food
- stove/ lantern fuel
- canned drinks (even unopened)
- insect repellents
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.