Six top spots to see black bears in North America

With a population exceeding one million, black bears are the most numerous ursids in North America – and you can see them in locations from Alaska to North Carolina, says wildlife guide David Lukas.

Female black bear with her two cubs, Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada © wanderluster / Getty

Most people travel to Alaska to see brown and polar bears, so a place where black bears are the centre of attention is unusual. But this is the case at the Anan Wildlife Observatory in Tongass National Forest.


In July and August black bears gather at a waterfall just below a viewing platform to feed on spawning pink salmon. For the best experience, stay overnight at the Anan Bay Cabin.


Tofino, British Columbia (pictured above)

On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino offers a fantastic wilderness adventure and the densest populations of black bears in the world.

In mid-summer they can easily be seen on the rocky foreshores, where they wander at low tide to feast on crabs and fish. Orcas and grey and humpback whales are also common.


Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Yellowstone National Park is the only place where you can easily see black bears amid other charismatic wildlife such as bison, elk, moose, grizzlies and wolves. But this is a huge park, so it helps to hire a wildlife expert as your guide.

A black bear in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming © Clinton Harris / Getty
A black bear in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming © Clinton Harris / Getty

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The deciduous forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are among the best places to spot black bears in the eastern USA.

Though the park has a high density of bears, they can be skittish and difficult to watch – except along Cades Cove Loop Road, an old homestead area with relict orchards, fruit trees and open meadows, which attracts lots of bears between April and October.

Alligator River was established on the North Carolina seashore to protect a remnant of the unique wetland habitat called ‘pocosin’, but it is also one of the last remaining strongholds for black bears on the Eastern Seaboard.


In the Milltail section of the refuge, black bears wander out from swampy thickets to feed in nearby fields, and in summer you can join a ‘sunset tour’ that includes an opportunity to see bears at night. Alternatively, drive the Milltail Road on your own.