B.C.’s parks and protected areas offer extraordinary opportunities for wildlife spotting. However, bears, wolves, cougars, and other wild animals that call these places home are potentially dangerous. Learning about the species you may encounter during your visit will help keep you and wildlife safe.
Always maintain an appropriate distance from wildlife and avoid attracting animals onto trails or campgrounds. This will allow animals to live peacefully in their natural habitats and help to minimize the chances of you experiencing a dangerous encounter.
Avoiding wildlife is not always possible, so it’s vital to be prepared and know what to do in an encounter. This page provides guidance on how to avoid close encounters with wildlife. It also provides tips on how to behave in a wildlife encounter to increase the chance of a positive outcome.
Look here for information on:
- Viewing wildlife safely
- Camping safely in wildlife areas
- Hiking safely in wildlife areas
- Staying safe around bears
- Staying safe around wolves
- Staying safe around cougars
Always view wildlife from a safe distance. This helps keep you, your children, and your pets safe. It also minimizes stress on wildlife and maintains their natural behaviour and wariness of humans.
Remember, their lives depend on access to these habitats and the natural foods that occur there. Every time we disturb an animal, it reduces their ability to survive in the wild.
Follow these rules to enjoy the many incredible wildlife viewing opportunities available across B.C., safely and respectfully:
- Be patient and keep your distance. Observe wildlife by using equipment like binoculars, spotting scopes, and telephoto lenses.
- Never take selfies with wildlife. Doing so is unsafe, as well as being disrespectful and disruptive to animals.
- Do not yell or whistle at an animal to get them to look at the camera. If an animal is focused on you, its natural behaviour is being disturbed.
- Never feed wildlife. Wild animals that are fed by humans may become aggressive and dangerous, often resulting in their destruction.
- Do not approach animals or allow them to approach you. Doing so makes them less afraid of people, which puts both people and wildlife at risk.
- Stay at least 30 m, or approximately three bus lengths, from animals such as deer, moose, wild sheep, and elk.
- Stay at least 100 m, or approximately 10 bus lengths from predators such as bears, coyotes, wolves, and cougars.
It is extremely important to avoid attracting wild animals to campgrounds. The presence of wildlife within camping areas can be dangerous to campers, pets, and the wild animals themselves.
To minimize risk, we must occasionally close campgrounds that wild animals are frequenting. Help us keep campsites open for everyone to safely enjoy by following the simple rules outlined below.
Never feed wild animals
If you feed a wild animal, they will likely return to the campground later, seeking more food and behaving aggressively. This puts everyone, including the wild animal, in danger.
Remember the saying: “A fed bear is a dead bear”. This applies to all wild animals, not just bears.
Minimize enticing scents
In most cases, wild animals are attracted to campgrounds by food, garbage, and other items with an enticing scent. Even scented personal items such as toiletries will attract animals. To reduce attractants:
- Secure all food and food waste in a locked vehicle, hard-sided trailer, bear-proof cannister, or locker
- In the backcountry, you can also secure your food in a properly constructed food hang
Do not hang food at frontcountry campgrounds. Scents from hanging food may attract animals to the campground, putting other campers at risk.
- Dispose of garbage and recycling in designated receptacles or pack it out with food waste
- Do not bring scented toiletries and candles, perfumes, or any other personal items with a scent
Always keep your vehicle locked. Animals are smarter than you might think, and bears have been known to open car doors.
Cut down on clutter
A cluttered campsite may attract wildlife. Many animals will investigate objects left lying around or on picnic tables. Follow ’bare’ campsite practices and remember the motto: “Keep it bare when you’re not there… or sleeping”.
To learn more about keeping campgrounds safe for everyone, see the camping and day-use guide.
Sightings of wild animals are common on backcountry hiking adventures. But bears and other wildlife can be encountered on even the most well-populated frontcountry trails.
Carry bear spray
Hiking with bear spray and knowing how to use it is vital to staying safe around bears. Bear spray can also be used to stop attacks by other wild animals such as cougars, wolves, and coyotes.
Read your bear spray’s instructions carefully. Take note of its range, so you know how close an animal must be before you can use the spray.
Avoid animal encounters
To avoid meeting wild animals on a trail, hike at times and in areas with low wildlife activity. Also, always make sure animals know you are approaching, to prevent any surprise encounters.
Specifically, to prevent encounters with wild animals:
- Travel when wildlife is most likely to expect people on trails (essentially, from mid-morning through late afternoon). Avoid travelling at dawn and dusk, and do not hike, bike, or trail run at night.
- Stick to designated trails. Some animals have learned to avoid trails and stay in areas that are not used by humans. (However, many animals do use trails.)
- Travel in groups, and stay close together, so you can communicate clearly without yelling. Keep children in the middle of groups. Do not let them go ahead on their own or lag far behind.
- Keep pets leashed. Do not bring them into sensitive wildlife areas, or where you’re likely to encounter potentially dangerous wildlife. Pets may attract wild animals and could provoke an attack.
- Talk loudly or sing to avoid surprising animals along the trail. If you see evidence of animal activity, make extra noise, slow down, and consider altering your route.
- Avoid areas with significant raven activity. Ravens often scavenge from the carcasses of animals killed by predators. Encountering a predator near its kill can be particularly dangerous.
- Never wear ear buds or headphones while hiking. Wild animals may growl, bark, or huff when threatened. Being able to hear these sounds is crucial to your safety.
British Columbia is ‘bear country’, and bear encounters can happen almost anywhere. Black bears can be found in every part of the province, including on the outskirts of cities and in suburbs.
B.C. is also blessed with a healthy population of grizzly bears, although they no longer live in certain areas due to human activity. Learn which species live in the park you plan to visit by checking the park’s webpage.
Most bears are wary of humans and generally avoid encounters. Some, often those in high-use parks, may have learned to tolerate humans and lost their wariness. This is known as ‘habituation’.
Some bears may be mildly habituated to humans while others are heavily habituated. This is a survival mechanism and is not necessarily negative unless human food or garbage is involved.
Bears that receive food from hikers or eat garbage or food at campsites start to associate people with food. When bears become ‘food conditioned’ this way, they may start to approach campers or hikers, and behave aggressively.
What to do in a bear encounter
- If you see a bear, stop where you are and stay calm. Never run away. Observe the bear’s behaviour to decide on your next move.
- Check you have your bear spray and make sure you can get to it quickly, if you need it.
- If the bear has not noticed you, leave the area quietly. Go back the way you came while keeping an eye on them.
- If the bear has noticed you but is not reacting to your presence, speak softly and back away slowly.
- If the bear becomes agitated, makes noises, or seems aggressive, continue backing away slowly and talking softly. Do not run away.
- While backing away, do not make eye contact, but keep the bear in sight. Take your bear spray out and get ready to use it.
- If the bear charges, stand your ground and discharge your bear spray when they are within spraying range.
- If the bear is steadily approaching you, try to get out of their way, preferably onto higher ground.
- If the bear continues to approach you, yell at them. If they get within spraying range of you, discharge your bear spray.
- If the bear knocks you down, roll onto your stomach and lie still. Protect the back of your head. Spread your feet slightly, so they cannot roll you over.
- If the bear continues to attack, or if they appear to be predatory, fight them off with everything at hand. Focus on the bear’s eyes and nose.
Normally, wolves are secretive and avoid people. They can, however, become habituated to people or conditioned to human food. This can lead to potentially dangerous encounters.
Dogs may attract wolves, particularly when the wolves are breeding and raising pups. Avoid bringing your dog into areas that are known to have resident wolf packs, especially in spring and summer.
Avoiding wolf encounters in coastal habitats
Many of BC’s coastal parks serve as habitats for wolves. Beaches are especially important habitats. Coastal wolves commonly feed on the remains of seals, sea lions, whales, and other carcasses that have washed ashore.
Do not camp near shorelines where carcasses have washed up. If you are in a boat or kayak, stay at least 200 m away from wolves you observe. Approaching wolves puts them at risk of becoming habituated to humans.
When camping near coastal wolf habitats, take extra care to follow our advice for campers. Do not clean fish near your camp. Dispose of fish carcasses out at sea. Pack out all human waste. Never store food in kayak hatches.
What to do in a wolf encounter
In the unlikely event you encounter a wolf that acts unafraid or aggressive, follow these steps:
- Discourage the wolf from coming any closer than 100 m. Wave your arms in the air and make noise. If they approach, throw sticks and rocks at them.
- If they continue to approach, back away slowly. Do not turn your back or run. Pick up children and pets.
- Continue waving your arms and making noise. Use bear spray if the wolf comes within spraying range.
For more information on wolves and wolf safety, please see WildSafe BC’s wolf safety webpage.
Cougars are British Columbia’s largest wildcats. They have tawny or brownish fur, and are usually around 2.5 m in length, including the tail. B.C.’s cougar population mostly lives in the southern third of the province.
Cougar encounters are extremely rare but can be deadly, with children particularly at risk. Follow our advice for hikers, to avoid an encounter. Cougars are more active at night, dawn, and dusk.
In the highly unlikely event that you do encounter a cougar, stay calm. Never turn your back on one and never run away. Your goal must be to show the animal you are a threat, not prey.
Cougar encounters are complex and extremely dangerous. We strongly encourage you to visit WildSafe BC’s cougar safety page for detailed advice.
At the very least, read the instructions below carefully and be prepared to follow them closely:
- Pick up children immediately. Keep the cougar in view, and back away slowly, making yourself look as large as possible.
- If the cougar shows intense interest or follows you, respond aggressively. Maintain eye contact, show your teeth, and make loud noises.
- If this does not deter the cougar, arm yourself with rocks and sticks. Crouch down as little as possible when picking these up.
- If the cougar attacks, fight back. Keep the animal in front of you and attack their face and eyes. Use anything you can as a weapon.