Evoking a mixture of fascination and fright, bears are the superstars of Yosemite National Park’s ecosystem. The mammoth mammals spend the majority of their lives looking for food, and they are well equipped for it. Their lips can pull acorns from caps and can grab a single ant from a log. They are smart, too, able to geographically map where food is at each time of the year. Think of their brains as complex seasonal maps for dinner.
Yosemite Bears In the Spring
When the bears wake up from a long winter of hibernating without food, they’re mighty hungry. They are ready to eat, so you’ll see them be bolder when foraging for food.
They cross more roads and are not as afraid of humans as they are when sated. Thus, the sightings of bears go up in the spring. Please be careful that the bears don’t hurt you and that you don’t hurt the bears. Sadly, of the 300-500 bears in Yosemite, about 10 are hit by careless drivers annually.
Which brings us to our next point. Have you seen a sign in Yosemite, as you drive, which says “Speeding Kills Bears”? If so, it means there is a bear nearby who regularly crosses the road. So slow down, keep your eyes open and maybe you’ll spot one.
In the Summer
Have you ever worn a fur coat in the middle of summer? That’s how a bear feels when he is looking for food in the summer. You will see bears begin to come out at night or hang out in the shade, as opposed to exposing themselves to the hot Yosemite sun in the daytime.
The park, rising from elevations of 2,000 to 14,000 feet, also blooms at different times of year. So many times, as a bear enjoys a certain type of food, the critter will follow the food source as it becomes available (as the snow melts). It means you may see bears at higher elevations such as Glacier Point or Tuolumne Meadows as they escape the heat as the summer continues.
Bears In the Fall
In the fall, the bears begin to prepare for winter, which means they need to pack their bodies with fatty and high-calorie foods.
This same time of year, especially in the Valley, is when acorns begin to fall off the oak trees. These same acorns (well, their descendants) are what the native American tribes of Yosemite dined on more than a century ago. Put those facts together, and where do you think you’ll find the bears?
A good spot with many oak trees (and not many people) is the stretch of the Valley Loop Trail between Lower Yosemite Falls and The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and the trail to Mirror Lake. If you are walking these trails in the fall, keep your eyes open for a large furry animal eating like it’s Thanksgiving dinner.
In the Winter
People think all bears hibernate in winter, which can be true but is not always the case. Many times in winter we’ve come across a bear roaming. This time of year, because of fewer people in the park, you’ll see bears in more popular areas, such as near the Lower Yosemite Falls trails or on the Mirror Lake Trail. These winter sightings happen more in November and December, before the heavy snow falls.
Please Store Your Food and Scented Items Properly
No matter the time of year, the bears will follow their noses. Many of them are in the unpopulated, natural area of Yosemite, but many more stay near human populations. Sadly, of the bears that are near people, many of them are killed each year not by careless drivers but by campers who disregard the rangers’ warnings of storing food properly. As soon as a bear is comfortable with human food, it’s too much of a danger to park guests and will be killed. So please respect this magnificent wildlife and store your food properly.
Bear With Us
These tips are an introduction to park bears and their habits, but they’re not written in stone, as at any time you may see a bear anywhere, maybe even on your hiking trail.
Please be mindful and respectful of these animals. Keep your distance. Lock up your food. But after that, enjoy yourself and the excitement these beautiful animals engender.
The real tip here is to slow down and enjoy Yosemite and all its natural wonders. When you open your eyes to what you are passing, many times you will see a bear. The bears are there. You just need to use your skills and look for them, and always be aware of your surroundings. Stay safe.