Black bears have always been a part of Alberta ecosystems and Elk Island National Park provides a safe, natural space for bears to thrive.

While bears generally prefer to avoid people, seeing a bear in the park is becoming more common. To protect these majestic animals, Parks Canada discourages any and all human interactions with bears; however, encounters between bears and people can occur.

The park’s population of black bears may be small, but there are 400,000 visitors to Elk Island National Park each year. Consider the cumulative impact that 400,000 people can have if many visitors stop to view bears.

Knowing how to avoid an encounter with a bear is the best way to enjoy the park safely and give bear the best possible chance at survival.

Avoid an encounter

Bears are extremely sensitive to the stress of human activity. Help protect these animals by avoiding encounters with them.

  • Make noise and be visible. Hike with a friend or in a group. Alert animals by making noise. A surprised bear might react aggressively to defend itself, its young or a food source.
  • Stay alert. Be aware of surroundings and avoid using headphones. Never leave children unattended.
  • Cyclists and runners move fast and have a greater chance of surprising a bear. Go slow when rounding blind corners and do not wear ear buds.
  • Keep dogs on a leash. Pets cause wildlife stress and dogs can provoke bears. Keep them under control and physically restrained at all times.
  • Do not feed or entice wildlife. Store all food, garbage and scented items when not in use. Deposit garbage in designated garbage bins.
  • Never leave food or scented items unattended. Leaving any food or scented items unattended, even for a few minutes, puts visitors and wildlife at risk.
  • Hike and cycle in groups. Recreate in groups of four or more. Larger group sizes are less likely to have a serious bear encounter.

Bear spray

Carry bear spray at all times and know how to use it. Bear spray can be effective when used properly. Be aware that wind, spray distance, rain, freezing temperatures and product shelf life can all influence its effectiveness. Become familiar with the proper use of bear spray (including the manufacturer’s specific instructions) and keep it readily accessible.

What is bear spray and how is it used?

Driving

If a bear is beside the road, do not stop.

Viewing bears, even from the safety of a car, teaches bears that being around people is OK. Unfortunately, once a bear gets used to being around people it often gets fed by people. Over time these bears become increasingly more aggressive in their search for an easy meal. Once a bear loses its natural fear of people and experiences human food, they usually end up having to be removed or destroyed because of the threat they pose to public safety. It is very difficult, and often impossible, to undo these behaviours.

If a bear is beside the road, it is likely eating or looking for food.

Bears have to eat almost constantly during the snow-free months to accumulate enough energy to survive their long winter hibernation. Being able to feed undisturbed may make the difference between life or death for that bear or, if it’s a female, for her offspring; she can’t get pregnant unless she builds up enough body fat over the summer. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear.

Hiking

Hiking the trails of Elk Island National Park offer amazing wildlife viewing opportunities and a greater chance of stumbling upon wildlife. If a bear is nearby, be sure to follow these steps:

  • Carry bear spray. Ensure it is immediately accessible and know how to use it.
  • If the bear is unaware of human presence, leave the area without disturbing it.
  • If the bear is aware of human presence, stay calm. Assess the situation. Bears may show stress by ‘woofing’, growling, drooling and popping their jaws.
    Speak to the bear. Talk calmly and firmly.
  • Don’t provoke or threaten the bear, behaviours like yelling or dogs barking agitate bears.
  • If possible, give the bear space. Never run.
  • If a bear follows or charges, stand strong. Pick up small children. Group together. Use arms to appear larger.
  • Keep backpacks on. Packs can provide protection in the event of an attack.
  • Continue to assess the situation. Know how to handle defensive and non-defensive attacks.
  • When possible, while keeping an eye on the bear, leave the area or take a detour. Always leave the bear an escape route.

* Cyclists and runners move fast and have a greater chance of surprising a bear. If encountering a bear, stop running or cycling. If cycling, put the bike between you and the bear.

Keep a clean site

Keep recreation areas, campsites and trails clean at all times. Store food, garbage and scented items in a vehicle or a bear proof storage container when not in use. Bear-proof garbage cans are located throughout the park and offer safe garbage disposal.

Leaving scented items unattended, even for a few minutes, puts visitors and wildlife at risk and may result in a fine. Remember, cooking in or near a tent is dangerous because lingering odours may attract wildlife.

Items to store when not in-use:

  • coolers - full or empty
  • food - wrapped, unwrapped, or in containers
  • garbage/wrappers
  • dishes/pots/cutlery - clean or dirty
  • empty beverage containers
  • pet food/bowls - full or empty
  • bottles/cans - open or unopened
  • barbecues - clean or dirty
  • any other items used for food preparation or that have a smell or scent
  • scented products - such as shampoo, toothpaste, candles, citronella, dish soap, sunscreen, lip balm, dish towels

Review all camping safety tips, regulations and etiquette before planning a camping trip to Elk Island National Park.

Bear season

Peak bear activity generally occurs starting in late February and can continue through to early December. However, bears can be awake any time of year, and even periodically wake up during the winter.

Related Links

Wildlife safety
Safety on land
AdventureSmart

It is illegal to feed, entice or disturb any wildlife in a national park. Violators may be charged, be required to appear in court, and could pay fines up to $25 000. To report offenses call Parks Canada Dispatch: 1-877-852-3100.