“We just saw a grizzly bear on the trail!” exclaims the father of a family of four as he passed our group going the opposite direction. Half of our group’s faces lit up, cameras poised, the other half’s paled. Hiking above Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, we were briefed about bear encounters, but wished we had this handy bear myths guide before we went. It’s common to encounter bears during the summer in Banff National Park and actually a park law on the Eiffel Lake trail we were on to hike in a groups of four or more for safety (bears are warded off by big groups).
Lindsay thought it was a seriously dumb idea to continue on the trail. I wanted to keep going because I thought we’d be safe with our 10-member hiking group. I’d never seen a grizzly bear up close before. Neither had she, but let’s just say preserving her life trumped a cool grizzly bear photo to post on Instagram. Needless to say, we did turn around as the number of bears reported by oncoming hikers kept increasing.
I was disappointed, as were others, but we had another chance to spot a grizzly bear the next day in Lake Louise. As a part of Chateau Lake Louise Fairmont’s outdoor summer program, we hired a professional hiking guide through the onsite Mountain Heritage program. We had no idea what was in store for us when we met our guide – wildlife photographer, naturalist and comedian Mike Vincent. I’d also add bear whisperer to list to describe Vincent. The day we met him in mid-August, he was celebrating his 77th bear sighting since April 2013.
It was through Vincent’s thoughtful yet hilarious lessons along our hike, bear myths and erroneous beliefs were dispelled. Here is Vincent talking bears (please excuse the barking dog in the audio of this video, Fairmont Lake Louise is very dog-friendly):
Myth: Bears are carnivores and see humans as a tasty snack.
Fact: Bears are considered omnivores, but in the words of Vincent, ‘they just giant fuzzy cows’ in what they prefer to eat. Especially in Banff National Park, berries are bears’ food of choice. If you happen upon bright red berries, known as buffalo berries, watch for bears. As Vincent says, you’re in a bear’s grocery store.
Fact: Bears, especially those in Banff National Park, have been ‘trained’ by park rangers and guides to avoid humans. They really aren’t into you at all. And if you stay at least 200 feet away (a bear’s personal space of comfort with humans) they really don’t care about you. And they do give warning growls and eye signals if you happen to get too close. That’s why it’s best to go with a guide, they speak ‘bear lingo’ and can keep you safe. If you do encounter a bear on a trail without a guide, do NOT stare at the bear. Simply walk backwards slowly without turning your back on the bear, watching the bear with little glances until you are far enough away.
Myth: Bear bells are the best way to protect yourself from encountering a bear.
Fact: Not only are bear bells not loud enough to scare a bear, most bears in highly populated areas are used to them. Watch the video to see how Vincent warns bears that he’s in the area. It’s something you won’t soon forget.
Myth: Use bear spray like mosquito repellant when camping to keep bears from foraging your tent.
Fact: Bear spray is only effective if you are within 10 feet of a bear and if you spray it right in their eyes. After that, if you spray the spicy cayenne pepper spray around your tent, it actually attracts them – they love to roll in it.
No, we never did see a grizzly during our trip, but all the more reason to return and head out on another hike with the bear whisperer aka Mike Vincent.
More Bear Myths & Facts Resources
Dispelling Bear Myths by Get Smart Bear Society
Bear Cams (watch brown bears in Alaska hunt for salmon via live streaming cameras)
Amazing Wildlife Photos in Banff National Park by our guide, Mike Vincent of Mountain Heritage program, Lake Louise Fairmont.
Disclosure: This excursion was provided by Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise, opinions are my own.
Words by Lanee Lee