As you probably know by now, Montana is a wild place. She still holds an element of magic and mystery and is unapologetically untamed and undiscovered.

And I don’t know about you, but I love her for it. After all, that’s part of her charm. As a wild place, it probably comes as no surprise that Montana is home to plentiful forms of wildlife. From the bison in Yellowstone National Park to grizzly bears and moose in Glacier National Park, Montana is a place where you can see wildlife in their element. And chances are — if you spend enough time outdoors — you will encounter wildlife.

If you’ve been online this week, you’ve likely seen the photo of a hiker and a grizzly bear on the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. If not, take a look below…

Photo courtesy: Philip Granrud
Photo courtesy: Philip Granrud

This image, taken by Montana photographer Philip Granrud, shows a hiker and a bear on the same trail, with the hiker moving off of the trail and onto a rock ledge. The backstory is that the hiker and the grizzly bear were walking toward each other on the trail and spooked each other. The hiker, thinking quickly, moved out of the path of the bear and is waiting about 10 feet below the trail for the bear to pass. Once the hiker moved out of his path, the bear moved speedily along the trail and deeper into the park (read the full story from the Missoulian), while the hiker returned to Logan Pass. While it’s quite the story, it’s one that ended well for both the grizzly bear and the hiker.

As I’ve often told friends and family that are visiting Montana, wildlife actually want to avoid us as much as we want to avoid them. This is why you often don’t see bears on trails (they don’t want to see our sweaty faces) and why rattlesnakes literally rattle to warn you that they’re nearby. Just imagine if you were a mama bear with her cubs. Would you really want a group of people in ridiculous styles of clothing (remember you’re a bear – all types of clothes are ridiculous to you) sneaking up on you when you’ve just put your little one down for a nap? My guess is no.

To help us all have positive encounters with Montana’s watchable wildlife, I’ve rounded up a few tips and recommendations for when you’re exploring Big Sky Country.

View wildlife from your car or from a safe distance. For bears, you should stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away.

Do not approach wildlife. While they look cute and cuddly, remember that they are wild animals. No offense, but they don’t want to hug you. If you’re taking photos, use a telephoto lens. Do not approach wildlife for a better photo.

Let them know you’re nearby. When hiking, be sure to hike in a group, carry bear spray, stay on designated trails and make noise at regular intervals. This messy-haired girl likes to sing (you’re welcome bears and humans), say “hey bear” loudly at regular intervals or clap my hands as I walk along. PS: Do us all a favor and don’t rely on bear bells as your noisemaker. Most of them are not loud enough.

Be mindful of where you’re hiking. Right now bears are filling their tummies on wild huckleberries, cow parsnips and moths. Just think of it like this: You are in their kitchen. You wouldn’t go into the kitchen of someone you don’t know and just start helping yourself without making a sound, right? Nope, you wouldn’t. You’d announce yourself loudly, survey your surroundings and let them know that you were there. And if they’re there? Well, you just move along. After all, you don’t want to invade their space.

Don’t mess with mama. Never feed or harass any kind of wildlife and don’t come between a mama and her baby. This applies to moose, bears, goats, deer, mountain lion, etc.

Three cheers for safety (says the girl who loves being safe more than candy).


Additional safety tips for bears can be found here, while tips for viewing other wildlife can be found here.

August 6, 2014

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Lew Gillette
Great picture and great advice as one who grew up in Lakeside/Kalispell and spent every chance I could outside and in the Park your article and advice are right on. RESPECT the animals you are in their home! Thanks, Lew

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