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Grand Teton National Park

A tranquil walk through Grand Teton National Park turned perilous for a 35-year-old tourist from Massachusetts when he encountered two grizzly bears on Signal Mountain Summit Road on May 19, 2024. This unexpected meeting led to a serious incident where one bear swiped at the man, resulting in severe injuries. Thankfully, quick responses from park rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue ensured he received immediate medical care. He was transported to St. John’s Hospital, where he is now stable and expected to recover fully.

The area around Signal Mountain Summit Road and Trail has been temporarily closed to the public as park officials and law enforcement continue investigating the incident. This event has been identified as a “surprise encounter,” a reminder of the unpredictable nature of wildlife and the inherent risks of venturing into their habitats.

Understanding Grizzly Behavior

Grizzly bears, found throughout Grand Teton National Park, are formidable predators, often reaching up to 8 feet tall when standing on their hind legs. Despite their impressive size and strength, grizzlies typically do not seek out human interaction. However, they are highly territorial and may act aggressively if they feel threatened, particularly if they are with cubs or competing for food sources.

Safety Tips for National Park Visitors

In response to this incident, the National Park Service has re-emphasized guidelines to help prevent similar situations and ensure visitor safety:

  • Proper Food Storage: Always secure your food and dispose of garbage properly. Bears are attracted to easily accessible food sources, so use bear-proof containers and never leave food or trash unattended.
  • Maintain Distance: Keep at least 100 yards away if you encounter a bear. Use binoculars, telephoto lenses, or spotting scopes to observe and photograph wildlife safely. Always park in designated areas and adhere to park staff instructions.
  • Be Bear Aware in the Backcountry: When hiking or camping in less traveled parts of the park, remain vigilant. Make noise as you move through the woods to avoid surprise encounters. Travel in groups and carry bear spray, knowing how to use it effectively.
  • Avoid Running: If you do come face-to-face with a bear, never run. Back away slowly and speak calmly, assertively to establish your presence.
  • Follow Park Guidelines: Heed all park signs and closures, especially in areas known for bear activity. Staff are trained to manage visitor and wildlife interactions and can provide the latest safety information.

Effective Use of Bear Spray: A Critical Safety Tool

Bear spray is an essential line of defense for anyone venturing into areas inhabited by bears, especially in regions like Grand Teton National Park. When used correctly, this potent deterrent can neutralize a threatening situation, allowing you to escape potential harm safely. Understanding the proper use and handling of bear spray can make a critical difference during an encounter with a bear.

Choosing the Right Bear Spray

Ensure your bear spray is EPA-approved and specifically designed to deter aggressive bears. Look for products with a capsaicin content of 1 to 2 percent, effectively stopping bears without causing permanent damage.

How to Carry Bear Spray

Bear spray should be immediately accessible, not tucked away in your backpack. Carry it in a holster strapped to your belt or chest. The key is to deploy it within seconds without fumbling during an emergency.

Practicing with Bear Spray

Familiarize yourself with the bear spray before heading into the wilderness:

  • Practice removing the safety lock quickly.
  • Understand the range of your bear spray (usually 15 to 30 feet).
  • Train in various conditions to simulate real-world scenarios.

Deployment of Bear Spray

If you encounter a bear:

  • Stand your ground and do not run.
  • Remove the safety clip, aim slightly downward (accounting for the possibility of the spray rising), and deploy the spray in a brief burst if the bear is over 20 feet away.
  • If the bear continues to approach, use a continuous spray while it is within range, creating a cloud that the bear must pass through.
  • Wind Consideration: Check the wind direction before spraying. Aim to keep the wind at your back to avoid blowback of the capsaicin, which could impair your own vision and breathing.


Once the bear has been deterred:

  • Leave the area immediately, but do not run. Back away slowly and keep your eyes on the bear until you are well clear of the area.
  • Report the encounter to park authorities so they can monitor bear activity and update safety advisories accordingly.

Conclusion: Preparedness is Key

Carrying and knowing how to effectively use bear spray adds an important layer of security for hikers, campers, and any visitors to bear country. While bear encounters are rare, being prepared with the right knowledge and tools ensures you can confidently enjoy the great outdoors, respecting the wildlife that makes these environments unique and majestic.

This recent grizzly bear incident is a stark reminder of the challenges and dangers of wildlife encounters. By adhering to recommended practices, visitors can significantly reduce their risk of conflict with bears and other wild inhabitants. Always prioritize safety, respect wildlife territories, and approach nature with awareness and preparedness. With these measures, we can enjoy the beauty and wildness of places like Grand Teton National Park while keeping ourselves and the park’s wildlife safe.

As always, be safe and be prepared.


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