In one remote coastal Alaska town, the bears outnumber the locals. It’s hard to believe the two can usually co-exist without problems, but that’s exactly what life is like in Hyder. Here in this Southeast Alaska outpost, residents know exactly how to keep bears out of campsites, homes and backyards. Here’s how they do it.
Hyder’s Best Tips for Living with Bears
If anyone knows about living with bears, it’s the residents of Hyder, Alaska. As the southernmost Alaskan community that you can get to by car, this former mining town sits inside one of the best bear viewing spots in the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest.
Hyder is known for having the highest densities of brown bears on the continent. The locals live with the constant presence of bears in the forest, but they also make great efforts to preserve bear habitat – and protect these giant creatures from tourists who don’t know how to stay safe in bear country.
“When they start getting food and get used to coming into a campground, the bear almost always gets killed. The bear pays for it, not the people. That’s the hard part, they’re just doing what comes naturally,” says Doyle Hickman, manager of Hyder’s only RV park, Camp Run-a-Muck. Bears prefer to avoid their human neighbors, but the lure of easily obtained food is often too great for them to ignore.
Do This One Thing to Keep Bears Out of Campsites
Bears’ personalities are as unique as any human’s, but they all have one big thing in common: an incredible sense of smell and a tendency to seek food in the early morning and late evening. A bear’s olfactory sense is over two thousand times as powerful as a human’s. It’s that sense of smell that gets bears into trouble in places where people gather to camp, sleep and eat.
“I’ve seen bears stand up on the sides of motor homes and rock them, when they know there’s food inside,” says Doyle. A hungry bear doesn’t care if the campers are home, they want food at any cost. This former national forest employee also seen bears destroy spare gas cans and chomp on the spare tire of a RV – even while people are home. The taste of petroleum-based products is almost as irresistible as human food, Doyle explains.
Thankfully you can lessen the odds of a bear encounter at your RV. Just do this one thing to keep bears out of campsites.
Keep a clean, odorless RV and campsite.
It sounds so simple, but this tip to keep bears out of campsites really works. If you plan to visit a popular bear watching destination like Hyder, leave your gourmet meal plans at home for another time. “Any time you cook something with an odor like that there’s always the possibility of drawing a bear,” says Doyle. To minimize your risk, he also suggests campers:
- Follow a bland-food menu with items you can prepare outside your RV. Top Ramen and cold sandwiches are two of your best allies against a bear invasion. These mildly scented foods won’t get a bear’s attention the way a barbecued hunk of meat or fish can.
- If you decide to barbecue, prepare to clean your grill thoroughly after use. Put it away and out of sight during the night for extra safety, even if it has to go in your car trunk.
- Finally, if you spill food while you’re cooking eating, always pick it up. If you spill food on the table, wipe it down. “Make sure everything gets clean,” advises Doyle.
Get rid of anything that can attract bears and they won’t want to stick around your campsite very long. “He might pass through, he might look at a few things but he’s not going to bother anything and he’s not going to stay,” Doyle explains. Food is the main thing that will invite a bear over to dinner, and most likely, to its eventual death.
“Taking care that there’s nothing in your campground to attract a bear is the difference between a nice camping trip and a disaster,” says Doyle.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Ivanhoe Magnifico says
Candy, gum, snacks and their wrappers count, too. We always eat on paved surfaces or spread a cover under our table to make clean-up easier and to be certain to get up those salty snack crumbles (i.e. chips, pretzels and corn curls pieces which fall as eaten or when removed from the bags)
A small battery operated or rechargeable vacuum cleaner is perfect for getting up that debris.
When you clean up the grill, don’t forget to clean the tools thoroughly, as well. We store ours in a heavy duty plastic bag which came with some equipment we bought, and we seal it with a wire tie. We buy the ties at a dollar store and keep a supply on hand. They come in handy for many things whether tenting or RVing.
Seann Fox says
DON’T THROW SCRAPS OF FOOD IN YOUR FIRE PIT. This will bring in a bear and even if you don’t pay the price for it the next camper may
We had a bear come into our campsite in the mountains of Northern NM first night we were there. It tore the camper back door off a shell camper cap of my buddy’s truck, crawled inside & bit holes through four 5 gallon water cans that had just been filled with water due to us boondocking way back in the forest. I heard the bear in the night & thought my buddy was looking for something in the back of his truck. What a surprise when we woke up the next morning! We each had a dog in our respective trailers & neither barked. That was the first & last time my buddy & his family boondocked in the wilderness with me. I had been in that same area several times before & went afterwards with no incident. I’ve had another buddy stay there in a tent numerous times without incident, so you never know.
Campgrounds I frequent in southeast AZ have bearproof garbage dumpsters. I’ve never seen another bear in camp since one memorable camping trip to Chiricahua National Monument thirty or thirty – five years ago. Before the widespread use of bearproof trash receptacles, they had many of those old style round corrugated steel trash barrels at each campsite. During the wee hours, my wife and young daughters were awakened by a terrible racket of banging and bashing. A flashlight revealed a bear methodically knocking over every garbage can at every campsite and sorting through the contents. Fortunately the bruin was not interested in human flesh like he was in their trash. By the time we camped again at a s.e. AZ campground the bearproof garbage receptacles were in widespread use. Some also have bearproof boxes. (Better than your car as some bears learn how to raunch open car doors.)
Drew Mueller says
Bears hate the smell of Ammonia. They’ll avoid and steer clear of anything that has been cleaned with it.
John Blackwell says
After living with bears as an outdoor guide in British Columbia for 40 years I have learned that bears do not like Pinesol. We clean our grills and cabins with Pinesol and have very good success keeping bears away.
David Allen Neil says
When we were camp hosts I used to sprinkle Dollar store hot sauce in and around the dumpsters and it seemed to work, friends used to ask me if I was trying to attract bears from Mexico? Dave & Frances
Esther W says
This “bear” rule is good for all camping situations where wildlife is active. For example, at Assateague Island State Park (Maryland) and Assateague Island National Seashore (NPS), feral wild horses roam free. There is nothing more picturesque than seeing the horses cooling themselves off in the Atlantic surf on the beach. But those horses have noses just as sharp as any bear’s and they can sniff out food from a very far distance. When people aren’t smart and eat smelly foods like Cheetos while at the beach, those horseys come a running! Literally! And they will kick people (literally) out of the way to get the food. Rangers suggest that people go to the “Pony Express” restaurant area to eat (fenced off), or choose foods without a strong smell. Littering and having open bags of food there is also discouraged. Just as in bear territory, eating in tents and having dirty campsites with unsecured food is a no-no and can even get you FINED! Following the “Leave No Trace” rules is best in areas where wildlife also lives.