Black Bears & You in Yosemite

Black Bears and You in Yosemite National Park

Black Bears have a keen sense of smell, around 7 times greater than a blood hound’s. Combined with their excellent memory for food sources and you have an animal with a unique capability to find food or anything that smells or looks like food. Bears will peel the doors off your car like a monkey peeling a banana. Anyone who has had their car peeled like a banana knows this costs a lot of money to repair, not to mention the door-less car you will be driving to the repair shop. Bears stop at nothing to get what they think is food. They will even go after anything that resembles a food storage container, even if it is clean, empty and used to hold water. In the backcountry? Better have a bear canister! Black Bears are very smart and resourceful and break into an average of 100 cars every year searching for food. But not to worry, here are some tips of how to keep your food and belongings safe from those big, furry eating machines.

First, here are some items to be aware of that a bear may consider yummy.










 candy wrappers

 chap stick


 canned goods

 bottles – Gatorade, water, etc.


 ice chests (even if empty)

 unclean pots & pans

 used dishwashing towels

 air fresheners



 any other items that have a scent

When leaving your vehicle in a trailhead parking lot before heading out on a Yosemite hiking or backpacking trip, there are ways to store your scented items that you don’t want to carry in your backpack. Metal food storage lockers are provided throughout the park and in parking areas. Empty your vehicle and luggage of anything scented, place in a bag and place in the locker. Bears can smell food in the lockers but cannot get into them when latched. Keep in mind these lockers are only bear proof – not human proof so be sure not to leave behind any valuable. These same lockers can be found when camping while on a Half Dome trip or the High Sierra Campsites sometimes used while on a Tuolumne Meadows backpacking trip.

When in the Yosemite wilderness on your backpacking trip, be advised most areas do not have bear lockers. In these areas, a bear canister is required. The park service does not allow all brands and types of canisters so be sure to check before investing in a canister for your backpacking trip.  A couple recommended brands – BearVault and the Bear Keg. If you don’t have your own, the Yosemite backcountry office rents bear canisters for $5 per week. The canister is carried inside or strapped to the outside of your pack.

How to use your bear canister

The most important part of using a bear-resistant container is what goes inside it. Make sure all food, trash, toiletries, and other scented items are inside the container.  As a general rule, if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should be stored in a bear canister.

The canister only works if it’s closed and locked, even while you’re in camp. Place the container on the ground in a flat, level area 100 feet or more from your campsite. Try not to place it near a cliff or any water source, as a bear may knock the container into the stream or roll it down a hill. Several years ago, a bear hanging around Yosemite Point on a Yosemite Falls/Snow Creek route was stealing campers’ bear canisters and throwing them off the cliff – not sure how to avoid this one though.  Additionally, do not hang or attach anything to the container (ropes attached to the container enable a bear to carry it away – he still won’t be able to get into it, but you won’t have any food either). You can place pots and pans on top of the container as a bear alarm if you like – this will usually scare the bear away.

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