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Are you planning a trip to Glacier National Park soon? Maybe you want to bring your family to take in the majesty of the park. Maybe the trip is just a solo backcountry camping trip through the park. Either way, if you enjoy tent camping, you may be worried about bears in the park and asking yourself one question in particular – “Is it safe to tent camp in Glacier National Park?”.
As grizzly bear populations continue to recover, the numbers of human and grizzly encounters have also gone up. As a result, a lot of fear has developed around the idea of tent camping in bear country. Of course, there are always risks involved when spending time in bear country. This does not change just because you are in a national park. However, if you take the proper bear safety precautions and always carry bear spray, there is no reason for you not to enjoy your tent camping trip to Glacier National Park.
Choosing Your Camping Spot In Bear Country
The key to having a safe tent camp in Glacier National Park starts with choosing a good camping spot. Now, if you are planning on camping in one of the established campgrounds, then this choice has pretty much been made for you. However, when you are camping in the backcountry you should take some time and consider your camping spot carefully.
Watch For Bear Sign When Looking For A Spot To Place Your Tent Camp
As you are looking for a likely camping spot, you should be looking for any bear sign. If you do happen to find some fresh signs that bears have been using the area, it is probably a good idea to move on to a different area.
Some of the examples of bear sign to look for when tent camping.
- Fresh bear tracks.
- Rubbed and claw-marked trees. Bears will rub or scratch their backs against trees, and this will sometimes peal the bark off. In addition, they will peal the bark off some trees and eat the inner layer of bark.
- Larger rocks that have recently been flipped over. Bears will flip rocks to try to find insects underneath to eat.
- Rotted wood (stumps, logs, etc.) that has been torn apart or shredded. While looking for food, bears will tear old logs and stumps apart to find insects
- If it looks like someone has plowed or taken a rototiller to the ground, it is likely that a grizzly has been in the area. Grizzly bears will dig roots and bulbs. When you find areas like this you should look at the parts of the plants that have not been eaten. If they are still fresh, a bear may be nearby.
Find A Tent Camping Spot Away From Established Trails/Roads
A bear is just like any animal or you and me. They will take the path of least resistance whenever they can while traveling.
- A bear will especially use these travel routes if they are traveling night.
- In areas with dirt road either open or closed, bears will frequently travel along these roads.
- In the backcountry, this means established hiking or stock trails and well-worn game trails.
Do Not Set Your Tent Camp Too Close To A River, Stream, Or Lake Shore
Another natural travel corridor for bears are rivers, streams, and lake shores that do not have a lot of cover.
- Again, this is usually because travel along these waterways is easier than through dense forest and deadfall.
- However, just because you found a stream with that runs through thick cover does not mean it is a good spot. These are some likely spots for bears to bed during the day.
- In addition, these areas are generally some of the better areas for bears to find food and of course water.
Stay Away From Open Ridges In Steep Country When Choosing A Tent Camping Spot
Again, a natural travel route for any animal, bears included, would be open ridges.
- This is especially true in steep country where traveling is just naturally easier along these ridges.
- Later in the season, bears may also be cruising these areas digging for moths and other insects or looking for berries as they ripen.
So, Where Should you Camp?
After all the areas I have listed were you should not set your camp, you may be asking where do you camp?
- You should try to find an open meadow. The meadow does not have to be large.
- This area should not be surrounded by heavy brush or cover.
- You do not have to be miles from the nearest trial, stream, or lake. Just move 100 or 200 yards away from these natural travel corridors and you should be okay.
Setting Up Your Tent Camp To Stay Safe In Glacier National Park
After you have found a good camping spot you will have to properly set up your camp to stay safe while tent camping in Glacier National Park. Anytime you are camping in bear country, you need to separate your sleeping, cooking, washing, and food storage areas.
- At a minimum, you will want one area for sleeping and a second area at least 100 yards downwind for your cooking, washing, and food storage.
- A better practice is to separate all four areas. This will lower your chances of a up close bear encounter while you are at one of these areas if the bear is coming into one of the others.
- Your tent, sleeping area, should ALWAYS be upwind of all these other areas. The most likely reason a bear might visit your camping area is because they smelled something that interested them. When this happens, they will be coming to the smell with the wind in their face. By having you camp upwind, the bear will get to your cooking or food storage area before they get to your tent. You may lose your food this way but at least you will be alive to complain about it.
- Take a portable bear fence with you to put up around your tent. You can buy a complete kit to take with you or try to build one yourself. They are not cheap and not light weight. Most kits are around 4 pounds without batteries. However, the peace of mind and safety they offer may be worth the cost to you.
Store Food, Toiletries, And Trash Away From Your Tent Camp In Glacier National Park To Be Safe
Yes, I know I already mentioned this just a little bit ago. However, this may be the most important step you can take to stay safe when tent camping in Glacier National Park or any bear country. In addition, I want to cover this bear safety precaution in greater detail.
Of course, there is a chance you might run into a bear while hiking down the trail or while you are spending time relaxing or fishing at the river or lake. However, a more worrisome situation arises if a bear smells your food, deodorant, toothpaste, or perfume while you are sleeping and comes to investigate. Bears probably have the best sense of smell of any animal and can easily smell these items from miles away.
What Storage Containers For Food, Toiletries, And Trash Do You Need In Bear Country
You need to have a plan for your food and toiletry storage before you head out on your tent camping trip to Glacier National Park. First, you need to choose foods and toiletries that have less smell. Then, you need to take steps to make sure you reduce any smells and store it properly.
- Place all your food and toiletries in well-sealed plastic or Ziplock type bags. These bags will help to trap the odor and reduce the likelihood of the bear smelling them in the first place. In addition, as you empty the food from these plastic bags, you can use them to put your trash in for storage until you bring it back out with you.
- At a minimum, you should have a good stuff sack or preferably a dry sack to keep all your food in. However, you could also leave the food in your backpack if you are not going to need it for anything else while camping.
- The next step up from a regular dry bag or stuff sack would be a bear resistant flexible food sack. These sacks are made from a specially designed fabric that is made to keep bears from easily tearing open the bag. In addition, these bags IGBC certified and should meet most legal food storage requirements.
- Finally, the best option for storage is a certified bear resistant container. A bear resistant container can take many shapes and sizes from horse panniers to backpacking containers. They are hard sided containers that have some sort of locking mechanism. These containers have been designed and tested to withstand a bear getting into them, but they must be locked to work.
What Are Proper Food, Toiletry, and Trash Storage Methods In Bear Country
I have said it before, but it is worth repeating. Make sure you are storing ALL your food, toiletries, and trash a minimum of 100 yards from you tent and DOWNWIND. If at all practical, it would be even better to store the food further away.
- If you are in an area with plenty of trees you should always hang your food out of reach of bears.
- Out of reach means it should be hung at least 15 feet high and 10 feet from the trunk.
- You can simply tie some para-cord to a rock and throw it over the branch to hang the bag.
- There are also some nice kits available to hang your food.
- If there are no trees in the area, you should make sure that your food is even further away. Hopefully if you are in this situation, you have a bear resistant container or bear resistant bag because it would be the best option. However, if you only have your dry sack, it can be placed in deep crevices between rocks, submerged underwater, etc.
- If you can hang your bear containers, it would be best. However, you could leave them on the ground but extra precautions should be taken.
- Place them on a flat, level area so that the bear is less likely to roll it down the mountain if it finds it.
- Do not place it on the edge of a cliff or at the side of a river or lake. If you do, a bear may likely knock it over the cliff or into the water.
Make Sure You Cook Your Food In A Separate Area To Stay Safe While Tent Camping In Glacier National Park
Cooking is going to exaggerate the smells of your foods. Therefore, make sure you are always doing all cooking and eating away from your tent.
- After your camp is set up you should have a cooking area set up downwind from your tent. Do all your cooking here. This includes making your morning coffee.
- Always wash your dishes and pots thoroughly to remove odors.
- After you cook, you will have lingering odors on you and your clothes will too.
- Take a minute to wash yourself or use some outdoor wipes to wipe yourself down.
- It is also a good idea to change your clothes if you can before going back to your tent.
Keep Your Tent Camp And Yourself Clean To Stay Safe In Glacier National Park
Again, you are trying to reduce the odors your camp produces. This will lower the chances of a bear even finding your camp. Make sure you are constantly keeping your camp clean and, if you have been out for a while yourself, in bear country.
- Food and Dishes
- Odors from your food and trash will linger even after they have been removed, so never have them in your tent. Therefore, you should have a cooking and eating area that is separate from your tent.
- Take some time before you leave on your trip and plan your meals so that you do not have leftovers.
- When you do have leftovers, you should store them in plastic Ziploc bags and place them back in storage.
- Wash your dishes after each use to keep odors down. Make sure this is also done far away from you tent and sleeping area.
- Personal Hygiene
- If you are not up for taking a dip in a stream or lake to clean yourself, you could always take some Outdoor Wet Wipes for a quick wipe down.
- When you are washing or brushing your teeth make sure you are a safe distance from you sleeping area.
- If you are fishing on your trip, NEVER clean fish at your camp. Move far away from your camp and properly dispose of the entrails.
Keep Bear Spray With You And Accessible At All Times In Bear Country
To stay safe while tent camping in Glacier National Park you must be ready to defend yourself. You need to always have a deterrent at hand.
- Most officials recommend carrying bear spray with you all times while in bear country.
- According to these officials, bear spray is more effective than a gun. The bear spray will have a wider dispersal and is more likely to hit the bear.
- Keep the bear spray in the tent with you at nights while sleeping.
So, Is It Safe To Tent Camp In Glacier National Park?
Tent camping in bear country is a potentially dangerous adventured. However, if you follow the guidelines we have laid out to stay safe, you should avoid any major issues with a bear.
Bear attacks are do not happen that often when you consider how many people visit Glacier National Park each year. By learning these safety guidelines, you will help you protect yourself and other people and will stay safe while tent camping in Glacier National Park.
Feature Photo by Peter Vanosdall on Unsplash
CharlesCharles is a man who loves the outdoors. He moved to Wyoming specifically to spend more time in the mountains and wilderness. A hunter and fisherman, Charles knows how to enjoy nature and all that it has to offer. He is an outdoorsman through and through, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Charles is the President of Absaroka Enterprises, an company focuse on outdoor entertainment and endeavours. He's also an Editor for Alpha and Omega Outdoors, an online hunting, fishing, camping, trapping, and all around outdoors blog.
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