As America’s wildest National Scenic Trail, the PNT travels through both grizzly and black bear habitat. Hikers can expect to see bears or bear sign in all but 70 miles of the 1,200 mile trail corridor.
In the lower ‘48 states, a bear sighting has become special and rare. Many of these animals have been lost to local extinction. With a relatively small remaining habitat, seeing a surviving grizzly bear is part of the very special experience offered by a trip on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Put bears and safety first, by carefully reviewing the information here and reading safety tips on our partners websites. Following these regulations will ensure a safe and enjoyable trip for both you and the special wildlife on our public lands.
Understand the Risks
Traveling and camping in grizzly habitat involves risk. While rare, bear encounters have resulted in serious injuries and even fatalities in the Pacific and Inland Northwest. But food storage techniques developed in our National Parks, and used by the majority of backcountry visitors to our public lands, have greatly reduced the frequency of these tragic events.
Put bears first on the Pacific Northwest Trail and do your part to keep the backcountry safe for everyone by following food storage orders and other regulations.
From the eastern terminus in Montana through Eastern Washington, approximately 400 miles of the PNT travels through Grizzly Bear Habitat. It is also possible, but not likely, for grizzlies to occur in the North Cascades ecosystem. Black bear habitat includes nearly all of the entire trail corridor, with the exception of 70 miles of trail through the Puget Sound Region of the trail.
Use Proper Food Storage
With bear habitat along 94% of the Pacific Northwest Trail, proper food storage is critical to protecting bears and the safety of human visitors to the PNT. It is every PNT hiker’s responsibility to follow these instructions to preserve the PNT experience for future generations.
While hiking, never leave food or your pack unattended, even for a short period of time.
In camp, use proper food storage techniques. Follow the instructions of the local land manager, or bear-hang, and use a bear proof container, like the Ursack. Odor-proof storage bags, like the Op Sak are also strongly recommended. Bear canisters are required in certain areas of Olympic National Park.
Do not risk having a bear encounter in the confines of your shelter by sleeping with your food, garbage or scented items. If you do encounter a bear, never let the animal get your food.
Carry Bear Spray
The PNTA recommends carrying bear spray in grizzly habitat. Some choose to carry bear spray for the entire trail to protect themselves from a possible black bear encounter.
Bear spray is a highly-concentrated non-lethal pepper spray deterrent. Aerosol cans typically spray a distance of 30 feet for seven to nine seconds. It is intended to be sprayed in the face of an aggressive bear. However, wind-direction and other factors may reduce its effectiveness.
Bear spray is no substitute for proper bear safety precautions, such as food storage.
Studies have shown bear spray to be effective 93% of the time in causing bears to cease aggressive activity where firearms have been found to be significantly less effective. Bear spray is also relatively inexpensive and lightweight.
Avoid Grizzly Bears
Trail running in grizzly bear habitat is highly discouraged.
Contact the local land manager to learn about bear activity in the area and food storage regulations.
Occasionally trails and campgrounds may be closed due to bear activity. The NPS, USFS, and PNTA