Walkin’ In A Winter Wonderland

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Don’t let the winter months scare you from going outside, there is still so much to be seen. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is brimming with beauty, even in the colder months. Several hikes will give you luxurious views of snowy mountains, icy falls and even traces of wildlife!snowycreek_ig

Alum Cave Bluffs is a 5 mile, round trip hike that sits off of Newfound Gap Road. The trail has recently been restored for better access to hikers. During the winter months, the drips from the Bluff turn into icicles, so watch out! If you continue from the Bluffs up another 2.5 miles, you’ll reach the summit of Mt. LeConte and run into some amazing views. This is a difficult hike, especially in the snow so don’t forget to come prepared for anything.

Another Local favorite is Porters Creek Trail. This kid-friendly, 2 mile hike leads into what used to be a small farmstead. You will see several buildings and other structures still standing from the early 1900s. Follow the trail left up to Fern Branch Falls for a magnificent view of the 60-foot frozen waterfall. laurel250xv

Laurel Falls is a paved, relatively easy trail, but one of the most traveled in the area. The trail is kid-friendly, although it does have a few steep drop offs along the way. In the winter, the Falls will ice over providing you with the perfect winter snapshot.

Our favorite winter hike would have to be Rainbow Falls. This 5.5 mile hike is rated as moderate to difficult, climbing a total of 1,700 feet. This trail sends you right through Bear Country so always keep an eye out for wildlife, even though they usually hibernate through winter. The 80-foot Falls usually boasts a beautiful rainbow, hence the name, although in the winter months it will freeze, creating a gorgeous hourglass shaped ice sculpture! You really have to see this one for yourself!

Remember that preparation is key for hiking, especially in the winter. Some guidelines to ensuring your safety include carrying a map of the area, informing another person(s) where you are going and when you plan to return, researching terrain or trail conditions and staying up to date on weather and weather alerts. Don’t forget to bring key items such as water, food, a flashlight, trekking poles for stability, an emergency blanket and other items you may need in case any unforeseen issues arise. Always dress in layers and wear adequate shoes or boots. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times and always practice Leave No Trace principles.

 

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This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Smoky Mountain areas.

Oh Those Bears!

Oh Those Bears!

Oh Those Bears!Seeing a bear is definitely a thrill! Not so much the, “Aww, what a cute fuzzy animal!” thrill. More the strange, awe-inspiring combination of, “What a beautiful, majestic animal!” and “Wow! I could’ve been killed!” If that’s the kind of thrill you’re looking for, search no further than the Great Smoky Mountains! They’ve been known to even come down into town and visit the candy shop, make house calls (or cabin calls), or pass by the cabin rental office (yes, ERA In The Smokies, the one that sponsors this blog), but to have the best chance of glimpsing one, visit their natural habitat: The Great Smoky Mountains National Forrest!This bear crossed the road in front of our office, as you can see!

Bears on the Abrams Falls TrailThe bears are, in fact, so active right now, that certain areas of the park have been shut down to cut down risk of attack. No attacks have yet been reported this year, but there was a man who reported that a bear followed him for quite a while as he rode his bike, even though the man was trying to move away. This is most unusual behavior for bears, as they are usually afraid of humans, and prefer to avoid us. A couple of years ago, when I was naive and reckless, I went hiking by myself on the Abrams Falls Trail in Cades Cove fairly early in the morning, about 8am. The trail was nearly deserted, and as I hiked along in solitude, I looked up and saw a mama bear and her cubs up the hill a bit. Even as my heart jumped into overdrive, I calmly continued my walk down the trail. Thankfully I was already headed in the opposite direction as the bears, but if I had been going the same direction, I would have turned around, even if it meant cutting my hike short. That mama bear behaved as a normal bear, and gave no sign that she even noticed my presence, but continued on her way.

What should you do if you encounter a bear? Well, we know you want to take a picture, but please consider your safety and the bear’s needs first. The National Park has the following recommendations: “If you see a bear remain watchful. Do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.)-you’re too close. Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.

Close Encounters of the Bear Kind“If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, without vocalizing, or paw swatting, change your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it. Act aggressively to intimidate the bear. Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground). Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick. Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear. Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems.”

2010 Bear Photo Contest Winners!The following areas are currently closed due to aggressive bear activity: Spence Field Shelter, Backcountry Campsites 13,18, 21, 113, and Bull Head Trail. Areas with merely a warning include: Appalachian Trail for Shuckstack to Doe Knob, Curry Mountain Trail, Gregory Bald Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, Icewater Spring Shelter, and Backcountry Campsite 24. Cades Cove is also known for being the site of tons of bear sitings. We’ve even seen pictures that people were able to take from their cars, sometimes of a bear crossing the road just in front of or behind them.

These bears were caught in the hot tub of our cabin Chipmunk Haven!Another way to see a bear is to rent a cabin. ERA in the Smokies usually receives several reports each year from guests and staff alike that bears have been viewed at the cabins. Sometimes only their handiwork is encountered, however! They do like to try to dig in the trash!

ERA In The SmokiesThis blog is sponsored in part by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN. For more information on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.

Things to do in Gatlinburg- For Kids!

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When vacationing in Gatlinburg, many visitors look for something fun to do with their kids. There are a range of activities to participate in from hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to riding bumper cars in downtown Gatlinburg. There are many cheap or free things to do in Gatlinburg also if you are on a budget. At the Nantahala Outdoor Center right before the National Park in downtown Gatlinburg, kids can climb the rock wall while you shop for new camping gear.Climbing_with_NOC_(001) The NOC is a great place for the whole family. There are several Ripley’s attractions throughout downtown Gatlinburg  including Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies with an interactive kids area, live mermaid diving shows and a specially designed kid friendly penguin exhibit, Davy penguinsCrockett mini golf, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze and Candy store, Ripley’s Moving Theater, Ripley’s Fun Zone, and the famous Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. Ober Gatlinburg also has a lot to offer not only in the winter months, but in the summer months as well. Ride the Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg up to Ober Gatlinburg and enjoy the best views of the Great Smoky Mountains. After you get to the top, visit the Wildlife Encounter where you can see Bears. While on your visit to Ober Gatlinburg spend a few hours Ice Skating, ride the Alpine Slide, the Scenic Chairlift, the Blue Cyclone Rapids water slide and Ober’s Lightin’ Raft Ride and alpine slideShoot-the-Chute. There is also a fun-filled Amaze’n Maze and a Kiddie Land and Rides for children.

Gatlinburg also offers Zip-lining, Whitewater Rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding and fishing noc raftingspots. You may book zip-lining and white water rafting trips through the NOC in downtown Gatlinburg as well as rent bicycles for the day and get information about where to go fishing. The Sugarlands Visitors Center is also a great place to take your children for free where the whole family can learn about the history of the park and go through the wildlife museum inside the Visitors Center. Get information about the Junior Ranger program and the activities that your children may participate in for free. Cades Cove is also an excellent place to take your family in the park. Take a ranger led hayride through Cades Cove for $14.00 per person.

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Mynatt Park, one of Gatlinburg’s City parks, is near downtown Gatlinburg. Take the family to the park for a picnic lunch, to play in the river, play on the jungle gym, or even play a fun game of tennis or basketball. All kids live candy, so while downtown visit any of the local Candy stores where the candy is made on site. Watch Saltwater Taffy being made at Ole Smoky’s Candy Kitchen.

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Stay with ERA In The Smokies and easily access all that Gatlinburg has to offer for the entire family!

Day Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Click here for Easy Summer Hikes!

There are many different trails to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranging from easy to moderate to strenuous. Whether you’re looking for a quiet forest walk and wildflowers or a hike by the river to an amazing waterfall, there is a hike for everyone! Here are a list of the hikes you can complete in a day.

  1. Alum Cave- Features views and interesting geological features. 4.4 miles roundtrip and moderate in difficulty
  2. Charlie’s Bunion- 8.0 miles roundtrip
  3. Spruce-Fir Trail- Located in Newfound Gap/ Clingmans Dome, 0.4 miles roundtrip
  4. Laurel Falls- Located in Elkmont, 2.3 miles roundtrip and features a historical waterfall and stream
  5. Little Brier Gap- Located in Elkmont, features the Walker Sisters Place and is 2.3 miles roundtrip
  6. Grotto Falls- Located in Gatlinburg/ Mt. Leconte, features waterfalls and is 2.6 miles roundtrip
  7. Schoolhouse Gap- Located in Cades Cove/ Townsend, features a quiet forest hike and wildflowers and is 3.8 miles roundtrip
  8. Baskins Creek Falls- Located in Gatlinburg, features waterfalls and is 3.0 miles roundtrip
  9. Andrews Bald- Located in Newfound Gap/ Clingmans Dome, features panoramic views and is 3.5 miles roundtrip
  10. Porter’s Creek Trail- Located in the Greenbrier area, features waterfalls, streams, flowers and an old growth forest, 4.0 miles roundtrip
  11. Abrams Falls- Located in the Cades Cove area, features waterfalls and is 5.0 miles roundtrip
  12. Little River Trail- Located in the Elkmont area, features streams and seasonal wildflowers, 4.9 miles roundtrip
  13. Meigs Mountain Trail- Located in the Elkmont area, quiet forest hike, 4.6 miles roundtrip
  14. Hen Wallow Falls- Located in the Greenbrier area, features waterfalls, 4.4 miles roundtrip
  15. Huskey Gap (Newfound Gap Rd)- Located in Gatlinburg, features a quiet forest walk and is 4.2 miles roundtrip
  16. Chimney Tops- Located in Gatlinburg, features panoramic mountain views and is 4.0 miles roundtrip
  17. Cucumber Gap Loop- Located in Elkmont, features streams and seasonal wildflowers. 5.6 miles roundtrip
  18. Grapeyard Ridge Trail- Located in Greenbrier, features a historical Injun Creek steam engine wreck and is 5.8 miles roundtrip
  19. Deep Creek Headwaters- Located in Newfound Gap, features a stream and is 5.8 miles roundtrip
  20. West Prong Trail- Located in the Cades Cove area, features a stream and quiet forest walk, 5.4 miles roundtrip
  21. Curry Mountain Trail- Located in the Elkmont area, features a quiet forest hike and is 6.4 miles roundtrip
  22. Sugarland Mountain Trail (lower)- Located in the Elkmont area, features a quiet forest hike and is 6.0 miles roundtrip
  23. The Jump Off- Located in Newfound Gap, features panoramic mountain view and is 6.5 miles roundtrip
  24. Bullhead Trail- Located in Gatlinburg, features views and interesting geological features, 5.9 miles roundtrip
  25. Sugarland Mountain Trail (upper)- Located in Newfound Gap, features views and solitude, 7.0 miles roundtrip

It is important to always hike prepared. Here is a complied list of things to bring with you on each day hike in the Smokies during the Summer months.

  • Backpack, daypack or fanny packhike gear
  • Rain/Wind shield
  • Supportive Footwear
  • Extra socks
  • Extra clothing
  • Gloves
  • Water: full canteens, water bottles or hydration pack
  • Extra food: high energy snacks
  • Map and/or guidebook
  • Compass
  • Pocket knife
  • Flashlight
  • Whistle
  • Watch
  • First Aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun protection
  • Toilet paper (in a plastic bag)
  • Money/ ID

Suggested/ Optional Gear:

  • Hiking Pole
  • Bandana
  • Notebook with pencil
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Cell phone
  • Napkins
  • Zip seal plastic bagsAbrams Falls Trail

Include in basic first-aid kit:

  • Roll bandages
  • Triangular bandages
  • Ace bandages
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Sterile compresses
  • Adhesive tape
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Miscellaneous band aids
  • Twine
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer
  • Latex gloves
  • Tissues
  • Plastic bags
  • Small mirror
  • Antibacterial soap/wipes
  • Eye drops
  • Burn Ointment
  • Sunburn lotion
  • Disinfectant cream
  • Decongestant and Antihistamine tabletshiking-first-aid-kit
  • Anti-acids
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Aspirin/ Ibuprofen
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Poison ivy cream/ cleansers
  • Bee sting kit
  • Snake bite kit
  • Heat/cold packs
  • Personal information/ contact person
  • First-aid manual

Safety tips:

Never hike alone, give a family member or friend your hiking itinerary and estimated time of return, always stay on the designated trail, don’t hike too quickly pace yourself, start early, check the weather forecast before heading out, know where to get emergency medical care, watch for signs of heat exhaustion, don’t pack too heavily, never approach wild animals, and remember to always have fun!!

Ten Cheap or FREE things to do in Gatlinburg-2013

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1. Driving Trails- Enjoy nature and view wildlife on these driving trails: Trail of the Dragon, Balsam Mountain Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Upper Tremont Road, Newfound Gap Road and the Cataloochee Valley.

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2. 8 mile driving loop around the Arts and Crafts Community- With more than 120 working artisans this loop is the nations largest organization of independent artisans.

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3. Historic Structures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park– There are over 90 structures preserved or rehabilitated in the park. You can see them in Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

4. Free Wine Tasting- Try locally made wines at these wineries: Smoky Mountain Winery, Sugar-lands Cellars, Ole Smoky Winery and Moonshine Distillery

5. Sugar-lands Visitor Center- Pick up maps and see exhibits of Mountain life and culture as well as all of the different species of animals that can be found here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

6. Outdoor Activities- Bicycling, Camping, Fishing, Hiking and Picnicking. There are many places in the park to enjoy multiple activities such as the Chimmeys Picnic area, the Greenbrier Picnic area, the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area and Cades Cove.biking

Seasonal Events:

7. Winterfest– This event brings the opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills, share ideas and compete against other posts and crews and have fun.

8.Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival– Beginning in September, the people of Gatlinburg celebrate the Autumn colors by decorating and entertaining guests and start out with the Fall Craftsman’s Fair.

9. New Year’s Eve Ball Drop– Celebrate the New Year at Gatlinburg’s 26th annual Ball Drop and Fireworks Show around the intersection of the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg and the Historic Nature Trail at the Base of the Space Needle late Tuesday night, December 31, 2013.

10. Gatlinburg Festival of Lights Christmas Parade- Celebrate the Christmas season at Gatlinburg’s 38th annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade at 7:30 p.m. on Friday December 7, 2013. There will be over 100 parade entries, helium balloons and marching bands from Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama. gatlinburgchristmasparade

Waterfalls in the Smokies

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Few experiences in nature are more rewarding than taking a beautiful hike knowing there is a majestic waterfall waiting for you at the end. Waterfalls are commonly formed when a river is young at the time when the channel is often narrow and deep. When the river courses over resistant bedrock erosion happens slowly while upstream erosion occurs more quickly. As the water increases its velocity at the edge of the waterfall, it picks up material from the riverbed. The erosion capacity is increased when whirlpools created in the turbulence as well as sand and stones carried by the water stream. These whirlpools cause the waterfall the carve deeper into the into the bed and to recede upstream. Many times over a period of time, the waterfall will recede back to form a canyon or gorge downstream as it recedes upstream and will carve deeper into the ridge above it. The rate of retreat for a waterfall can be as high as one and a half meters per year.

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Waterfalls normally form in a rocky area due to erosion. There is usually a deep area just below waterfalls because of the kinetic energy hitting the bottom. Often, the rock stratum just below the more resistant shelf will be of a softer type, meaning that undercutting due to splashback will occur here to form a shallow cave-like formation known as a rock shelter under and behind the waterfall. Eventually, the outcropping, more resistant cap rock will collapse under pressure to add blocks of rock to the base of the waterfall. These blocks of rock are then broken down into smaller boulders by attrition as they collide with each other, and they also erode the base of the waterfall by abrasion, creating a deep plunge pool or gorge.

There are many waterfalls that are just a short hike away here in the Smokies, these include:

  • Laurel Falls- This 80 foot high waterfall is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the smokies. Located just a few minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, this trail is paved making it stroller, wheelchair and walker accessible.
  • Grotto Falls- Easily walk behind this 25 foot high waterfall just minutes from Gatlinburg off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This trail is 3 miles round trip and should take around 2-3 hours to complete.

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    Grotto Falls

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Laurel Falls

  • Abrams Falls- This 5 mile roundtrip hike along Abrams Creek is moderate, but worth it. The large amount of water creates a very deep pool, but swimming is not allowed because of the dangerous currents. This hike is in Cades Cove.

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    Abrams Falls

Ramsey Cascades- At 100 feet, this is the highest waterfall in the park. The water collects in a small pool where salamanders can be found. This is a strenuous 8 mile trip  will take 5 to 7 hours to complete, but the reward at the end is worth it. To get there drive 5.9 miles from Gatlinburg on 321, then turn right at Greenbrier, at mile 3.2 turn left at the sign for Ramsey Cascades onto the bridge that crosses the Middle Prong and drive 1.5 miles to the parking area.

  • Hen Wallow Falls- At the bottom of the 90 foot high waterfalls you can often find salamanders. During a very cold winter, the falls often freeze to form a beautiful ice formation. At 4.4 miles roundtrip, this hike is moderate in difficulty. Access this hike at the Gabes Mountain Trailhead at the Cosby Picnic area.

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    Hen-Wallow Falls

  • Mingo Falls- Just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can hike this moderate set of wooden stairs .4 of a mile to this waterfall. The access trail is at the Pigeon Creek Trailhead. From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, drive south toward  Cherokee on US 441 and take the second bridge to the left and drive 4.5 miles to Mingo Falls Campground where the trail begins.

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    Mingo Falls

  • Rainbow Falls- A rainbow is visible on a sunny day when the mist creates a canvas. This 80 foot high waterfalls creates an impressive ice formation in the winter .This hike is 5.4 miles roundtrip and moderate in difficulty. The access trail is at the Rainbow Falls trailhead in the Roaring Fork area. From the Gatlinburg parkway, turn at traffic light #8 and follow the Historic Nature Trail into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue past Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin to the Rainbow Falls parking area.

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    Rainbow Falls

Waterfalls in the Smokies you can drive to:

  • Meigs Falls- The pull off for this waterfall is along Little River Road 13 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. This waterfall can be easily missed while driving so be sure to watch carefully for it!
  • Place of 1,000 drips- From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow the Historic Nature trail in the park. Take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail and continue to stop #15 at the falls.

These waterfalls are breathtaking, but make sure to hike prepared with plenty of water, snacks and hiking essentials in case of emergencies.

Beloved Black Bears

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Even though they look cute and cuddly, black bears are wild animals and are dangerous and unpredictable. While visiting the Great Smoky Mountains please do not approach the bears or allow them to approach you and do not feed them! “Panhandler” bears, who have had access to human food and garbage only live half of their normal life expectancy. Not to mention, you can be fined up to $5,000 and sentenced to six months in jail for feeding bears and improper food storage. Many areas around the country are rapidly developing to accommodate more housing. Because of their loss of habitat in North America, black bears are now confined to wooded areas or dense brush land. In the Smokies, you can often see a black bear in the Cades Cove area and many other areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ober Gatlinburg also has a black bear exhibit containing bears.

About Black Bears

Black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains are black in color, but in other parts of the country they can be brown or cinnamon in color.  These creatures can grow up to six feet in height standing. A male black bear usually weighs about 250 pounds, while the female black bear generally weighs just over 100 pounds. However, by the fall, black bears can double their weight preparing for the winter months. This has been observed by the park staff as the black bears in this area have been documented weighing over 600 pounds. Wild black bears can live anywhere from 12 to 15 years. Unfortunately, because humans can be careless, these precious creatures sometimes do not live out their life expectancy because they are made to live on berries and when they eat trash it puts toxins in their bodies. black bear

Bears are most active during the early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer. Black bears can run up to 30 miles per hour, swim very well and also climb trees. They will often mark trees with their teeth and claws as a form of communication with other bears. Bears in the Smokies often make their dens at higher elevations in hollowed out trees. They enter dens in October and November and hibernation usually lasts between 3 to 5 months. A special hormone, leptin is released into the black bear’s systems, to suppress appetite. Because they do not urinate or defecate during dormancy, the nitrogen waste from the bear’s body is biochemically recycled back into their proteins. This also serves the purpose of preventing muscle loss, as the process uses the waste products to build muscle during the long periods of inactivity.

Safety Around Black Bears

Black bear attacks on humans are very rare. Between 1900 and 2007, only 60 people were killed in black bear attacks across North America. However, if you do find yourself in an aggressive encounter with a black bear, you should fight back with any object available weather it be a stick, a rock or even your shoe. The bear may be considering you as prey so you want to let it know that you are dangerous to them. Please report all black bear incidents immediately to a park ranger or the park service. Here are a few tips to better protect yourself from a dangerous black bear situation:

  1. When camping, never cook or store food in or near your tentbear_picnic_table
  2. Hang food and other items with strong odors (ie, toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, etc.) out of reach of bears. Hang items at least 10 ft above the ground and. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or bear-proof containers
  3. Change your clothing before you go to sleep; don’t wear what you cooked in to go to bed and be sure to store smelly clothing along with your food/smelly items
  4. Keep the area clean. Be sure to wash dishes, dispose of garbage, and wipe down tables
  5. Burn garbage completely in a hot fire and pack trash out – don’t bury it
  6. Don’t surprise bears. If you’re hiking, make your presence known. Make noise by talking loudly, singing, or wearing a bell
  7. If you can, travel with a group. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect
  8. Keep in mind that bears tend to be more active at dawn and dusk so plan your hikes accordingly
  9. Stay on marked trails and obey the regulations of the area you’re hiking/camping in
  10. If you’re hiking in bear country, keep an eye out for tracks, scat, digs, and trees that bears have rubbed